“What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation” (John 11:47-48).
The chief priests and the Pharisees with their scribes were thrown into a panic when they heard that many people had come to believe in Jesus. What was their fear? That if everyone comes to believe in Jesus as the Messiah (the King of the Universe), the Romans would come to destroy their nation.
This fear is concretely summed up in John 19:12 “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend; everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” Note that the Romans were their colonial masters at that time. The Jewish leaders were afraid of losing their nation and concluded that Jesus must be killed. Like Herod who killed all the male children born at the time for fear of a rival king, the Chief priests and Pharisees were shaken with fear. Caiaphas speaking prophetically as High Priest noted: “It is expedient for one man to die than for a whole nation to perish.” Little did Caiaphas know that he had just summarized the entire mission of Jesus Christ on earth – “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).
Fear is such a dangerous thing. When we are gripped by fear, we begin to make serious mistakes, we take very wrong decisions, we fail to recognise our true friends and mistake even our saviour for an enemy. If only the Chief Priests and the Pharisees knew Jesus was not seeking after earthly power and their fears were completely unfounded, they would have simply left Jesus alone. As Jesus would later say to Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world…” (John 18:36).
Nevertheless, Caiaphas was right, it was necessary for Jesus to die not simply to save the Israelite nation, but to save the whole world from the bondage of sin. The question now is: To what extent do I behave like Christ? How willing am I to make sacrifices for others? Do I offer my time, talent or resources to others? When last did I go out of my way to save someone from dying? Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, teach me to love others as you love me. Amen. Bible Study: Ezekiel 37:21-28, Jeremiah 31 and John 11:45-56).
Singing Hosannas With the Palm Branches of our Lives
“Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matthew 21:8-9) Dear friends, I welcome you to Holy Week, 2020. This year would go down in history as one year that God’s Children could not gather physically due to the pandemic. That notwithstanding, no atom of holiness should be removed from our Holy Week spirituality. Even though we cannot see the physical drama we are used to, we are to participate fully by allowing that drama take place within our souls.
One word that readily comes to mind at the beginning of the Passion Narrative is Betrayal. Have I betrayed people’s trust, told lies against them or leaked out certain secret information for the sake of money, fame, position or some privileges? Do Have I acted like Peter; bragging before people only to let them down in their absence? Jesus took the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray but instead, they started sleeping. How deep and serious is my prayer life? Am I able to watch for one hour with Jesus every day? Do I command God to do my will in prayer instead of simply praying as Jesus prayed: “Let your will, not mine be done.” Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, a symbol of love. Do I pretend to love people whereas I am killing them? Am I a friend by day and an enemy at night? Jesus told Peter not to fight with his sword. How do I treat my enemies?
Eventually the disciples fled for their lives. Do I stick with my friends when things become rough or abandon them when it seems I can no longer benefit from them? The Sanhedrin judged Jesus and convicted him of blasphemy. As an authority figure, how do I judge cases? Am I concerned about the truth or do I simply bow to the pressure of the crowd? Both Peter and Judas realized their sins but while Peter came back to ask forgiveness, Judas went off to hang himself. Do I feel that my sins are too much or that God cannot forgive me? What I have done about my guilty conscience? Before the Governor, Jesus was silent. When I am accused of something I am innocent of, do I rush too quickly to defend myself?
The Governor asked the people to choose between Barabbas and Jesus but they rejected Jesus forgetting all the good things they had received from him in the past. When faced with temptation, do I reject Jesus by choosing Barabbas (by consenting to sin)? Then comes Simon of Cyrene who was forced to carry the Cross with Jesus. How often have I helped others to carry their crosses? Do I delight in making sacrifices for the benefit of others? Many joined in mocking Jesus. Do I respect God and holy things? Do I insult God when I don’t get answers to my prayers? Jesus cried: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.” If God, the Father could forsake Jesus, who am I to assume I will always get what I want?
Even after the death of Jesus, the chief priests and Pharisees (knowing that Jesus had predicted his resurrection) gathered before Pilate to ask for soldiers to guard the tomb. Do I believe more in military power than in the power of God? Isaiah prophesised about Christ how he would not speak or attack his persecutors. Indeed, Jesus Christ humbled himself like a sheep being led to slaughter. As St. Paul tells the Philippians, let us learn to be humble, to empty ourselves and allow God’s will prevail in our lives.
Dear friends, in the end of this reflection, one question we should ourselves ask is: “What would I have done differently?” Better put; “How am I different from those who killed Jesus?” This year’s Holy Week will be unique because we are not able to gather physically in our churches. We surely miss the old days, we miss how we would dramatize the whole activities of Holy Week, how we would sing “Hosanna” and try to rub ourselves on the ground during the procession. Perhaps we are too used to turning everything into mere entertainment. Perhaps, God allowed all this to happen because he is tired of our hypocrisy.
This is time now for us to be real. This is the time for us to spread the palm branches of our very lives for Jesus to pass. It is time for us to allow our good deeds speak louder than our church attendance. It is time for us to repent. Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, as I reflect on your death, help me also die to my sins. Amen. Bible Study: Matthew 21:1-11, Isaiah 50:4-7, Philippians 2:6-11, Matthew 26:14-27:66)