Before Procession: Mt 21:1-11
First Reading: Is 50:4-7; Psalm: 22. R. v. 2a; Second Reading: Phil 2:6-11; Passion Narrative: Mt 26:14-27:66
THE JOYFUL ENTRY, THE PAINFUL BETRAYAL
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Today is the sixth Sunday of Lent. And in every sixth Sunday of Lent the Church celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem which marks the beginning of Holy Week celebrations. This triumphal entry of Jesus is known as Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. These two names do not only explain what we celebrate today but also highlights the sharp contrast present in the unfolding of this remarkable event. So there are two phases in today’s celebration. The one of joy and excitement with songs and the waving of palm branches. And the one of sadness and sorrow in the wake of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
The reception of Jesus into Jerusalem was massive. The cheering of the crowd, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” stirred up the city that people began to ask who it was that was entering the city. It was not only the people of the city who chanted this song. The disciples of Jesus also did. This song was political. It was a song that beckoned on Jesus to save his people from the political oppression of the Roman government. But if there was anyone who should understand better the real identity of Jesus Christ; it was his twelve disciples. Jesus never failed to teach them who he was and why he came. So they should have known better than the crowd that Jesus was not out for any usurpation.
In no time, this joyful triumphal entry of Jesus into the city was truncated which brings us to the second phase of this narrative. And guess who changed the story? Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve. He went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” Whatever was the motive that induced Judas to do this; one thing was clear: he was selfish. And if at all he believed Jesus would save himself when arrested; then he was an opportunist.
It is interesting how someone who had spent so much time with Jesus would degenerate to this level. When Jesus gave the Twelve power over unclean spirits, Judas was a beneficiary. Judas preached the gospel and apparently worked miracles. He directly heard and witnessed the teachings and healings of Jesus. He knew that narrow is the way that leads to life; and that the broad way leads to destruction. He understood the parable of the prodigal son that God was merciful and ever ready to welcome sinners if they returned. Yet after these three years of learning and journeying with Jesus; he rebelled against all he knew. How can we explain this?
It is understandable if the crowd turned against Jesus. But it is inexcusable to have Judas toe similar line. Jesus cannot be blamed for the choice Judas made; for Jesus did everything he could to save him. It is mystifying how some people can collapse a safe bridge built to save them from harm. Parents cannot understand how their children who they made so much effort to nurture in the Christian faith would wake up one day turned a nonconformist or atheist. Adolf Hitler, the greatest German dictator was born, nurtured, baptised and confirmed a Catholic. Joseph Stalin, the Russian dictator was also born and raised a Catholic. He even sang in Church choir and his mother wanted him to become priest. But at long last he turned atheist and on his rise to power outlawed Christianity.
As a parent, we may wonder where we went wrong that led to the falling away of our son or daughter from the faith. But perhaps it was not our fault that it happened. The grace of God works on us depending on our openness to it. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas teaches us that even the best example or finest teaching does not guarantee anyone’s salvation. But we must however continue on our Christian parenting. Because the loss of one is not the loss of all. There are still many who have benefited from Christian parenting.
As for you and I seated in this Church today; though we may have waved our palm branches and sang “Hosanna to the Son of David!” just like the crowd did. But we are definitely not the crowd. We are people of faith nurtured by the teachings and examples of Jesus. We are Christians who have read and learnt from the mistakes of Judas. Repeating the same mistake therefore would be costly. We must not model our lives after those who do not uphold the beliefs and the values we profess and practice. Don’t join the crowd. We are Christian disciples and believers of convention.
As we gradually come to the end of the Lenten period; we must not forget to leverage on the fruits of our Lenten training. The training that has fortified us to war against selfish and worldly passions so as not to betray Jesus as Judas did. But even when we fail to live up to expectations due to our human weaknesses; we must not fall away completely as Judas did. Because our palm branches of victory also reminds us that God can welcome us back when we fall and rise again. For when these palm branches are turned to ashes on Ash Wednesday, it becomes a symbol of repentance and reconciliation.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, we are sorry for the many times we betrayed you just like Judas and the crowd. Please, grant us the grace to remain steadfast in your teachings and in the faith we profess. Amen.