“Rerouting…” Week 11: Toll Road

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (A) – April 2, 2023

St. Paul – Lyons, KS

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

Don’t worry. Today’s homily isn’t gonna be a normal length, at least not “Rerouting…” normal. As we begin this Holy Week, the Church tells the priest something very important: be brief. The homily should be brief. What the Church didn’t account for is that “brief” is a relative term. Ha!

But why? Why? Why does the Church specifically instruct this? Because Mass shouldn’t be too long? Because people are bored? No! The Church is saying is, “Let the words and actions of the liturgy speak for themselves. Let people live, truly live, enter into the Mystery. Don’t explain it away!” I could stand up here and wax on eloquently…but no! “Let it speak for itself.” And so my words today are only to help us enter into the Mystery of Holy Week. 

And even more so this Holy Week, now as we are in our second to last week of “Rerouting…”. We’ve been talking the past several weeks about our need to make a decision: Will I entrust my life to the Father, completely, wholeheartedly, unconditionally, surrendering all? OR, will I do nothing different? You would think that in a building full of people who are Catholic, who come to Mass—this would be an easy decision. And yet, to our ears, it can sound like something only the “spiritually elite” need to do, the “professional Christians,” priests and nuns, or something. “Oh yeah, Father, you have to surrender your whole life because you’re a priest. We just come to Mass on Sundays and try to follow the Ten Commandments.” But no! Jesus calls each of us, each and every one of us to deny ourselves, sign over the title of our life—“If anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Anyone. Not just, “If you are going to be a priest or nun,” nope! Anyone. “If anyone.”

So what holds us back? What holds us back from completely handing over our life to Christ, placing our life in the hands of the Father? Well, lucky for us, that is the dynamic at the heart of Holy Week. And that is our simple goal today. What is the key to Holy Week? And am I willing to live the key once I know it?

The Key = There Is A Cost

During “Rerouting…” I told a lot of stories, recapped a lot of movies. And I chose movies and stories very intentionally. Movies and stories that reveal the key to it all. What do I mean?

Well, think of The Rescue, the documentary about the boys trapped in the cave in Thailand and their rescue. That is an incredible image of our own situation: we are captured, captured by the Enemy, and Jesus comes to rescue us, to offer us freedom. What I didn’t share about The Rescue was the cost. To rescue those boys from the cave, people have estimated it cost around $10 million. Which is a staggering amount of money! About a million dollar a kid. And it wasn’t just money. There was time. People put their lives on hold, their families on hold, everything on hold. But that wasn’t it either. There was also life. In the course of rescuing the boys, one man gave his life: Saman Gunan, a Thai Navy Seal, volunteering his time—he ended up giving his life so that these boys might live.

Think of Saving Private Ryan. If you went back and watched it, you know that most of the movie is about the company traveling from the beaches of Normandy throughout the French countryside looking for Private Ryan—and their constant objection to the mission: “Why should all of us risk our lives for this one guy?” And it’s legitimate! Seven guys set out looking for Ryan, and by the time it’s all said and done, five of them have died—all of them ended up giving their lives so that he might live.

Ok. So what’s the key? What is the key to all of this week? What’s the key to the dynamic at the heart of Holy Week? It is not free; there is a cost. What Jesus has done for us, it is costly. Paul says in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Do you not know…you were bought at a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20). There is a price. This man died so that we might live.

What is the cost? Obedience, Submission, Surrender of Will

But here’s the thing. The price wasn’t just bloody torture and execution. Jesus himself said, “No one takes [my life] from me, I lay it down freely” (John 10:18). Jesus says this four times in the Gospel of John, three during his passion. And the point he’s making is that the cost isn’t so much his death—remember, his death is a battle, it’s his victory over the Enemy. Right? Right. Again, it’s not like Jesus didn’t suffer or something, no. What I’m saying is that the only way that any of that could happen, the only way is took place … is because Jesus allowed it to happen.

The real cost came the night before his death. The cost for Jesus? Obedience. There in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays the most important prayer of his life: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). The cost for our rescue? Obedience. Jesus obeys; he submits his will, his plans to the Father’s—even though the Father is about to lead him to a place that is … less than pleasant.

Jesus is betrayed, arrested, abandoned, beaten, scourged,  wrongly convicted, executed. And yet, he offers no resistance; he willingly walks to his death. Why? Because the great mystery Jesus lives, the KEY to it all, is that the greatest things in history do not come from seizing power or forging our own path, but from handing everything over to Another, from handing our lives over to Another, by placing our lives in the Father’s hands.

In the beginning, humanity rebells, disobeys, pridefully decides to do whatever they want to do. Here, Jesus surrenders to the will of Another, he obeys, he humbly follows another.

Are You Willing to Pay the Price?

The mystery at the heart of this week, the mystery that Jesus is inviting us into—inviting us into because it is the path, the route to the fullness of life that each and every one of us wants—the mystery you are invited to live? To empty yourself, to humble yourself, to obey—even when it seems crazy. To entrust your life to the Father. To surrender your life to His plans.

St. Paul sums it up in our second reading today, very famous reading from Paul. Paul tells us to “put on the mind of the Messiah,” to think and operate and act like Christ. And what does that entail? Paul says, “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…he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-7a, 8-9). Jesus emptied himself—not sitting on the throne, snapping his fingers, making things happen. He emptied himself—took the place of a servant, of a slave. (Think ahead to Holy Thursday. What does Jesus do? Washes feet. Jesus takes on the tasks of servants, of slaves. This is the God of the universe we’re talking about! And he washes feet.) And more! He humbles himself, becomes obedient … obedient to the point of death … even when that death is the disgraceful, shameful, humiliating death of the cross.

The question is this: Are you willing to pay this same price? This is what it means to enter into the mystery of this week, but more so, to enter into the mystery of being a Christian. Am I willing to pay the price? Am I willing to empty myself? Am I willing to take the role of the slave, the servant? To humble myself, my pride, my ego, my plans—and instead become obedient, even when obedience means doing something others consider shameful or humiliating, even if it involves suffering—maybe even death? OR, like Adam and Eve, like every other rebellious human ever—am I going to deem myself an equal to God? Am I going to exalt my ego, and my plans, and my priorities? Am I above all of that “surrender” stuff?

Some of us are having a difficult time signing the card. Why? Because we’re beginning to realize that what Jesus is asking is costly. And you’re right. It costs my pride, my ego, my plans, my freedom. Jesus is asking you to give him yourself. But we just keep praying the first part of Jesus’ prayer, “If it is possible, let this cup pass away from me!” We’re begging, “Don’t make me do this! Don’t ask me to give my plans, my freedom. Let this cup pass!” 

We aren’t afraid of some ethereal idea of loving Jesus and giving our lives to him. We’re afraid of the concrete, nitty gritty: “What if Jesus asks me to wash feet? What if Jesus asks me to forgive that person I am holding a grudge against? What if Jesus want’s me to mow lawns or clean toilets? What if Jesus asks me to change jobs, quit my job?” We are fine with God asking us to do some pie-in-the-sky “lay down your life”! But what about the nitty gritty of it?

Jesus emptied himself, took the place of a slave, humbled himself and became obedient—even when obedience meant a shameful death on a cross. Can we walk that route? Follow him there?

Can we pray the rest of the prayer? This is the decision we make in the Garden of Gethsemane. This week, Jesus is waiting for you in the Garden.

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