Sunday, April 9, 2017

Homily for Palm Sunday

Homily for
Palm Sunday
April 9, 2017
Matt 21: 1-11
Phil 2: 6-11
Holy Cross, Champaign, Ill.                                       

“The master has need of them” (Matt 21: 3).
Christ Enters Jerusalem
Pietro Lorenzetti (fresco, Assisi)
It’s reported that St. John Vianney, the holy curé of Ars, France, once said, “If Samson could slay 1,000 Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, imagine what the Lord can do with a complete ass”—referring to himself, famously inept as a student in the seminary, but the Lord’s instrument for forgiving sinners who for years and years in the mid-19th century flocked to him to confess, as many as 300 penitents a day coming to his out-of-the-way country parish, and he spent as much as 16 hours a day in the confessional for most of the last 30 years of his life!  (Some of you are old enuf to remember the old confessionals, which were very uncomfortable to sit in for 1 hours, let alone 16—and in the curé’s case, without heat in the winter or a/c in the summer.)

Assuredly, St. John Vianney was no ass, complete or incomplete, but a priest filled with the simple wisdom of our Lord.

But in the 1st gospel for today, that of the Lord’s triumphal entry of Jerusalem, he sends 2 of his disciples to fetch an ass and its colt with the message to their owner, “The master has need of them.”

Reflect on that for a moment:  Jesus needed a donkey to enter Jerusalem.  He had to ask some friend of his—we assume the ass’s owner was a friend—for a little help.  Just as the Son of God humbly descended from heaven, taking on our human flesh with all its weaknesses, its limitations, its sufferings, as St. Paul writes today (Phil 2:7), he chose also to be dependent on the help of other human beings.  He needed to borrow a donkey for this phase of his divine mission.

Look at yourself—not as a jackass but as an instrument of the Lord.  Mother Teresa called herself just a pen in God’s hand that he could write with.  Yes, the Lord Jesus has a plan for you, a use for you, whoever you are:  man, woman, child, parent, senior citizen, student, laborer, businessman, lawyer, craftsman, farmer, nurse, teacher, homemaker.  The master has need of you for some purpose of his, which might be something very simple like smiling on someone who’s feeling down, or something grander like teaching catechism or healing the sick, and which might vary from day to day.

There’s just one condition on the Lord’s ability to use you.  It’s not being a donkey but being like Jesus, who humbled himself and was obedient to what God asked of him, even when that led to suffering.  God can’t work with someone who’s proud, someone who’s so full of himself that he won’t listen to God (or anyone else).

Now you might ask why God would command that his Son should suffer, “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).  I don’t think the Father willed that his Son should die; rather, the Son was loyal and obedient to God even tho that meant that evil people would do him in, in the most painful and humiliating way they could concoct.  Compare it to the obedience to God of a recent martyr, reported in a blog post 2 days ago[1]:

A Coptic Christian father of two who was on a “kill list” and tracked for days by Islamic State militants in Sinai refused to renounce his faith in Christ when given a chance to “save” himself before being executed, his wife said.

The British news outlet The Sunday Times [April 3] reports that the widow of 58-year-old Copt Bahgat Zakhar, one of eight Christians killed in the coastal town of Al Arish in just a three-week span in February, detailed the moment her husband met his fate.

Zakhar, who was a veterinary surgeon, was reportedly named on a jihadi “kill list” that was published online. As reported, jihadis have anonymously posted “kill lists” online that feature churches and prominent Christians across Egypt to target.[2]

Zakhar’s widow, Fawzia, said in her interview with the Times that an eyewitness explained that when the militants arrived, Zakhar tried to shake their hands. They quickly forced him onto a concrete terrace, forced him to his knees and demanded that he convert to Islam.

“Repent, infidel. Convert and save yourself,” the witness recalled one of the jihadis saying.

According to the witness, Zakhar simply shook his head in refusal. The militants then responded by fatally shooting him and leaving him dead on the floor.

I don’t think we can say that God willed the death of Bahgat Zakhar.  But we can say that Bahgat Zakhar was obedient even to the point of death; he was a martyr for Christ.  How God will use his life and death, we can’t say.  So much of life and death and the ways of salvation are hidden in mystery.  But we can be sure that God will exalt Bahgat Zakhar and bestow on him a glorious name in eternity.

And so will he exalt us if we are humble enuf, here in central Illinois, for him to use us for whatever purposes he has in mind.

Holy Cross, Champaign, decorated for Palm Sunday 2017

      [2] Aside: Yesterday 2 Christian churches were attacked in Egypt, and more than 20 Christians killed.

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