« To live the Palms is already to enter freely into the sacrificial process of Christ: “My life no one takes it but it is I who give it” (John 10,18).»
Every year the liturgy of the so-called “holy” week begins with the Feast of Palms. A feast that recalls those days when Jesus was acclaimed as a king by the inhabitants of Jerusalem greeting him with palms: « The large crowd that came for the feast learned that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem; they took the palm branches and went out to meet him and shouted: Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! ( (John 12,12). The Holy Scriptures informed us that this same crowd later would demand the death sentence of their King as a malefactor: the crucifixion on the cross a most iniquitous and scandalous vile death for a servant of God (Gal 3:13 or Dt 21:23). Hence the contrasting and contradictory character of this feast: “a painful acclamation” or a “tragic investiture” or a “painful glorious entrance”. But to speak in this way would be to lack hope. So it would be more about rejected Love. The twigs are the sign of victorious life. This crowd is already celebrating the triumph of Jesus Christ over all kinds of evil to death. To live the Palms is already to enter freely into this sacrificial process of Christ: “My life no one takes it but it is I who give it” (John 10,18).
Thus three texts are proposed to us (Isaiah 50:4-7, where the sacred writer describes the relationship of the servant to his God with the characteristics of docility, the attentive ear to the word; Psalm 21, Phil 2:6-11 where it is a question of the stripping of Christ and in the account of the Passion in Luke 22-23, 1-59 we find some scenes of his own and on which we will focus our reflection and meditation:
· Simon I prayed for you and when you came back strengthened your brothers:
Here Jesus contemplates and shows once again his considerate side. He acknowledges and accepts Peter’s betrayal. Having entrusted peter with the responsibility of holding the keys to the Kingdom, he is aware that goodwill would not be enough. Also Peter is again confirmed in his office and will have to show humility and go beyond his judgments and others. Yes, strengthen your brothers, give them hope, walk with the poor and the excluded, be attentive to the marginalized and become a spokesperson for the voiceless. This assurance of Jesus echoes the first of the apostolic preferences (“points of reference for the whole Society of Jesus, which inspire him through common discernment and apostolic planning at all levels of his mission-life”, Letter of Fr. General Arturo Sosa, October 3, 2017) among the Jesuits: Walking with the poor and excluded from our world as well as with people wounded in their dignity, promoting a mission of reconciliation and justice.
· Jesus’ view of Peter
A gentle look, full of non-accusatory confidence that invites Peter to keep the faith. Certainly this look remains difficult to bear when precisely one realizes that one has just betrayed one’s beloved or Master. This is our experience with God who always looks upon us; not to condemn us but much more to encourage us. We are therefore called to support our brothers and sisters, to make them discover the benevolent face of God the Father. In this, apostolic preference offers us a way: To promote discernment and spiritual exercises by showing the way to God.
· “Father forgives them because they don’t know what they are doing”
God condemned, God expelled. The Holy of Holies is thrown out of the city. The innocent is crucified and mocked. Yes, forgiveness remains a divine act. Even in the midst of suffering, in the face of his ruthless and violence-hungry executioners, Jesus does not disarm. He does not let vengeance take over (Dt 32:35) and Paul will remind the Romans: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but let anger work; for it is written: To me vengeance, to me retribution,” says the Lord”Rom 12:19. The world presents us and we could experience many paintings of injustice in our families, in places of service, and in our relationships of all kinds. The tendency is to shout the bowl. Yes, evil must always be denounced and fought with the utmost energy. However, if they lack the dimensions of justice and forgiveness, this desire remains abstract: justice to answer for our actions and say no to revenge and impunity; forgiveness to give a new start and regain life and taste.
· “Today with me you will be in Paradise”
Here is again a disconcerting word: how can one offer in the blink of an eye what Jesus’ disciples strive to obtain through so many self-denials, renunciations and sacrifices? Paradise. Yes, Jesus shows us that salvation is not a question of merit and quid pro quo. Otherwise this thief would be damned and would have to serve at least his sentence. It is the pure goodness and justice of God who alone knows the heart of man. Yes, this instant response from Jesus can only disillusion us. This thief recognized the lordship of Jesus and told the truth about his person. He cannot otherwise confess faith in Jesus better than he has just done. Isn’t this the definition of faith to put our ultimate and complete trust in Christ? He has confessed and confessed to his crimes and acknowledges the punishment inflicted on him. For him, he deserves the consequences of his actions. The adverb today, shows the current and face-to-face and faithful character of the promise. It is no longer a question of the future salvation of the righteous. At every moment it is offered and we are invited to enter it. God wants all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4). There is nothing to be discouraged about. Hence the third preference “Walking with young people in creating a future full of hope”. Young people can easily abdicate in the face of situations of injustice, suffering and corruption. She needs landmarks, voices that tell her this hope, that raise her up and accompany her, to judge and misunderstand her.
· Appearance of Jesus before Herod Antiphas (son of Herod the Great) God on trial before a people; a justice in order to condemn the innocent. The promotion of faith and justice remains one of the major concerns of the entire Society of Jesus. And today more than ever the world needs its tireless workers.
Our humanity always yearns for peace, happiness and health. All of this remains a challenge. May the blessed Palms that will adorn our chapels or decorate our homes remind us of the Love of our Lord who for us has agreed to surrender so that we may be delivered from our sins and fears and enter fully into this hope..
Happy palm Sunday!
P. DANSOU ASSIONGBON Attivi Edoh Jean-Paul, sj
Director of the Centres Sociaux Loyola in Lomé