Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord – April 10, 2022
St. Paul — Lyons, KS
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56
As we begin this Holy Week, as we enter into the heart of the Pascal Mystery of Christ, the Church tells the priest something very important: be brief. The homily should be brief. And I know what you’re thinking, “Pff, Fr. Michael, brief? I’ll believe that when I see it.” Touché.
But why? Why? Because there are too many words already? Because Mass shouldn’t be too long? Because people are bored? Yeah, no! What the Church is saying is, “Let the words and actions of the liturgy speak for themselves. Let people live, truly live, enter into, walk with this Mystery. Don’t explain it away!” I could stand up here and wax on eloquently about so many beautiful theological points about Holy Week. But the Church says, “No. Let it speak for itself.” And so my words today are only an attempt to help you enter this Mystery this week, to help you live this Mystery alongside Christ himself.
Putting On the Mind of the Messiah
During Holy Week, we commemorate and re-live all of those events. Every part of Jesus’ life comes to a head during this week. Jesus has been around for a while, he has followers willing to die with him, followers who are 100% convinced he is the Messiah. Here Jesus is going to Jerusalem, supposedly to be enthroned as the new king, to overthrow all of the powers and forces that are oppressing the people. And yet he is betrayed, arrested. And he offers no resistance. And he walks to his death, never offering one bit of protest. Why? Because the great mystery Jesus lives, that he embodies is that the greatest things in history do not come from seizing power or taking care of ourselves, but from handing everything over to Another, from handing our lives over to Another, by placing our lives in the Father’s hands.
And this Mystery we need to live, this mindset we need to embrace, can all be summed up in the words from our second reading. St. Paul tells us to “have the mind of the Messiah,” to think and look at things just as Christ himself did. And what is that mindset? “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.…Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him” (Philippians 2:6-7a, 8-9). That’s it.
“[Jesus], though he was in God’s form, did not regard his equality with God as something he ought to exploit.” Stop there. We do the exact opposite of this all of the time. We think, “If I were in charge,” or, “If I made the decisions around here.” The first thing we think to do is exploit our power and influence. If we are going to get people think the right way, let’s use power and force. But has that ever worked? Caesar, this was his method: he exploited his quasi-divine power to impose his own mindset on the people. How long did that last? Last time I checked, the Roman Empire fell off the map.
What did Jesus do instead? “Instead, [Jesus] emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of humans.” Jesus could have used divine power to accomplish his mission, he could have exploited his divine power. Jesus did not have to allow anything bad to happen. But instead, he took on the form of a slave, he became a weak human being.
And then what? “He humbled himself, and became obedient even to the point of death, death on a cross.” And that’s the crux of it, huh? Jesus, God himself, didn’t accomplish things by use of divine power and imposition. Instead, he emptied himself, humbled himself, and became obedient.
In this week, we enter into the great mystery of obedience, the mystery that obedience and not doing whatever we want leads to the greatest things in life, to exaltation, to eternal life
The real question is, “Obedience to what?” To divine law? To the rules? To what? Obedience to what we really are, obedience to our humanity. At our core, at the core of our humanity, in our heart, we are in relationship with God, with the Father—whether you like it or not. When we don’t recognize this, when we decide to live our life without the Lord, we end-up making ourselves the center of everything…and if you have ever met someone who is self-centered you know how miserable their life is. No, self-centeredness isn’t the answer.
The answer is obedience, simple obedience. And this sounds crazy, I know! We’re raised to think that the goal is to be able to take care of yourself, to provide for yourself, to be the one to forge your own path, your own destiny, to make your own history. We see it throughout history. In the extreme cases, think of those people that decided they had to take-over the world: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler. They thought they could change the world by their own power, by the sheer force of their own will. But even though these were some of the most powerful people in history, even they couldn’t succeed. And we all try to do this, usually just on a much smaller scale. We try to take over our own lives, to be the one who can shape and change our history and destiny, to make ourselves happy. But these past few years, we discovered how little we are in control of things as a pandemic shut down everything. And even then, we flailed all year looking for control—and that was manifested primarily in how everyone’s life got sucked into the election; the election became our outlet for trying to control.
We think that at some point we can go at it alone, that at some point obedience becomes obsolete. And if we only see obedience as being forced to do things we don’t want to do, then yeah, obedience isn’t worth it. But that’s not the obedience the Lord is asking of us. He is asking us to obey, to listen to his example, and realize that the greatest things in history do not come from seizing power or taking care of ourselves, but from handing everything over to Another, from handing our lives over to Another, by placing our lives in the Lord’s hands. In this way, we live free from the powers of the world, and instead are caught up in the Force that truly moves history and truly makes us happy. We are caught-up in the Mystery of this Holy Week. Because at the end of the day, we either believe in our own power, or we believe in God.