Sunday Word

Scripture Reflection for April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday

Father Brian Campbell
4-5-2020, Palm Sunday
Matthew 21:1-11

Scripture Reflection for April 5, 2020 – Palm Sunday

So far this year we have gone through a tough time, haven’t we? Divisive politics, wild fluctuation in the financial markets and the deadly pandemic of the COVID-19 Coronavirus. This whole experience of societal shutdown has left us feeling our human fragility and limitations. In more ways than one this Lent has truly been penitential, an opportunity to deny ourselves, pick up the cross once again and follow Jesus to Calvary. Today begins Holy Week. Let us now enter in remembrance the final week of our Lord, who shows us by example the difficult path that leads to Glory. 

Today’s Mass usually opens with the blessing of palms and the reading of the Palm Sunday narrative from the Gospel of St. Matthew 21:1-11. By the time Jesus enters into Jerusalem in Mt. 21 he completed an extraordinary three years of teaching, preaching, miracle working, laughing, crying and caring for multitudes of people. He and the 12 disciples had traveled from Northern Galilee all the way to the Southern Desert regions of the Dead Sea, back and forth, without the aid of trains, plains or automobiles. Even without Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, word about Jesus had spread so successfully that his name and his followers appear in the writings of two well known non-Christian 1st century historians. Also consider that at the time of the first Palm Sunday the Jewish people had been under occupation for centuries by foreign governments – Syrian, Babylonian, Greek and now Roman. They are hoping for freedom, praying and waiting for the long awaited Messiah who would set them free. Many of them are thinking that it’s going to come in terms of a political revolution and an earthly kingdom.

Nearly 950 years before the birth of Christ, Solomon succeeded his father as King of Israel (1 Kings 1:32-40). As the new young King, Solomon the Son of David made his triumphal appearance in Jerusalem riding on a donkey, welcomed by rejoicing crowds. Kings usually ride on horses – a symbol of war and power but Solomon rides on a donkey – a symbol of peace and a peaceful reign. Solomon can do this in a literal way because there were no military enemy occupiers of Israel in his time. A thousand years later the Messiah, the Son of David is revealed. He is the new young King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, welcomed by rejoicing crowds. Jesus fulfills what the people of Israel were praying and hoping for – but with a surprise. As Son of David his Kingdom begins on earth from Jerusalem. Truly human, Jesus accomplishes the work of salvation and the establishment of the Kingdom within our world of created time and space. That part was expected. Here is the part that was not expected: As God the Eternal Son of the Father, His Kingdom will not merely be a political earthly rule confined to created time and space but will be fully united to His Eternal Divinity. The Reign of Israel’s Messiah points us to the supernatural Reign of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, the gateway from time to eternity. 

Contrary to the thinking of zealot political revolutionaries like Judas Iscariot, Israel’s true enemy is not the Romans or any other earthly foe, but the Satanic foe. Jesus shows us the important spiritual power that underlies and penetrates our physical/material world. He will bring freedom and peace where it is needed the most – in the depths of our troubled conscience and fallen nature. The greatest revolution in history is not political in nature. This Palm Sunday you and I welcome the Savior, a young King riding on a donkey into Jerusalem. Don’t be fooled by his humble and youthful appearance. He is the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Beginning and the End. In Holy Week Jesus shows us the path to the true Kingdom by way of the cross. With so much going on in our lives and all around us in the world, let us enter with our Lord into Holy Week by taking up our cross and following him. Laying down our lives before him we join the crowds of Jerusalem and cry out: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! O King of Israel, Hosanna in the Highest.”  

  

Jesus takes on death itself

Father David Scotchie
Sunday, March 29 Fifth Sunday of Lent
Ez 37:12-14; Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8; Rom 8:8-11; Jn 11:1-45

Lent began with Adam and Eve falling for the temptation to distrust God and rely on themselves alone. Original temptation led to original sin, and death entered the world. The Lord did not abandon his people. Scriptures have shown the Lord work extreme makeovers for Abraham and Sarah, the woman at the well, and the man born blind. Now Jesus takes on death itself. This is the big one. Call it the Extreme Makeover: Abundant Life Edition.

Jesus stood before the cave tomb. At his command, they had rolled away the stone and opened the tomb even after Martha, the dead man’s sister, had pointed out, “Lord, by now there will be a stench; he has been dead for four days.” Jesus ignored the obvious. He lifted up his eyes to heaven and gave thanks to God the Father. Then he cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The Lord calls us who are dead in the tomb like Lazarus. Not “dead” as in your NCAA basketball team lost and your bracket is busted. He speaks to us who are spiritually dead. We might appear to have it all together. Inside, it’s another story. You might live under the same roof but the marriage is stone cold dead. Work has not yet been affected but the addiction has taken over and you have lost your joy. A culture of indifference to the care of the poor and our common home, planet earth, has kept some comfortably numb even as many suffer.

You can hear across the centuries the Lord’s longing in the words, “O my people.” He promised us, “I will open your graves and have you rise from them…then you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and have your rise from them, O my people!” (Ez 37:12-13).

Someone held a sign at a pro-life rally, “I am pro-abundant life.” The simple sign brought to the holocaust of abortion the very heart of Jesus’ mission. “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10).

Jesus did not suffer and die so that we become the best version of ourselves. He did not come to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live! His cross frees us from sin and death, and his Body and Blood unites us with him. Talk about an extreme makeover!

“This conversion is the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one’s life to his.” The National Directory for Catechesis states that the decision to follow Christ unites us with others. “Through this discipleship the believer is united to the community of disciples and appropriates the faith of the Church.” Our extreme makeover takes place together.

“Lazarus, come out!” the Lord cried. The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and his face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to the people, “Untie him and let him go.” Having seen what Jesus had done, many people began to believe in his words, “I am the resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25a).

He calls us from the tomb. He frees us from the bonds of sin and death. He promises us abundant life. Hear him call your name.

To take to prayer: Read the story of Lazarus in chapter eleven of the gospel of John. Substitute your name for Lazarus’. Listen for the Lord’s call.

Father Scotchie is the pastor of Nativity Parish, Longwood. He is the co-author of “Rites of Passage: Preaching Baptisms, Weddings, and Funerals.”

Extreme Makeover: Revelation Edition

Father David Scotchie
3-22-2020
1 Samuel 16, 1.6-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5, 8-14; John 9, 1-41

“The Christian faith is, above all, conversion to Jesus Christ,” the Church teaches. We’ve been reflecting during this season of Lent on extreme makeovers. The Lord made over Abraham and Sarah from an old childless couple to a blessing to the nations. Jesus made over the woman at the well from an outcast looking for love in all the wrong places to a witness of his saving love. This Sunday, Jesus works an extreme makeover for a man born blind. Call it Extreme Makeover: Revelation Edition.

John Newton was an 18th century British sailor. He was publicly flogged for desertion. He was brutally abused by a slave trader. Eventually Newton became captain of his own slave ship. During a violent storm, he wrote in his journal, “Lord, have mercy upon us.” Somehow the ship survived. He believed that God had saved him from the storm.

Newton continued in the slave trade but began to treat his human cargo more humanely. Eventually he condemned slavery and became a minister. With the poet William Cowper, he wrote a semi-autobiographical hymn for his church. “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace has brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.” From slaver to saved, Newton went through an extreme makeover.

“I am the light of the world,” says the Lord; “whoever follows me will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Jesus made mud and smeared it on the eyes of the man born blind. Jesus not only gave him sight. As God created Adam and Eve out of the dust of the earth, Jesus made the man born blind into a new creation. He opened his eyes spiritually to see and know Jesus as the Savior (Jn 9:1-41).

Lent is a time for a closer walk with Jesus Christ. He is the one who opens our eyes:

  • from seeing life as a series of problems, one thing after another, to giving thanks for the gift of each moment.
  • from seeing ourselves as self-sufficient self-determining individuals to seeing ourselves as children of the loving Father.
  • from seeing Jesus as a teacher and holy man who lived far away and long ago to knowing the living risen Christ. Not just knowing about him, but knowing him and walking with him daily!

Warning! The closer you are to the light of Christ, the more you see your darkness. In our society, ideology blinds us from seeing the humanity of the immigrant, refugee, and unborn. Fear filters our views of Muslims and strangers. Our eyes turn away from the dignity of workers, the holiness of the family, and the health of the community. Seeing your face up close in the bathroom mirror is not for the faint-of-heart!

The disciplines of prayer, fasting, and giving alms open our eyes. They show us our darkness. We can bring our darkness to the sacrament of reconciliation in the parish Lenten penance liturgy. Sitting down with the priest, we encounter Christ himself, the same Christ who revealed himself to the man born blind. We receive pardon and peace from the same Christ who turned John Newton from slavery to song.

To take to prayer: Sing with John Newton, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found, ‘twas blind but now I see.”

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United States Conference of Catholic Bishops