Here I am! Here I am!

Tom Bartolomeo
Palm Sunday Lent C 2013
Isaiah 50, 4-7; Psalm 22;
Philippians 2, 6-11; Luke 22, 14-23, 56
Reproduced with Permission

Here I am! Here I am! [I said].
To a nation that did not call upon my name.
I have stretched out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
Who walk in evil paths
and follow their own thoughts,
People who provoke me
continually, to my face. (Isaiah 65: 1b-3a).

These inspired words were spoken by the prophet Isaiah eight hundred years before the birth of Christ and twenty eight hundred years before our time, that we are "a rebellious people, who walk in evil paths and follow [our] own thoughts, people who provoke [God] continually to [His] face.

Every time I read the final sentence of today's gospel I shutter. "When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts. . ." (Luke 23, 48).

I am also struck by the choice of the word, "spectacle". The act of our salvation borne by the agony, crucifixion and death of our Savior, a "spectacle"?! The people may just as well have been at the coliseum in Rome for the curious martyrdom of some Christians - onlookers reduced to being spectators. Christ knew all this but set himself to the work of our salvation, regardless. As the Prophet Isaiah also said of Christ, "I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting . . . I set my face like flint . . . . (Isaiah 50, 7). All this, Jesus said, he did if only for one lost sheep out of a hundred.

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to [Jesus, we read in the gospel]. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? (Luke 15, 2-3).

And the other ninety-nine, what did Jesus say of them? "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." (Matthew 7, 21).

More than the usual twenty-five percent of practicing Catholics may show up for mass on Palm Sunday and on Easter Sunday, and I am happy they do even for the spectacle involved. Palms. Some may find this insulting - the truth is often hurtful - but they and we are the sinners Jesus seeks - may God include me among them - who finally acknowledge we are sinners just as Peter, the first Pope did. Recall the story in the gospel when Jesus got into Peter's boat to preach to the people on the shore who were " pressing upon him"?

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.

So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" (Luke 5,4-8).

That was the beginning of Peter's conversion. This is, however, only a first step in our salvation - ridding ourselves of our worldly worries and pursuits and self-righteousness. Those who had greeted Jesus' riding into Jerusalem were like spectators at a parade. Where were they six days later at Jesus's arrest, crucifixion and death? Were they silent when others shouted, "Crucify him, crucify him?" Where are we now when our Church and our Catholic beliefs are attacked in the public square?

Love conquers all, we say. So where is the love? That is a search we must each make for ourselves. Many people have searched and found the love of God and have changed their lives particularly the Saints. Jesus pointed out several during his time among us. Peter and the other Apostles who gave their lives for Christ after first abandoning Him. The widow who gave all she had in the temple treasury, just two pennies. Foolish?, you think. The Roman soldier, the Centurion, who said "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed." The thief turned good dying on a cross next to Jesus. Like Christ they all had a single-mindedness of purpose in the end finally setting aside all other passing considerations for eternity. Impractical? What can we take with us after death? Only our relationship with God.

The circumstances of Paul's conversion illustrates this, wonderfully. An 'enemy' of the church he is struck down with a sudden blindness. (God works his ways with us often in humiliation and confusion). After his conversion "scales" fell from his eyes. Could that be a metaphor for finally seeing the truth. (Act 9, 17-19). Nothing in Scripture surpasses Paul's grasp of God's love for him, that "Christ Jesus . . . emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness . . . he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even to death on a cross . . .". More astonishing, if that is possible, is Paul's unabashed confession of his love for God:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped. (Philippians 2: 2-8). (Italics mine)

What is there not to love as did Blessed Theresa of Calcutta who embraced Christ daily in the flesh of a men or women dying in the gutters of streets in India or Pope Francis who will celebrate Holy Thursday washing the feet of adolescents in prison. All saints, canonized or only known by God, live the lives they profess, "Christian and Catholic". There should only be one priority in life, eternity. Think of the love which drove Paul to this goal:

Beloved, [he said] I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. (1 Corinthians 9, 13-14)