5 April 2020
by Fr. Guerric Heckel
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?”
Today Jesus is entering the most troubled place in the world. It is a place of struggle, conflict and confrontation. It has a history of killing the prophets, fighting wars, and living in violence. It is a place of turmoil. The most troubled place in the world is not, however, a geographic location. The human heart is the most troubled place in our world.
Look at the history of the world. Look at the present-day Jerusalem, the wars fighting, and protests throughout the Middle East. Look at the American political system that seems to have lost a sense of civility, moral character, and compassion. Look at what David Brooks calls the rampant individualism of our current culture where the emphasis on self-individual success, self-fulfillment, self-actualization, individual freedom is a catastrophe. Look at a pandemic that Don Bisson says is warning us that the power of money, guns, Wall Street are impotent before a microbe that can destroy our economy as a silent unseen killer. Look at a society where gun selling is up 300% as if the virus can be fought by a militia in arms. What we see in this frightening moment of our global family are the symptoms of the turmoil that fills the heart of humanity with all of its fear and uncertainty of our future.
Turmoil challenges our beliefs and faith, confronts the way we have always done things, makes us question where we are going. In the midst of turmoil life, people, and maybe even God, do not line up with our expectations and what we have come to believe. When that happens, we mostly want things, people, God back in alignment. We often do not think of realigning ourselves; but that is the opportunity that turmoil gives us. Instead, we want life and the economy to go back to the way it was before the pandemic. Some will pray today for God to fix the problem and end the turmoil. Others will come to Palm Sunday seeking answers to or an escape from the turmoil of our lives and world. But on this day, there is no escape. There is no easy answer.
Jesus is entering Jerusalem, the heart of people, the pandemic wound of our global humanity, the identity of a nation, the foundation of a religion. The pandemic is forcing us to show up this Holy Week and pass the test ready or not. We are living something together, a common experience of life.
God calls us to stay awake with him this holy week. To stay with the suffering is the challenge until it breaks our own hardened hearts and until they become open hearts filled with compassion for all humanity. We are called to be the suffering servant of our first reading from Isaiah, the one who holds fast to this enduring gift of strength from God and is ready to face anything. “I have not rebelled, not turned back.” However, this fidelity to the mission inevitably brings persecution. Why? It is because the Servant who truly ‘listens’ to the Word of God, who concretely lives it, quickly unsettles others. Out of his own conversion the Servant calls others to conversion. Some hear the call, others reject it and turn against the servant. To renew his strength, each morning the Servant comes before the One who enables him to face whatever the day brings. “Morning after morning he opens my ear…The Lord is my help, therefore I am not disgraced. I have set my face like flint.”
Isaiah was addressing his humiliated and persecuted contemporaries exiled in Babylon; but of course, when one reads Christ’s Passion, Jesus Christ clearly embodies the image of the Suffering Servant of God. An open ear to God’s Word, an unshakeable confidence that brings with it the certainty of victory, in the midst of turmoil and persecution. This perfectly describes Jesus as he enters Jerusalem as the crowds acclaim him with palm branches, thereby signaling and precipitating his fateful end.
In the Passion we have just heard Matthew emphasizes the contrast between the condemned man’s powerlessness and the greatness ascribed to him by some pagans: “righteous man,” “King of the Jews,” “Son of God,” “Truly, this was the Son of God.” It is in his powerlessness that Jesus manifests his true greatness, which is the greatness of God, that is to say, that of infinite love. The turmoil of Palm Sunday points to a deeper mystery of Jesus’ identity and leaves us asking, “Who is this?”
Michael Marsh suggests, He is not the sweet baby Jesus of Christmas card fame. He is not our buddy and our pal. He is not our copilot. He is a man of turmoil. His turmoil is life-giving and God-revealing. The turmoil he brings calls our life and the turmoil of our world into alignment with God’s life. His entry into Jerusalem inaugurates a Holy Week of turmoil; realigning our relationships and teaching us the intimacy of washing feet, calling us to die before death comes, and breaking open our lives in ways we never thought possible. The turmoil Jesus brings and enters into is the chaos out of which new life will be born on his and our Easter Sunday. That is, if we show up and allow this turmoil to be the testing period of deep transformation. Are we willing to be called to a different trust in life and death during this Holy Week?