If you were in the pews this past Sunday you probably noticed how Palm Sunday really stands out from other masses....We get to start in the narthex and process into the church together, we get to hold those fun palm branches, oh yeah...and we have to stand forever to hear the world's longest gospel reading.
If you found yourself annoyed or struggling through the gospel this past Sunday, I have some advice for you. Next year, when you stand up for the gospel on Palm Sunday, put down your palm branches. If you weren't too busy using your palms to make a cross, or smack your brother, or lightly tickle the ear of the person sitting in front of you, you might be able to concentrate on the gospel long enough to realize it's actually one of the most riveting stories ever told.
On Palm Sunday, we hear the entire account of the Lord's Passion-- from His entrance into Jerusalem to when he was laid in the tomb. This is an account of one of the most fascinating and influential stories in history, the death of Jesus Christ. And we aren't just getting the basic facts here folks, we are hearing the whole story....and what a story it is! This story's got it all! Celebration, tradition, betrayal, danger, surprise attacks, denial of friendship, suspense, behind the scenes with world leaders, angry crowds, violence, a treacherous journey, a wrongful death, destiny, love, anguish... it's got all the makings of a blockbuster hit, really. Any novel you pick off the shelf that has all of that in one story would certainly be considered a page turner.
So while you were maybe busy seeing if you got the kind of palm that can split into two palms, this incredible, true, deep, and memorable plot was unfolding. Often, the readings at mass kind of flow in one ear and out the other, because we think we've heard it all before. But truly, no matter how many times you've heard it, it's always capable of revealing something new to us. That's the beauty of the word of God, it never changes, but we do. We grow, we mature, we find ourselves experiencing different situations in life, and even though we may hear the same readings over and over, each time we can uncover a deeper truth we may not have been able to see before.
This year, we have been reading the gospel of Luke. Luke's version of the Passion has a story in that doesn't appear in the other accounts-- the tale of the two criminals who hung on either side of Jesus, and the conversation that takes place between the three.
Today, you will be with me in paradise. That is something every Christian longs to hear-- a promise that they will ascend to heaven and bask in the glory of the Lord for all eternity. Sounds pretty sweet to me. But remember, the word of God has the ability to reveal truths about ourselves to us...if we are listening well enough and openly enough to hear them:
One criminal had this beautiful eternity offered to him in mercy; the other isolated himself in his own despair.
So the question is, which are you?
Both criminals were sinners. Both had no business receiving mercy and forgiveness from the Lord for the choices they had made. None of us do. Even if you have never committed a crime that would warrant public persecution like the criminals, each of us have sinned against our Father and made choices that distanced us from Him.
When you encounter suffering or difficult experiences, do you respond like the first criminal, crying out that it is "no fair" and demanding that God to get rid of the problem, acting as if it is your right to be bailed out and His duty to do so?
Instead, in the face of suffering, we should seek to react like the second criminal. First, he recognized his own shortcomings, and took responsibility for what he brought upon himself. Instead of demanding to be saved from the situation, he instead appeals to the Lord's mercy without expectation...but instead in humility, he adored and glorified the Lord regardless of his own suffering.
Do we deserve eternity with our Lord in heaven? Absolutely not. If you think about it, even one who has lived a spotless life doesn't deserve to be living with God in heaven. And we are far from perfect. Yet, the Lord offers His children a place in His heavenly kingdom. How will you respond to this opportunity?
This Holy Week, humble yourself before our Lord. Recognize your own sins, and pray for the Lord's mercy in adoration. You will be amazed at the outpouring of love and graces the Lord will bestow upon you. He did it 2000 years on a cross...and His arms are still outstretched awaiting you.
Have a blessed Holy Week and a very happy Easter.
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