Where Do I Stand in the Crowd?

Today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. It is the day on which we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. While Covid precautions mean we won’t march into our churches with our palms as we usually do, still we recall Jesus riding down the street on a donkey, with people shouting “Hosanna” and laying their cloaks and palm branches before his path.

In one respect, knowing the succeeding acts in this story as we do, the scene seems like a cruel mockery to us; we know what awaits Jesus. We know that many of the same people who should “Hosanna” as Jesus rides into Jerusalem will, in only a few days, scream out, “Crucify Him.”

This morning, during our Palm Sunday Mass, we will have a chance to reflect on the juxtaposition of these two events. We begin our service recalling the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Then, as we will again on Good Friday, we will listen to a gospel account of The Passion of our Lord, in our turn, crying out Crucify Him.

We could treat it all as playacting, with us simply playing the roles of the crowds in the two scenes. Or we could use it for an opportunity for serious reflection, recognizing that our words and deeds always either give glory to Jesus or contribute toward his suffering. Because, make no mistake, we are always doing one or the other.

So we may wish to take some time to reflect on questions such as:

When am I like one or another of those crowds?

Do I recognize and celebrate Jesus when I encounter Him?

Are there times when my words or actions are the equivalent of the crowds crying for Jesus’ crucifixion?

Obstacles and Openness

Today’s first Mass reading is the story of the encounter between the prophet Elisha and Naaman, and Jesus alludes to this passage in today’s Gospel. My friend and colleague Joel Nichols wrote the following reflection as part of daily Lent reflections sponsored by the Office of Spirituality of the University of St. Thomas. The questions he poses at the end are great ones to sit with today. (The following words are all Joel’s, not mine.)

Today’s reading recounts the story of Elisha, the prophet in Israel, and Naaman, an army commander from Israel’s enemy. Naaman has leprosy. The tale comes to its pinnacle as Elisha tells Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman initially objects but then relents and receives healing, declaring: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” 

Luke’s Gospel reading alludes to this Elisha/Naaman story. Jesus, speaking at his hometown synagogue, pronounces how a prophet is not accepted in his own city, illustrated by how God met the needs of a non-Israelite widow in a famine (through Elijah) and cured the outsider Naaman (through Elisha). Right on cue, the crowd rises up in fury to reject Jesus. 

I am struck at how the Gospel passage seems pointed right at me – one who is an “insider.” Those of us who read these Lenten Reflections, who undertake additional practices, who strive (even in good faith!) to better connect with God – we play the role of insiders in the story. We’re not Naaman – that person who doesn’t listen well at first but eventually responds – but instead seem cast as those who heard Jesus speak and were so put off by Jesus’ words that we lash out. Could this be true? I sure don’t like the idea that I (and you?) might be the one resisting, or the one having trouble hearing the message of Jesus. 

So I’m considering: 

  • What are my obstacles to listening well? 
  • What is God’s message that I resist? 
  • How do I get off track in seeing where God is at work? 
  • Do I struggle to see God acting in ways contrary to my expectations? 

May God give us insight into our obstacles and an openness to see his grace to all.