Grace saves our well-intentioned but often weak, impulsive human hearts
By Shawn Reeves
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion/April 9
(At the procession with palms) Matthew 21:1-11
(At the Mass) Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9,17-18,19-20,23-24;
Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 — 27:66
In every grocery store around the country, there rest rows of candy bars, stacks of magazines, and displays of DVDs all awaiting the eyes of onlookers as they wait in line for their turn to pay. They are strategically placed there. Unlike other items selected through planning and careful thought, purchases of these items are usually impetuous ones, carried out by the immediacy of their attractiveness at that moment. Thus we call such actions “impulse buys.” Either due to convenience or weakness or simply being “caught up in the moment,” we continuously acquiesce to the allure of these last-minute treasures. The human heart is often fickle and unpredictable.
Though he is welcomed as “Jesus, the prophet,” as he entered the city, the sentiment of the people soon changes. Like us, caught up in the sudden appeal of the Snickers bar on the check-out rack, the crowd is caught up in the excitement of Jesus’ celebrity as he enters Jerusalem. But just was we sometimes regret that purchase when it wasn’t as satisfying as we expected or we are ashamed for having impulsively jeopardized our diet, the crowd, too, soon regrets their celebration, trading “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” for “Let him be crucified.”
Jesus’ heart, though, is unwavering. In Isaiah’s prophecy, the unyielding determination of Jesus is illustrated: “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” Though he expects the cheers to be replaced with “buffets and spitting,” he does not turn back, he does not rebel against the will of the Father. Though he expects the words of the Psalmist, “They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones,” to find their culmination in him, he does not let his heart be swayed by impulses but continues to listen to the voice of the Father “morning by morning.”
And when the jeers of the crowd at his crucifixion echo the mocking prophetically reported by the Psalmist (“He relied on the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, if he loves him”), Jesus replies in Aramaic with the first words of today’s Psalm: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It was not a statement of weakness but of confident determination, announcing that the entire Psalm is summed up in that moment, a Psalm that concludes not in sadness and defeat but in triumphant glory: “You who fear the Lord, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him.”
JOURNEY OF LIFE, LENT
Today’s celebration is the culmination of many things. It is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. It is the embodiment of the words of the Psalmist. And it is nearly the culmination of the season of Lent. But in the drama between the procession Gospel and the Gospel reading of Christ’s passion, there is also the culmination of the drama of every human heart, the drama of every season of Lent.
How eager are we each Ash Wednesday to lay down the palm branches of our hearts, inviting the Lord to lead us through a new era of penance and reflection, only to weeks later feel the sting of our penances more fully, perhaps wavering in our commitment to them? How often do our hearts proclaim at the beginning of Lent, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” but resist truly penetrating the mystery of Christ’s identity in prayer, as the burden of Lent begins to weigh on us? We are weak. We are fickle. We are impulsive. But grace always returns us to that unfailing declaration: “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
As we listen to the anonymous voices of the city asking, “Who is this?” progressing to the announcement of the centurion, “Truly, this was the Son of God,” we hear nothing other than a synopsis of the entire life of faith.
SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.