Saturday, 4 April 2009

Palm Sunday Year B

Mark’s depiction of the Passion of Christ is quite severe. But, at least two things jump out at us. First, Christ faced His death alone. He was derided and taunted by enemies, onlookers and soldiers. He was deserted by His closest Disciples. Finally, He was abandoned by God. Second, the veil of the Temple torn in two signals the end of Israel’s privileged relationship with God. Now, access to God is opened to all and is symbolised by the words of the gentile Centurion who came to recognise who Jesus was: In truth this man was God’s Son.

The severity of Mark’s Gospel challenges us. First of all, it is about God’s Son and faith in Him. We are like the Centurion who was given access to faith in Christ. How do we appropriate that faith, the privileged relationship with God? This God’s Son is not just a son. This God’s Son according to the 2nd Reading is one whose state was divine but He did not cling to His equality with God. On the contrary, He emptied Himself to assume the condition of a slave. The 1st Reading tells us that He made no resistance and did not cover His face against insult and spittle.

This quality of not clinging to His divine state helps us to understand a facet of life, a big facet of what it means to live earthly lives.

For many years, Jesus could go about as He wished. But, when He was handed over to His enemies, that freedom came to an end. The Passion basically revolved around how, little by little, life was drawn out of Him. In short, the Passion was Christ being done to!

In like manner, much of our lives too is shaped not so much by what we can do but by what is done to us. In the matter of health, one is struck by a prolonged illness not of one’s choice—cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s or Parkinsons. When aged, one becomes dependent on children who are either too busy or domestic helpers who are not sensitive. In our professional life, in a country governed by “kulification” (skin colour) instead of qualification, many will share that they have often been passed over in promotion. In business, you may have bad luck dogging you as you stagger from one venture to another. In love, relationship may turn out unexpected and the one whom you choose to live your life with has gone away either through divorce or death. You may choose to have a child but you often cannot choose how your child will turn out.

The freedom we have, just like Jesus in His earlier years, gives us a sense that we can make a life for ourselves—that we are in control. But, in reality much of life is thrown at us. No matter how much we try, no matter how much we plan, we are often not in control. So what is our response when we are not in control?

The Passion was life thrown at Jesus. But, what was the outcome of the unfairness of life for Jesus? Our Salvation. With all that life gave Him, He could have been a vengeful God, but no. He took the violence rained upon Him and converted it to love and forgiveness. Love and forgiveness conquered death and destruction. Here, we are not sentimental about “a life of suffering”. People get hurt by the unfairness of life. As the poet says, “too long a sacrifice can make a stone of the heart”. Thus, it is not a question of idealising suffering but the Passion shows us how we can confront it with hope. Christ who conquered destruction and death with love and life is the basis for our hope. Today, as we contemplate His Passion, He invites us to do the same. The value of what life throws at us is not in the pain we endure but what we who undergo it can make out of it. No matter how pressed we are, we can still choose to respond to His invitation. His passion is our strength, our hope and our salvation.