Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reflections on the Readings

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion - April 17, 2011 - Year A

By Dennis S. Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

He Considered Not Himself

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself...(Philippians 2:6, 7a)

“It’s all right to duck, isn’t it?” We were prayerfully carrying our pro-life signs as we processed on the sidewalk down Kingston Pike. Just before our walk, a downpour had come during our pro-life rally. Water had accumulated on the sidewalk here and there, and the rain water was making its way down Kingston Pike as well; draining down the gutter toward the caverns below.

The traffic was mostly respectful, but one driver registered his opinion of the matter we represented. Inching toward the rushing water flowing down the gutter the driver took his best aim. Many of us instinctively tried to protect ourselves and our children from the inevitable spray of water. It was then that my good friend, Steve, asked, “It’s all right to duck, isn’t it?” We all laughed. I have reflected on Steve’s words many times since that event about 4 years ago. Jesus said, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

We pray often to be like Jesus. This is a good prayer. It is filled with honest and heartfelt sincerity. We shouldn’t ever fail to pray this way with fervency. To be like Jesus means to see each other in the solace of love and as brothers and sisters together in our life in the Spirit. We serve one who freely gave himself; in our serving him we learn to serve each other in the same spirit of humility and compassion and mercy.

In the reading from Philippians, Paul speaks of the whole life of Christ, his incarnation, his humiliation, and his glorification. Not looking out for his own interests, the focus of Jesus was on the needs and the brokenness of others. Paul speaks clearly about doing nothing from selfishness, but having the mind of Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant. Jesus didn’t pull rank. And he taught us not to desire the head table, but in selfless contentment to regard others better than ourselves. Jesus said, “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Our reward is greater than our sacrifice.

In the first reading, the Suffering Servant speaks of freely giving his back to those who beat him. They pluck his beard. “My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting, I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame,” he says. And he was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and he opened not his mouth.

Love is not self serving. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. In his serving, he emptied himself, and filled the vacuum that only He can fill. He emptied himself, that is, Christ did nothing for himself, but all was for us and for our salvation. He endured the cross for us. For you and for me, while we were still sinners, Jesus loved us and gave himself for us.

Paul reminds us of Christ’s incarnation, of that unfathomable divine embrace of humanity and descent into our history of sin and death. Jesus came into the wildness and wilderness of our heart to set us free from sin. In his ministry Jesus did not hold on to his divinity as something that should keep him from his merciful mission to redeem us. Through the humiliation of the cross, Jesus took ownership of the keys of Hades, the abode of the dead. It was to the holy souls who waited for him in ‘Abraham’s Bosom,’ that Christ came and to whom he preached the message of his salvation. It was these dead Jesus said who would hear the voice of the Son of God, and live. (John 5:25) CCC # 631- 635

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised...and entered the holy city and appeared to many. (Mt. 27:51-52)

The triumph of Jesus began when he said, “It is finished.” And in his resurrection he holds the ‘keys of Death and Hades,’ so that ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Praise God Almighty, Jesus didn’t duck! Amen.

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