LEARNING THE LESSONS OF BEING ILL-PREPARED
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [Isaiah 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9,17-20,23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56 (or >< 23:1-49) ]
Today, the Church begins the celebration of Holy Week with the Palm Sunday Service. The liturgy of Palm Sunday gives us a preview of the events leading to the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. This is to prepare us who, as disciples of our Lord, follow Jesus by commemorating His passion, death and resurrection. To celebrate these mysteries meaningfully, we too need to make our own preparations as Jesus did when He dispatched His disciples to prepare for His entry into Jerusalem to celebrate the final Passover.
How do we prepare ourselves for a meaningful celebration of the Paschal Mystery, His passion, death and resurrection? More than just a material and ritualistic preparation for these mysteries we are celebrating is the preparation of our hearts. Celebrating Holy Week is more than just attending the services, especially the Sacred Triduum, but disposing our hearts and minds as we enter into the heart of the celebration of these mysteries.
Otherwise, we too have not learnt the lessons presented to us in today’s scripture readings. The grace for us Christians today, unlike that of the apostles and disciples during the time of our Lord, is that we have the benefit of foresight. The apostles and disciples were so caught up with the development of the events that they had no time to ponder and reflect on what they were doing and how they were reacting. Instead, they were carried away by the momentum of the events. Rather than taking control of the events as they unfolded, they were overcome by the events, resulting in their making foolish mistakes and decisions. But we have the grace of foresight to know what happened and therefore we must not allow history to repeat itself by paying attention to the mistakes that they made as we reflect on the scripture readings today.
It was unfortunate that in spite of spending three years in intimacy with the Lord, following Him daily, yet they were ill prepared for the Lord’s Passover. This was because they had their own misconceptions of how the Kingdom of God would be established. They thought that Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to overthrow the Romans, their enemies. Judas wanted Jesus to show forth His mighty powers by destroying the Romans. This explains why Jesus spoke about the swords. “They said, ‘Lord, there are two swords here now.’ He said to them, ‘That is enough!'” But this would not be the Lord’s way.
The Kingdom of God would not be established by force or might. It would be established not through political power but humble service, love, forgiveness and compassion. The second reading from St Paul speaks of the path of the Lord in restoring the Kingdom of God. “His state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.” Jesus’ way of establishing the kingdom of peace was through self-emptying in non-violence. Indeed, as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Lord said, “For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle.”
Indeed, the Kingdom of God goes beyond politics and human power. That is why there is a separation between Church and State. The Church, like Jesus, is not interested in politics or in gaining political power. The Church is concerned with the spiritual welfare of its people. She gets involved in politics only insofar as she seeks to assist the legitimate government to make possible the means for their citizens to live a life of justice, peace, progress and unity. This explains why Jesus told Pilate in no uncertain terms that His Kingdom was not of this world. He was not even interested to talk to Herod. Hence, Pilate was convinced that Jesus was not a political revolutionary as claimed by His accusers. “He said, ‘You brought this man before me as a political agitator. Now I have gone into the matter myself in your presence and found no case against the man in respect of all the charges you bring against him. Nor has Herod either, since he sent him back to us. As you can see, the man has done nothing that deserves death, so I shall have him flogged and then let him go.”
Truly, the real enemy in Jesus’ estimate was not the Romans but ourselves. It is sin that makes us slaves of worldly power, glory, honor and wealth. Even the disciples themselves followed Jesus for the wrong motives. They were no better than the Romans and the Jewish religious leaders. They were concerned with political and religious powers. The priests were closely aligned with the Roman establishment because they sought power, prestige and wealth. One of the reasons why Jesus was considered dangerous was because He was a potential revolutionary in changing the social and religious order of the day. The charge they made was that “He is inflaming the people with this teaching all over Judaea; it has come all the way from Galilee, where he started, down to here.” But the disciples were no better. They too sought earthly powers. It is unthinkable that just a few hours before the Lord’s passion was to begin, they were still arguing among themselves who was the greatest.
Hence, Jesus made it clear, “the greatest among you must behave as if he were the youngest, the leader as if he were the one who serves. For who is the greater: the one at the table or the one who serves? The one at the table, surely? Yet here I am among you as the one who serves!” The only power that is given to us is the power of humble service, charity, compassion and forgiveness. These are the powers that the disciples of the Lord would be given. With these powers, we will change and transform the world. It is the power of lowliness and humility, not one of arrogance and vindictiveness. This explains why the Lord was welcomed to Jerusalem as the King of Peace, sitting on a donkey, not on a horse as warriors. “At the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples begin to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!'”
The question is whether we will support Jesus and follow Him in this path to build the Kingdom of God on earth. When the people realized that Jesus would not be using His might and power to destroy the Romans, they turned against Him. What about us? Will we also betray our Lord like the Jews who were not happy with the way Jesus took to establish the Kingdom of God? They wanted to have it their way. That was why they chose a criminal and a murderer to lead them instead. They said to Pilate, “‘Away with him! Give us Barrabas!’ This man had been thrown into prison for causing a riot in the city and for murder.”
Do we give up Jesus for the things of this world? For the sake of political, economic, social and religious power, many give up Jesus. We are not faithful to the gospel message of self-emptying in humble service. Like the disciples, we are cowards. Like Peter and the rest, they abandoned the Lord out of fear when their lives and worldly honour were at stake. Peter even denied Jesus in front of a servant and a maid! Although we proclaim that Jesus is our Lord and master, when it comes to the crunch, we choose earthly power, wealth and glory and recognition by the world instead of being faithful to the gospel message. We too have run away instead of standing by Jesus and the Church in times of persecution and trials. We too dare not acknowledge Jesus in public. Like the disciples and the Jews, we simply follow the crowd. Isn’t it true of our people today? We are easily taken up by the propaganda of the world and follow blindly what we read on social media without proper discernment of the truths and the values that are taught. We listen more to the arguments of the world than the truths found in the scriptures which we pay lip service as the Word of God.
Thus, it behooves us to be alert if we do not want to fall into the same mistakes of the disciples and the Jews. The Lord warned His disciples twice, “Pray not to be put to the test.” Unlike the disciples, we must not be overconfident of our strength. We need to find strength from the Lord in prayer and especially meditation on the Word of God. This was what the Suffering Servant advised us, “The Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple’s tongue. So that I may know how to reply to the wearied he provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord Yahweh has opened my ear. The Lord Yahweh comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults. So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed.” So let us enter into Holy Week by spending this week in deep prayer and contemplation of our Lord’s passion and death so that we too can be exalted with Him in the resurrection.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.