Our schedule for holy Week is as follows: Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper will begin at 7:00 p.m. Our Good Friday Service will begin at 3:00 p.m. Stations of the Cross will be held on Good Friday at 6:00 p.m. The Easter Vigil on Saturday will begin at 7:30 p.m. Easter Sunday Masses will be the normal Sunday schedule with Masses at 7:30 & 10:00 a.m.
It’s not quite the Kentucky Derby. Or even the Preakness. In fact, it’s not even horses. Rather, we have a donkey. And not even a whole bunch of them lining up for a race like the horses do. Instead, there is only one. One donkey to run the race into Jerusalem on this day.
This donkey – we can name him Dominic, which I believe we did last year – is the only contender. He’s chosen by Jesus himself, telling his Disciples to go into the village and borrow this certain beast of burden from its owner. No other one, just Dominic. Make sure you get Dominic. So, the donkey is dropped down from heaven, falling out of Noah’s Ark up there. I hope his wife wasn’t looking for him.
Thus, the question, “Why not a whole slew of donkeys for the race into Jerusalem?” Are there not a bunch of important people coming into Jerusalem for the Passover feast? People who could be riding donkeys? Sure there is! And they probably are riding them. But only one of them is greeted with the words that begin with “Hosanna.” A word that means adoration, praise, and joy.
From a strictly human angle, Palm Sunday is the highlight of Jesus’ public ministry. Where else in the Gospels do we see the crowds extending the highest adoration and praise to Jesus? Nowhere like this greeting today.
It certainly wasn’t in Nazareth, when Jesus spoke words of truth they just did not want to hear, thus chasing their native son to the brow of hill to hurl him over headlong. Words of truth being greeted with anger, disdain, and thoughts of violence are not so unusual in today’s world either. Truth-telling is a very difficult and dangerous occupation in our modern time.
And there was the crowd in the city of Nain, one of my favorite Gospels in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus comes across a funeral procession in his public ministry – his timing is perfect like with Lazarus – and raises from the dead the only son of a widow. This crowd, unlike in Nazareth, was much closer to the truth in their reaction to Jesus’ act of love; “God has visited his people,” and “A great prophet has arisen in our midst.” They may not have known that the words they spoke about God visiting his people were literal. That God was in fact standing before them. But nonetheless, they were amazed at what they witnessed.
And then there was that massive crowd of thousands and thousands of very hungry men, women, and children who were instructed to sit on the green grass and be fed by way of multiplying fish and loaves. They all ate and were satisfied, with much left over. The Gospel does not record the crowd’s reaction toward Jesus, probably because they didn’t know where all the produce came from. They didn’t know they were eating loaves and fish that came forth from the hand of God.
And then there’s the crowd of this coming week; “Crucify him, crucify him.” Twice said, in case Jesus didn’t hear it the first time. I just heard all of you say those words in the reading of the Passion. Which is fitting, because his crucifixion is for all the sins of the world. The echo of “Crucify him” carries forth over the centuries to the year 2015. Those violent words carry forth not because we don’t love the Lord, but because we need his mercy. Back then, however, they were angry at Jesus. They bought into the foolish story of how he pretended to be God, equal to God. “The Father and I are one.” And, “Don’t you know me Philip, that anyone who has seen me has seen the Father?” Those are words that make people angry to the point of wanting to crucify him. Today, we continue to buy into false narratives and false ideologies that pretend to play God, such as the death with dignity lie that is still hanging around.
So, there’s anger in Nazareth; God’s visitation in Nain; satisfaction of stomach on the green grass; and vengeance before Pontius Pilate. And then there’s Palm Sunday.
“Hosanna,” they say. Do they mean it? I believe they do. Adoration, praise, and joy. One donkey. One rider. One race to the Cross. One resurrection for all. This day is the highlight of Jesus’ ministry.
So how does this crowd celebrate this deeply religious day? A day rich in rejoicing and adulation, rich in being part of the crowd? Quite honestly, today it feels pretty good to be part of the crowd. Our instincts are spot on. Praise and worship to Jesus on Dominic the Donkey. It’s like being present for the winning game at Fenway Park when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. The crowd is uplifting. The crowd is in a joyful frenzy. The crowd is high-fiving each other. Strangers are now friends. Love is in the air. The donkey – Dominic – is in the lead. He’s winning the race into Jerusalem. And the Jockey is all smiles.
We celebrate this most holy day as a crowd by welcoming Jesus into the Jerusalem of our hearts. We couldn’t be there 2000 years ago. But if we were, we would have been yelling out “Hosanna.”
Take a palm branch, lay it at the altar of your heart, speak the prayer “Hosanna,” and rejoice that God has arrived in the fire pit of Jerusalem. The entire history of time before Christ has waited for this moment.
The mood of the crowd shifts very quickly this holy week. From Hosanna to Crucify him to his final words in Mark’s Gospel, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? But today, put your joyful faith in neutral and allow it to stay there for some time.
Dominic wins the race, because his Rider is the only one worthy enough to receive such praise.
Sometimes death is seen as a blessing. Depending upon the condition of the individual as they go through the dying process, the final heartbeat of a person’s life can be, at times, seen as a blessing. Sometimes it’s quick, and when death is quick for a middle-aged or elder person, we call this a blessing. They didn’t have to suffer very long.
It sounds like Lazarus may fall under this category. Even though Lazarus was not old by today’s standards, probably around his 30’s, and not having the medical expertise we are blessed with today, he was most likely older for his time. The average lifespan at the time of Jesus was probably in the 30’s to early 40’s. That makes me ancient!
Either way, another blessing is when a person who suffers for a long amount period of time, and we may actually pray for God to take them and relieve them of their suffering and their physical condition. But we must remember that today, with advances in medicine and such, pain can be eased substantially as a person draws to the end of their lives. Such medicine not only eases the pain and suffering of the person in the dying process, but also our own pain of heart knowing that our loved ones and friends are not suffering intensely as death approaches.
Thus, comfort becomes a priority for them. I’ve learned this term in my hospital ministry, CMO, Comfort Measures Only, as a person’s life is winding down. The comfort of presence, of prayer, of holding hands. Therefore, death with dignity is not helping someone to die quickly by taking their life. See what happens when human beings take over and God is falsely represented or pushed aside? Rather, death with dignity is providing comfort and spiritual presence as a person dies naturally. Those “death with dignity” people who were here not do long ago in our state are still around, and they will be returning, and their message remains less than dignified as they wrap their secular message in a beautiful gift box with a pretty ribbon on top. But when opened, the box is filled with demons.
It’s not easy and is very difficult to watch a loved one die. To witness them go through a lengthy dying process. Martha and Mary probably did this with their brother Lazarus. Thank God Lazarus had two sisters who cared for him and loved him.
In an image of Martha and Mary elsewhere in the Gospel, as their brother Lazarus was dying, Martha would have been the one running around the house, and running around the village, and running to CVS or Rite-Aid, to get the necessary medicine and whatever else to ease the pain of her brother Lazarus. Martha the Marathoner. Run, run, run. Sign her up for the Boston Marathon! She was probably in great shape, thin as a rail. Mary, on the other hand, she was the one sitting at the bedside of Lazarus her brother like she sat at the feet of the Lord, praying for her brother that he may get well. Or, maybe praying that Lazarus would die quickly to end his suffering. Or, praying that Jesus would show up soon so they would not have to say the words, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
But it was part of God’s plan that Jesus’ friend Lazarus was to die. God’s plan is always bigger and better than our vision and insight, as brilliant as we think we can be. We see a tiny window of time. God sees from eternity to eternity. Our issue, too much of the time, is our lack of trust in God’s vision of eternity to eternity.
God has a plan for Lazarus. Martha and Mary were counting on Jesus to get his holy, Jewish body to Bethany as quickly as possible. “You cured the blind man; get here please! You turned water into wine; get here please! You healed the official’s son who was about to die; get here please and heal someone much more important to you than an official’s son who wasn’t even a Jew!”
At times, maybe many times, we think in the moment while losing the bigger picture of eternity. While losing the God-side of our capacity in how we view an impending death. Or even a sudden death.
So Jesus comes stumbling in 4 days later. He obviously didn’t work for UPS, because I never showed up late! Jesus causally appears with the 12. The sisters hear of it, and probably think internally, “It’s about time, but you’re late Lord! Where were you when our brother really needed you?” Such is the human way of thinking of death in a small, tiny window of time. “What have you done for me lately?” Our tiny world of vision says, “If you had been here, my brother, or son, or daughter, or mother or father would not have died.”
Eternity to eternity.
Jesus’ appearance time-wise is perfect. As is all else about him, for he is the Son of God. He is perfection in a human body that will die on a Cross. Wherever and whenever he appears during his public ministry, in fact his entire life, the timing of every moment of Jesus’ life is perfect, even if we don’t think so, like Martha and Mary. He sees not only the moment in front of him. He sees and acts from eternity to eternity. And therein lies our hope, our dependence, and our greater glory.
Take away the stone. “But Master, surely there will be a stench after 4 days.” “Listen to me, my people. I said take away the stone.”
Do you have loved ones on the other side of eternity? Jesus says, “Take away the stone.” Don’t remove the monument from their grave. That’s not what he’s saying. He’s saying, take away the stone that prevents you from seeing, believing, and trusting in the power of Jesus Christ, who is the resurrection and the life. Take away the stone that blinds us from seeing eternity to eternity. See death through the eyes of God. And what do we see when we do? “Lazarus, come out! The dead man came out,” and now lives.
Eternity to eternity is hope and truth. It is Jesus Christ revealed as God’s own Son. “Do you believe this? Yes, Lord, we do.”
Sometimes death is a blessing, depending upon the circumstances surrounding the individual. But whenever and however it happens, may we come to see death through God’s power and vision, who will overturn the sting, and invite us to rejoice in his free gift of eternal life.
In the 1st reading in the call of David, we see that God calls forth in the most unexpected way. I’m sure that a certain former Cardinal from Argentina never expected to be chosen to hold the Seat of Peter the rock, and be the first to take the name of one of the most beloved saints in Church history, Francis. His Pontificate is every bit the name of Francis in his simplicity, paying for his hotel room after being elected Pope, his love for the poor, and being outspoken where necessity calls for it. And even apologizing for his outspokenness if needed.
David was the most unexpected King, the 8th son of Jesse, who wasn’t even called together with his 7 brothers when Samuel showed up with his horn of oil ready to anoint one of the 8 sons. Only 7 were invited. The other one left in the field tending the flock was not even a remote possibility to be anointed for God. He was not good enough to gather with his brothers.
But it’s fitting that David made his own entrance into this gathering of big shots. As soon as David entered the ceremony, the Lord says, “There – anoint him – for this is the one! Anoint him! He’s perfect for my plan! That little guy who was not much to look at by worldly standards!”
This is why God calls Blessed Mother Teresa, all 4’ 10” of her, (she’s now 10 feet tall in heaven) rather than calling a 6-foot tall super model. The 7 sons of Jesse were the super models. David was Mother Teresa. One of them is concerned about their mortal skin and how it looks to others in the world. The other concerns herself with the resurrection of the body, which begins with caring for the most hurting and lowliest bodies in our midst. Man sees the appearance; the Lord looks into the heart. Man is consumed by the riches of the world and its passing things. God invites us to eternal life.
When we look into the heart rather than judging by appearance, it is then that we may recognize the potential of another.
Jesus is walking by, notices a man who is blind. Jesus was born with sight. This man was not. Jesus could look at him, study him, observe him, even have compassion for him, and then continue on with the 12 and others. “Did you see that guy back there? I feel bad for him. Let’s continue on to the Temple where I can overturn some tables.” But he wouldn’t be Jesus if he continued on. And neither would we be Jesus. So Jesus looks and studies and observes him, and definitely has compassion for him. He then treats the blind man, not like the first 7 sons of Jesse, but like the 8th son named David. He treats the blind man like a future king. Even better, a future disciple. Jesus gives him all sorts of attention. Attention he’s not even looking for. He’s just sitting there at his usual post, at the corner of Park Ave and Salisbury, the high rent district, just hoping that a few people that day will be kind enough to throw a coin or two into his soup can. And he won’t complain if it’s a Roman coin. He’s working his fulltime job.
However, like the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus has another job waiting. So, like David being anointed with the oil, Jesus anoints this new David with his personal oil, saliva mixed with clay. Jesus gives him some unexpected attention. He wants coins. Just like the Samaritan woman wanted water. But Jesus raises them up and gives them something much greater than coins and water, and looks and beauty. Instead, he gives to us, “I am the light of the world,” and “Water welling up to eternal life.”
Jesus does not judge from appearance or from lofty stature, like humans do. He does not choose disciples who seek fame, like sitting at the right and left, or fortune, status, power, authority, and conceited self-love. “Look at me! Look how good I look! I am soooo beautiful!” I doubt that David tending his flock or the blind man ever said that. God’s call is directed at a lonely little shepherd boy, the woman with 5 husbands, and a guy who has no sight. What a trinity that is! Jesus raises them up.
God searches for a large space of humility to work with us. The man born blind was the perfect person for Jesus to reveal that he is the light of the world. Not the Hollywood folks. Not the rich and famous. Not Donald Trump. Not even those who wear a Boston sports uniform, although I’m sure some of them are God-fearing athletes. He chooses the simple, the David’s of the world, to lead others to the light.
The Lenten message for us from this moving Gospel and readings is, yes, seek humility in our lives, and it will be given. Give God space to work. A continuous prayer for virtue is a prayer answered, eventually. When we get out of our own way.
But the message is also to understand and know that our Lord will come to us at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways, which is beyond our capacity to control God, thank God. God’s ways are not our ways, yet he will meet us and greet us in the routine actions of our lives. Be it collecting coins in a soup can or going to the well for a drink of water. God surprised them all by choosing David over the 7 Oscar-winning sons of Jesse. God had more room to reveal his power and presence through a little shepherd boy than through the 7 sons who were feeling pretty good about themselves. They probably made bets between the 7 of them over who was going to be chosen. They all lost. Such is the folly of human wisdom.
The virtue of the blind man is that he didn’t fight Jesus when Jesus anointed him with his personal oil. If someone starts stinking their fingers in your eyes, let me know if you would let them do so without a fight. Yet, the blind man allowed it. The virtue of the Samaritan woman was that she didn’t push Jesus away and get angry at him when he called her on her sinfulness of 5 husbands, and living with one who was not her husband.
So, when Jesus shows up to cure our blindness, or to give us a drink of faith, for indeed he will, and does each day, let him do his work. Be David. Be the man born blind. Be the Samaritan woman. And be his disciple. Always.
With all the language of water, thirst, give me a drink, hot, dusty, tired and hungry, it’s safe to say we are back in the desert for the rest of Lent.
Two weeks ago, the Gospel of Mark pushed us out into the desert with Jesus to create a spiritual environment of barrenness, of starting the process of cleaning out the internal side of us. From there, Matthew’s Gospel last week carried us up the mountain of Transfiguration to witness, along with Peter, James, and John, a glimpse of our future condition through the glowing body of Christ. The message last week, early in Lent, was that we always live in hope. Despite the craziness of things like politics and a world seemingly going haywire, we live in hope. No one and nothing can steal from believers the present hope of future joy that will be made complete. No one and nothing can remove from our lives of faith the glorified and transfigured body of Jesus Christ. Governments have tried, and governments have failed, because the love that people have for Christ is stronger than the forces of darkness that attempt to force our allegiance to men and passing things.
And from the mountain, in week three of this time set aside for conversion and repentance, the Church returns us to the desert where we need to be. As I said last week, borrowing the words of St. Peter, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here.” Here being the desert where this arid environment allows for continuous conversion of mind and heart. Except, the desert this week is the site of Jacob’s Well. It is there that we come to hear the words that beckon us to deeper conversion of heart and mind; “The water that I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In easier words to understand, Jesus wants us.
Escape the world of your work for a moment. Leave it all behind. Escape the world of your Monday-Saturday routine, whatever it may be. allow yourselves to stand with Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the most famous well in the world. Let’s be part of this conversation and be open to how it speaks to us personally. It will touch each one of us where we are at right now in our lives.
First, Jesus does the unspeakable; he speaks to a woman. That’s not a big deal today. But then it was. Jesus breaks down the barriers of a culture that limited fruitful communication between men and women. If Jesus wanted her faith to be in him, then he had to treat the Samaritan Woman and address her with the same dignity he extended toward his Apostles. This he does, and gives us the example par excellence of how we are to offer that same equal dignity to others.
But notice that while Jesus is extending the dignity the Samaritan Woman deserves as a person made in God’s image and likeness, he does not agree with everything about her life. The five husbands; the one she is living with now. Jesus is honest with her about her sinfulness. And by calling her on her present lifestyle, while respecting her person, he is able to draw her in to his very self.
Yet, in the midst of drawing her in, Jesus has a role. He has a purpose and a mission, grounded in him being the Savior of the World. And no one else has that role. There are some men and women, mere mortals, who think they have this role – Caesar being one of them, along with others today. Every age has its leaders who think they are God. But Jesus alone is the Messiah, the Savior who calls us home, eventually. And to him alone do we give the glory.
So as we stand there at the well of Jacob, we are blessed to witness this role at its best. In this wonderful expression of Jesus’ humanity, he comes to the well because he is thirsty and famished. So he says, “Give me a drink.” Not even a “Please!” This begins a conversation that will go places the Samaritan Woman and we could never imagine. When’s the last time we gave Jesus a drink? When’s the last time in our lives we even thought that Jesus was thirsty? Aren’t we always expecting the thirst quenching from him? To give to us? There are times when God gets thirsty in our presence. And most times it happens Monday-Saturday when we’re out there in the desert of this New England winter. The Sunday experience, which is so necessary, is for quenching our thirst in word and Eucharist. The Monday-Saturday time slot is for offering a drink to the Lord by way of our brothers and sisters. Such almsgiving is one of the three pillars of Lent, alongside prayer and fasting. In the weekday time slot, give Jesus a drink. He’s thirsty.
As we stand at the desert of Jacob’s Well in the presence of Jesus, he knows in his Divinity that we are thirsty too. Although he commands a drink from us, he’s ready to feed us his drink. What is his drink? His drink is the drink of conversion through faith. He’s thirsty for us to work fulltime for him, like the Samaritan Woman. She filled out the job application for fulltime discipleship for Christ. It was her conversion that got her hired. She found a much better company to work for than the company of five husbands and a present stranger. She found the true Light of the World, and got rid of the false lights that grab our attention. She came to know her Savior who already knew everything about her. He knew she was thirsty for goodness and right living. She turned the words of Jesus back on him, “Give me your drink.” No please. And she got it. And those are our words; “Lord, give me your drink!”
In the desert of Jacob’s Well during this 3rd week of Lent, allow your thirst for Jesus to expand and deepen. Become even more hungry and thirsty for him. We cannot exhaust this well. And know that the capacity to bring Christ to others, in imitation of the Samaritan Woman, is accomplished when we allow the thirst of Jesus to penetrate the entirety of our lives.