As we prepare to celebrate Palm Sunday, we recognize that we gather across the world - in different time zones, under varied contexts and circumstances, as People of God.
I invite us to take a moment to prepare our minds and hearts for the Lord’s passion—and along the way consider the call and cost of discipleship.
(unless you’re driving) Close your eyes a moment—
Take a deep breath and exhale slowly – do that again as you center yourself wherever you are at this moment.
40 days ago today was Ash Wednesday. Recall how many of us gathered to be marked by a very public sign of faith—that black cross on our foreheads—made of the ash, from the burnt palms of the year prior. Marked by the sign of the cross on our foreheads, we were recognized--asked why the smudge? The questions gave us opportunities to testify and bear witness to Christ. Recall the many promises we made 40 days ago-- to fast, to pray and to offer alms to those in need, because we have been called to be followers of Christ-- disciples on the journey.
Open your eyes now—(if you haven’t already) as we reflect together on the Lord’s Passion.
In today’s readings – as Jesus makes his way to Jerusalem, the crowd laid palms along the road and cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David: blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” After Jesus’ triumphant entrance to Jerusalem, we read that the whole city was shaken, and they asked, “Who is this?” – the crowd replied, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
I’d like to believe that as Catholics, we too are members of the crowd, who have responded affirmatively to our baptismal call to be followers of Christ. In your life-- how have you responded to the call of discipleship—to be a follower of Christ? Who would testify, on your behalf? What does the call to discipleship ask of us as individuals and as a community?
These are important questions for us to ponder today—as we reflect on the passion in Matthew’s Gospel. -- Before the celebration of the Passover meal, Jesus prepares his disciples for their “final exam” and predicts that he will be betrayed by one of his own. After offering his body and blood as bread and wine for those gathered to eat and drink, as a sign of the covenant—he makes a second prediction: “this night, your faith in me will be shaken”—to which Peter replies, “though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be”— and we all know how that story ends, right? – But before the denials, Jesus took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him to the garden of Gethsemane—and asked them to sit with him and to keep watch, while he prayed.
At the crossroads of Christ’s humanity – and divinity, Jesus weeps, his “soul is sorrowful, even to death”—when he goes to check on the disciples, he finds the three of them asleep. Three times he goes to pray, and three times he finds them sleeping—and each time he admonishes them with a question: So, you could not keep watch with me for one hour? Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Are you still sleeping?
After that Jesus says to them, “get up, let’s go.” At which point, Jesus is betrayed with a kiss, the guards arrest him and lead him away amid other sordid events—and three times throughout the telling of Christ’s passion we read, all this would happen so that the writings of the prophets and the Scriptures be fulfilled. In other words, God does not intervene to save him from the cross, the paschal journey that includes this dark night of suffering, grief, injustice, persecution, and death—this dark night—when it feels that God has abandoned Jesus, is one of the mysteries of our faith.
Then in Matthew 26:56, it is written: “Then all the disciples left him and fled.”
But two verses later we read: “Peter was following at a distance, as far as the high priest’s courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome.”
All the disciples left him and fled, but Peter followed at a distance. Peter finally woke up because he was committed to his call as disciple of Jesus, the Messiah. We often make so much of Peter’s denial— but seldom do we consider the courage that it took to go to the high priest’s courtyard, to sit with the servants “to see the outcome” -- to be able to testify to what he saw: to give an account of the outrageousness of the charge of blasphemy, and to the insidiousness of the mockery, torture, and crucifixion that followed. For Peter, the call of discipleship, demanded a presence that required risking his life for his friend. I’d like to think that when he was asked, “weren’t you with the Galilean?” -- he denied knowing Jesus, because covering for the sake of a deeper truth was more important than admitting a reality that was inconsequential to the outcome of the moment. An affirmative response to the question would only serve to make him a martyr. When his accent gave him away, his denial, and cursing were a foil to buy him time—because he needed to get back to tell the story— of how the scriptures were fulfilled.
Peter’s awakening led to him to deny Jesus— as a cover that allowed him to be present to in a new way—this time as a witness.
We all know Christians who talk a good talk, who shout out, on every platform known to humanity—Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior—Hosanna in the highest—and turn a blind eye to the asylum seeker getting arrested, and having their children taken from them—and then like frightened disciples, justify their apathy with claims of legality. Or those whose public piety is spotless, but only have incredulous words and regret for the never ending suffering of school children and their families – shot and killed by senseless gun violence—and then like Herod, justify blocking common sense gun legislation by saying, “it’s not guns that kill, it’s people with mental illness.” Or those who March for Life and offer roses to politicians to protect the life of the unborn, and then self-righteously persecute LGBTQ children and their families, because like the high priests, the judge without understanding, the complexity of what it means to be a embodied outside of duality. In so doing, they all fail to recognize the call of discipleship includes staying awake in the garden, and the cost of discipleship includes entering into the suffering of Christ in our midst. Like Peter, too often we are found asleep in the midst of the agony in the garden—too often we are comfortable in our slumber because the cost of discipleship seem to high.
It is my hope that as we prepare ours minds for Holy Week, with palms in hand—may we might find new meaning in the passion--- that calls us to renew how we understand our call to discipleship—and thus discover that the cost of discipleship simply requires that we be open to encountering Christ along the way -- open to seeing, feeling, and experiencing the betrayal, abandonment, denial and crucifixion of Jesus in our time-- in the suffering of those in our midst.
As we prepare our hearts for the Triduum – may the palms serve as a reminder to stay AWAKE to the ongoing passion of Christ in the world—that we may commit ourselves to the cost of discipleship as faithful witnesses of God’s enduring, transformative Love.
Dr. Elsie Miranda is the director of accreditation and institutional evaluation for The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. She previously taught in Barry University’s department of theology and philosophy, where she served for 22 years, most recently as associate professor of practical theology and director of ministerial formation.
She served as President of the Association of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States and since then has been committed to promoting theological discourse and dialogue across cultural and disciplinary boundaries. Dr. Miranda is also the founder of the Cuban Evolution Foundation Inc., whose mission is to promote human dignity and critical consciousness through education, the arts and Christian ministerial praxis. Through her personal and professional life, Dr. Miranda seeks to intersect sacred narrative with quotidian reality. She hopes that through her work, relationships and commitments others are inspired to work for the greater good.
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