Reflection on Palm Sunday
When we awoke on Jan. 2 with the start of a new year, little did we realize what we would be facing now. We were immersed in politics with all those people running for the office of president. We were busy making our new resolutions. We were celebrating the start of a new decade. We chuckled at the story of two sets of twins, one of each set born on Dec. 31, 2019, and the other on Jan. 1, 2020, only 25 or 30 minutes apart and yet arriving in different months, years and decades. Life was good and we were ready to move along with it.
No one has to tell us that we are now in a critical period in the history of the world. Suffering abounds in ways that we would not have thought possible just a few months ago. And if we think the situation in our own country is bad, think about the very poor nations where no help is available; Haiti, for example. Our world will never be the same when this pandemic is over.
As I reflected on the Gospel reading we used for today I wondered what Jesus was thinking as He started on his journey. On Thursday of this week we read that the authorities wanted to stone Him, but He slipped quietly away from them. Yesterday’s Gospel said that Jesus no longer walked about in public.
Apparently, His intent was to slip into town unnoticed, but we are also told that the people were looking for Him. Perhaps, when someone noticed Him the word spread like wildfire, and the people flocked to celebrate Him, an unexpected, dangerous turn of events. Jesus must have appreciated their coming to Him with their music and dancing, shouts of Hosanna, meaning “save us now.” They were rejoicing because they thought to themselves and one another: “This is the one who will lift us from our troubled lives.” “This is the one God has sent to save us.” Matthew writes that the whole city of Jerusalem was shaken as though it was experiencing an earthquake. The whole city exploded with joy.
Did Jesus expect that? Maybe not! Was He apprehensive about what the outcome might be? I suspect it made Him very nervous. It was drawing unwanted attention and would certainly anger His adversaries. Or perhaps He hoped that with that kind of following, the authorities would back off and not do anything to anger the crowd. Whatever Jesus was thinking at that time, by the end of the week the scene had changed radically to the worst possible outcome. The crowd had switched their allegiance and switched their chant from “Save us now” to “Crucify him!”
The Palm Sunday event, like this pandemic we are now experiencing, was also the beginning of a week that changed the world forever. Religious beliefs were altered. Attitudes changed for the better as people adopted the teachings of Jesus. Attitudes changed for the worst when people were divided because of these teachings, father against son and daughter against mother. Eventually, religious prejudice and persecution grew, creating great suffering. In spite of Jesus’ best efforts to make a dream come true, He gained some followers, but not everyone.
When this pandemic is over, will we as a people, as a country, be changed by it? Will we realize that pollution can be lessened, that we can live more simply, that we are intrinsically linked to one another so that what affects one, affects all of us? Will we learn to take better care of one another? Will we learn to share what we have? Will we learn to protect the earth rather than destroy it? I hope so. That would be wonderful. But as is the nature of human beings, some will change for the better, and some will not. Hopefully, the good outcomes outweigh the bad ones.
Let’s look at in this way. Our world, our universe is constantly evolving. Change is inevitable, but it has been a bumpy ride all the way. Our own views have changed over and over again. We no longer write long, newsy letters but send quick texts by speaking into a tiny microphone on our phones. We move from place to place not by traveling for weeks on end in a covered wagon but by flying in the air for a couple of hours. What would our first Sisters think of that? Would they, in their wildest dreams, have ever thought such a thing was possible? Events have changed us personally and as a people; 9-11, for example, and the education we received that changed our outlook. New scientific findings constantly amaze us. This pandemic will also cause us to see things differently.
It is a scary time. We may fear that we will succumb to the virus; we fear for our relatives and friends; we fear the long-term economic consequences. When those fears arise, hopefully our trust in God will bubble up to the surface, not that everything will be fixed but that we will never be alone. God is with us, here in our midst, in the very matter which shapes us. God is with us when we pray, worry, mop the floor, wipe down tables, eat, sleep, chat with our neighbor, or take a walk. God is here, not out there. Will God fix it all? No, that’s our job. Will God abandon us? NEVER.