“I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”
It is that time of the liturgical year again – Palm Sunday. Palms will be blessed before Mass, we will process into the Church waving our palm branches singing songs of praise to Jesus as we commemorate His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we shall then put them in our homes till the eve of Ash Wednesday next year when we shall burn them and put the ashes on our foreheads and then repeat the Lenten cycle once again. But what do these palms really tell about ourselves in this world and in the life to come?
Let us recall St. John’s vision of the heavenly kingdom in Rev 7:9-17 in which he saw “a great multitude…from every nation, race, people and tongue…who stood before the throne and before the Lamb.” He described this multitude as “wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.” When he asked, “Who are these?” he was told, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”
These who rejoice holding palm branches before the Lamb in the heavenly court are those who have been victorious in distressing times through sharing both in the life of Christ through grace and sharing in His suffering. The rejoicing palm bearers are those who were ready, willing and determined to share in the victory of Christ by sharing in both His life and His suffering. In moments of great distress, they were willing to share deeply in Christ’s own life and to suffer for Christ, with Christ and like Christ.
Our palms today are previews, reminders, and guarantees of our final victory in Christ Jesus over sin, death, and the forces of darkness as long as we willingly share in His life and suffering to the very end.
The suffering servant predicted by the Prophet Isaiah in the First Reading is so certain of victory in the end that, even in moments of distress, he does not rebel against God or turn back from his God-given mission. He willingly gave his back to those who beat him and his cheeks to those who plucked at his beard. He does not shield his face from the blows and spits of his adversaries because he is certain of final victory, “The Lord God is my help…I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”
Jesus Christ is the suffering servant of God. Two things are clear and certain in His mind and heart – He knows every single thing that about His Passion and death that He would undergo in Jerusalem and He certainly knew that He would be victorious over it all. Despite the rejoicing of the crowd as He enters Jerusalem, Jesus sees the distress and pains that awaited Him in the city. But by His certain knowledge of final victory, He embarked on His journey to Calvary while consoling the grieving women, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; but weep for yourselves and for your children,” praying for those who crucified Him, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do,” and forgiving the repentant thief, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The letter to the Philippians echoes this dual certain knowledge of Christ. Jesus’ humble and loving obedience to the Father knew no limits, even up till the pain and shame of the cross, “He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.” He knew and accepted the full price to be paid for an unconditional obedience. He also knew that He would not be put to shame but would be victorious in the end. Indeed, He was not disappointed or put to shame at the end, “God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in very distressing times in our world, countries, Church, homes, families, workplace, etc. Take for instance the brutal massacre of 16 Christian and Muslim volunteers including four nuns and the abduction of a priest in a retirement home run by the Blessed Teresa of Calcutta’s Missionaries of Charity in Yemen a few weeks ago. At moments like this, fear can clutch our hearts in anticipation of what is to come. We are tempted to feel abandoned or forsaken by God as we face personal trials and difficulties in life and the future looks bleak. We may begin to hold back in our life of commitment to God. Our imagination gets the better of us as we think of the worst possible scenario to come in the future. Likewise, the devil tempts us to give up the fight even before the battle begins because defeat seems so imminent and unavoidable.
However moments of distress are moments to recall that we are called to victory through sharing deeply in the life and suffering of Christ. As long as we are ready to share in both His life and sufferings, Jesus will begin to share with us the truth about our sufferings in this life as well as the certainty that we will be ultimately victorious just like He was in God’s own way and time.
Whatever distressing situation we face in life – spiritual struggles, persecutions, injustice, physical pains, financial difficulties, relationship issues, and emotional difficulties, etc. – let us recall that in Jesus Christ, our sufferings and pains will never be in vain and we shall never be put to shame as we willingly partake of His life and choose to imitate His loving obedience to the Father in our daily life. We get overcome by distress in life when we only share in His divine life but put conditions or limits on the part of our loving obedience to the Father. Final victory comes only through a conscious and complete participation in the life of Christ and an obedience that cost us something in imitation of Jesus Christ.
In this Mass, we enter into this certainty of final victory over sin, death, suffering and the forces of darkness as we let the blood of Jesus Christ to wash us and make us whole and pure. By the grace of this Eucharist, our robes too are washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb. Our hope to be in His presence in the heavenly kingdom is enkindled.
In this Mass, we have also had our palm branches blessed, we have waved them joyfully in procession, and we will take them home with us. In moments of distress, pain and difficulty, let these blessed palms further remind us of the certainty of our final victory in Jesus Christ as long as we are willing to share in His obedience to the Father to the point of suffering for Christ, with Christ and like Christ.
We indeed share in His life by grace now. We share in His sufferings in this life too. Victory is certainly ours in God’s own way and in God’s own time. There is no way that we can ever be put to shame!
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!