Our reflection for Palm Sunday is written by Sr Mary Owens I.B.V.M., director of Nyumbani, which includes Kenya’s first and largest facility for HIV-positive orphans, a home-based care program and Nyumbani Village.
In the liturgical celebration of Palm Sunday, we come face to face with contradiction in Jesus’ experience as he proclaims his mission. His triumphant entry into Jerusalem is followed by the story of his passion and death.
In the first event, his mission is acclaimed: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 21:9). Jesus Himself is involved in planning the event, arranging to have the donkey and colt brought to Him. This is why He came into our world, so that all may know the unconditional love of God.
In the second part of the liturgy, we listen to how these same people turned against Him only days later, shouting: “Let him be crucified” (Matt 27: 22-23). When questioned by Caiaphas, the High Priest, “I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,” Jesus claims his identity, which will lead to his passion and death, the fulfilment of his mission. This acceptance and rejection of His mission marks Jesus’ calling to discipleship throughout the gospel. Peter’s profession of faith in the early days of his discipleship, “You are the Christ,…the Son of the living God”(Matt 16:16), is followed by his threefold denial during Jesus’ passion: “I do not know the man” (Matt 26:69-75).
In contrast is Jesus’ total commitment to His call, whether in times when He is proclaimed as saviour or when His mission is resisted by the evil of power, greed, corruption. As His disciples, following Jesus will bring moments when He will use us as effective instruments in gospel living. People will respond enthusiastically to us, praise us, load us with accolades. However when we challenge the status quo of control, image, stigmatisation of difference, for example, of people living with HIV, when we speak out about the injustice of unequal distribution of world resources; the lure of materialism, which is widening the gap between the rich and the poor; the exercise of power that resorts to violence than dialogue to resolve conflicts, then we can expect the passion. When we stand firm in our faith in Jesus, we may even experience death as happens today in some parts of our world.
What is the Gospel call to-day? I believe we are called to proclaim that each one of us is a beautiful creation of God, made in God’s image and loved unconditionally by God. We are not all-powerful, we are contaminated by living in a sinful environment, we yield to temptation and continually need forgiveness. However, essentially, we stand before God redeemed by Jesus’ passion and death and destined to be with God in the life of the Resurrection.
How can we model this faith in our living? I believe we are called first and foremost to be compassionate to others, regardless of identity and status, for example, in our relationships with children/adults living with HIV. I believe we are called to be a presence of reconciliation and forgiveness rather than of judgment… “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” True to gospel values, we are called to value difference rather than prejudice.
“Who am I to judge?” – Pope Francis, July 2013.
We are called to witness that God, and not power or consumerism, can fulfil our yearnings, through our rightness in self-valuing and simplicity in living. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” – St Augustine. We are called to counter rather condemn evil by standing up fearlessly for human rights and justice according to our Christian faith, which may lead to persecution. “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too” (Jn 15:20).
As we accompany Jesus during Holy Week – in spirit, during the liturgical celebrations and in our personal prayer – may our personal commitment to following Jesus in today’s world be further deepened and may we be graced to reflect Jesus in our living. As we seek to proclaim Jesus’ gospel, may we listen to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit guiding us, as we endeavour to be with others seeking to respond to what they know deep down is their ultimate vocation: union with God.
To read this article in French, please go here.
To read the rest of this Lenten series, please go here.