“He was humbler yet, even to accepting death…”

PALM SUNDAY 2021

First reading: Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm: 21:8-9.17-20.23-24
Second reading: Philippians 2:6-11
Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:47

 

Today the liturgy invites us to reflect on the account of Jesus’ Passion. We are invited to go through two chapters of St Mark’s Gospel: from the anointing at Bethany, the Last Supper with the institution of the Eucharist, to the prayer in the Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the arrest, the trial at the Sanhedrin, Peter’s denial, the trial before Pilate, the scourging, the mockeries and crowning with thorns, the way to Golgotha, the crucifixion and death, the burial.

The Church invites us to reflect on Jesus’ sufferings and to follow him with our mind, heart and soul in his painful way of the cross, fixing our eyes on him: on his gestures, words, face, breath, on his firm resolution to carry out the mission the Father has entrusted to him, even when the weight of the cross and our sins crushes him to the ground.

The first two readings come to our aid, helping us to understand better this moving and awesome mystery of our salvation.

The first reading is taken from the so known third Song of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Here the prophet describes this servant in such a detailed way that he seems to refer to a specific historical person. According to the Jewish tradition, he was thought to be the mediator of salvation yet to come, the Messiah.

The aspect of suffering is clearly underlined in this hymn. Jesus has spoken many times about the suffering He was going to endure, and the Christian community identified him with the same suffering servant foretold by Isaiah. The Jews were expecting a victorious warrior-Messiah, and so they were ill prepared for Jesus’ answer to their hope: a Messiah who offers his back to those who struck him, his cheeks to those who tore at his beard, to insult and spittle (cf. Is 50:6)!

Christian religion is the only religion in the world in which we see a God who humbles himself and suffers for the love and sake of mankind. It is absolutely far beyond what we expected God to be!

And Christ’s humility is even clearer in the second reading, from the letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians:

“His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are, and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

And for this reason… “God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names” (v.9).

What is this name? The Name above all other names is the name of God, the tetragrammaton (YHWH) which the Israelites do not pronounce. They use instead the term Adonai, which means Lord.

But there was only one occasion in which the high priest pronounced the holy name of God: in the day of Expiation, Yom Kippur (cf. Leviticus 16). This was the annual day to obtain reconciliation and peace with God. As part of the ritual, a scapegoat was sent out in the desert, after the high priest had laid his hands on it, confessing all the iniquities and sins of Israel. The high priest also offered sacrifices for the sins.

Jesus Christ, because of his sufferings and death on the cross, is exalted and He is given the name which is above all names, the name of God, so that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord (v.10), Adonai! St Paul is writing here something that is so shocking for his Jewish readers! He can say so, because Jesus’ sacrifice of expiation on the cross is the perfect fulfilment of that expiation rite, Yom Kippur, once and forever. Jesus becomes Lord, Adonai, because by his death and resurrection He ransoms humankind.

And in today’s liturgy of Palm Sunday we see our Lord Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem: He is proclaimed king by that same crowd that will later cry out: “Crucify him!”. He passes through those gates from which He will later come out under the heavy weight of the cross. The Suffering Servant of God, God himself made man, has become the sacrifice of expiation and reconciliation for the forgiveness of our sins and iniquities.

Let us follow our sweet Lord along the way of the cross, in this Holy Week, and wait with him for the dawn of resurrection!

“Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness…”

Fifth Sunday of Lent

 

First reading: Jeremiah 31:31-34
Psalm: 50:3-4.12-15
Second reading: Hebrews 5:7-9
Gospel: John 12:20-30

 

The readings of this fifth Sunday of Lent help us to reflect on a quite interesting topic: making mistakes.

In the first reading, the prophet Jeremiah tells us that the ancestors of the House of Israel and the House of Judah broke the covenant with the Lord. While the background of the Psalm is the sin of adultery and murder that king David committed against Bathsheba and her husband.

It could happen also in our daily lives: we really would like to avoid mistakes. We would always like to know what thing is right for us and also to be able to put it into action. Sometimes it is so hard to make the right choice! It often looks like we have managed to do that… and then, one hour later we find ourselves struggling to stick to our purposes.

Making mistakes may seem to us like “a sort of death”: we might feel a bit desperate, unable to hope anymore, incapable of believing that our wrong actions do not lead us to a point of no return, but there will still be something good for us.

Our God is the only person who does not get tired of dealing with mankind: he wants to continue to create a relationship with each of us, he wants to make a “new covenant” with us, as he did with the people of Israel and of Judah, which he had chosen as his own people. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people (Jer 31:33).

King David failed, but afterwards he repented and returned to the Lord. And he could write the Psalm 50 and sing God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Then, we can understand the reason why the Father’s answer to his Son’s prayers may seem strange, since He left him dying from a cruel and painful death, on the cross. We might be brought to think that the Father was wrong, but instead, Jesus’ sacrifice turned up to be the source of eternal salvation.

Our God does not avoid us suffering, pain and difficulty, but he can make us stronger than all these kinds of hardship. God, then, made the right and most perfect choice for our sake. This world is corrupted, unfaithful, insecure, but the Father did not send Jesus in another different world but in ours. Our human nature is fragile, wavering, fickle, sinful, but the Almighty One did not choose for his only Son other nature but ours. Jesus knows what dying means: he was the wheat grain, fallen on the ground of the earth and able to produce a rich harvest. Jesus can repeat to each of us: “and when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself” (Jn 12:32).

When we are struggling with any difficulty, we may look at Jesus, who is on the cross like us and with us: we may be sure that he is very close to us and he can make us experience a new life… by the power of his Resurrection!

“God loved the world so much…”

FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT

 

First Reading: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16.19-23

Psalm: 136:1-6

Second reading: Ephesians 2:4-10

Gospel: John 3:14-21

 

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a pharisee, leader of the Jews: he comes to Jesus by night, to speak with him.
It is interesting to see how Jesus answers to his questions. Jesus does not speak in parables (the way He used to address the crowds). He speaks clearly, revealing the mystery of God’s plan of salvation for mankind.
And this conversation takes place in the night. Night is a deeply meaningful time.

 

Night: language of lovers. Heart speaks to heart

Night is the time in which lovers speak to each other. It is the time for intimacy and private conversations. And God speaks there, in the night, to our heart. Heart to heart. There He reveals the mystery of his love for us. “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son…” (v.16)

 

Night: silence and stillness. A taste of eternity

Night is also a time when all is still and calm: it seems like time does not flow, does not pass. We are taken to another dimension; we have a taste of eternity. And in it the Lord reveals the mystery of eternal life.
“…So that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life” (v.16)

 

Night: longing for the dawn

 This is the night every believer has to live, relying on faith, waiting for the dawn.
Even though there is darkness, Jesus speaks about light: like the night of Transfiguration, this night shines with His glory, a glory still concealed that will be fully revealed in the resurrection.
Like Nicodemus, we are called to pass from darkness to light.

 

The Gospels show this man’s own journey in faith: from the fear of being seen speaking to Jesus, to the courage to go to Pilate (with Joseph of Arimathea) and ask for the permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross and bury it (Jn 19:38-40). So, he finally showed himself a disciple, at the cost of risking his life.

 

Night. Time to speak about love, in which God reveals his love;
time of silence and stillness, in which we have a taste of Eternity;
night that has to be lived fully in order to see the new dawn of Resurrection.

May we be always ready to listen to Him, both when night is sweet and when it is bitter, knowing that He loves us so much that He gave all of himself for us.

“Stop turning my Father’s house into a market”…

THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

 

First reading: Ex 20:1-17

Psalm 18:8-11

Second reading: 1Cor 1: 22-25

Gospel: Jn 2:13-25

 

Has Jesus not been born in a poor and humble condition?

Didn’t he say: “Learn from me: I am meek and humble of heart”?

Nevertheless, the Gospel of this third Sunday of Lent shows us a different behaviour of Jesus. The one, who will be “like a sheep that is dumb before its shearers never opening its mouth” (Is 53,7), in this occasion speaks so hardly to the pigeon-sellers. The one, who will receive a slap in his face from the guards in return for what he had said to the high priest (cfr Jn 18,22), now “makes a whip out of some cord and knocks the tables over”.

We could ask ourselves: why? Why this strange change in Jesus’ behaviour?

As a sign to justify his actions and words, Jesus says: “Destroy this sanctuary and in three days I will raise it up”. The evangelist explains to us that “he was speaking of the sanctuary that was his body”. In fact, Jesus will live his Passion and his body will receive marks and bruises, till the point of breathing its last on the cross. So, Jesus was not trying to defend his own body.

Moreover, selling animals for sacrifice and money changes were according to the Law. (Lv 5:7; 12:8)

Our question remains open: why has Jesus got this behaviour?

When Jesus sees the animals and money changers, he says: “Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market”. Something good can become less good and even be able to transform God’s house into a market-place.

It can happen also to us, can’t it? When we spend time in doing something that is good, but does not belong to our own mission, we are allowing “some animals and money changers” to enter our heart.

For example, playing football is a good thing, but if a boy spends all afternoon playing instead of studying, sport loses its positive meaning, because the boy gets far from his duties. Or watching TV is a good opportunity to know what happens throughout the world, but if a woman spends most of her time watching movies instead of doing housework or taking care of her children and husband, she is doing something that is not her priority. The same thing can happen to a man, who overworks and comes back home keeping on thinking on his job, instead of staying with his children and his wife. If a priest considers it a priority to clean his presbytery instead of helping his parishioners to have their souls clean through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, he is wasting time and strengths. The same thing can happen also to a nun, when she does not show God’s primacy through her witness, behaviour and words. In all these situations we can notice that something good in itself is used improperly.

So, in today’s Gospel Jesus is defending our own body, our own lives. We are temple of God, sanctuary of the Lord, tabernacle of the Divine Presence. We are bearers of God’s image! (cfr.1Cor 3:16). Jesus shows us that we are precious in his sight, he is on our side and he is the first to fight our battles. He also teaches us that sometimes anger could be a right thing, if it helps us to make of our hearts the Father’s house and not a market-place.