Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, April 12, 2009
John 12:1-18 (Palm Sunday)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
My dear sisters and brothers in Christ, love is not for the faint of heart.
Jesus entered Jerusalem with clarity of mind, compassion and singleness of purpose. He did not allow the adulation of the crowd, the knowledge that its praise would turn into hatred, nor the fear of his inevitable suffering and death distract him. He knew that he rode his donkey to his death. This was an act of supreme courage, extreme humility and the greatest of all the Divine virtues, love. If we did not understand the words of St. Paul in Philippians before this, we should consider them now: "Let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus...that being found in the likeness of man, He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross."
St. Paul exhorts us to be of the same mind and do as Jesus did. What does Paul recommend? These things: do nothing out of self ambition or conceit, esteem others as better than ourselves and be more interested in the needs of our neighbors than our own. Simple! How eminently practical is this path! This is what Jesus did. Thus we are called to emulate Him.
Let me give you an example of how this works in real life.
An eminent psychologist and author I had the pleasure to meet last year tells the story of a man he met on the subway in New York City. The man had left his job for the State Department to work in a Youth Rehabilitation Center in the City with young men convicted of homicide. One of these men was a 14 year old who had killed an innocent teenager in cold blood to impress a gang he wanted to join. At his trial after the verdict of years in a youth detention center was read the young victim's mother rose from her seat, looked him straight in the eye and said, "I am going to kill you." After about a year into his detention the mother began to visit bringing little gifts and money for cigarettes and conversation. No one else came. He had no family to speak of and had lived on the streets by his own wits. When the time for his release drew near she asked what he was going to do and where he was going to live. He had no idea, but she said she could get him a job in a company a friend owned and that he was welcome to stay in her spare room for awhile until other arrangements could be made. He accepted and lived in her house, eating her cooking, doing his laundry and going to work each day. After a while she called him in to speak with her and said, "Remember when I told you I would kill you? Well, that is what I have done. The young man who killed my son no longer exists. I did not want him to live any longer in this world. If you want you can live with me as my son. Mine is gone and you can take his place, if you want to." That is exactly what he did. She loved the murderer out of existence and into a new life. Is this not the kind of activity the life, death and resurrection of Christ inspires?
The spiritual life is more pragmatic than it is mystical. More practical than supernatural. Maybe it is better to say that there is no real difference between them! Faith without works is dead! Washing dishes with a grateful heart is sacred. Making our enemies into friends is sacred! Riding our own donkeys through the changing tides of life, through our successes and failures, our virtues and weaknesses, our joys and our sorrows to death and beyond is sacred. This kind of path is not for the faint of heart, but it is the path. Courage, real courage, is needed.
The Son of God by taking on human flesh touched every part of human life from birth to the grave so that we might be reborn into a new way of life here and now and through eternity. Even though we crucify Him we hear only words of forgiveness from the cross. "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." St. Dionysius the Areopagite explains this beautifully when he writes:
Is it not true that Christ draws near with love to those who turn away from him? That he struggles with them, begs them not to scorn his love, and if they show only aversion and remain deaf to his appeals, becomes himself their advocate?
Letter 8, To Demophlius
He loves literally loves us to death and gives us new life. Like the mother in our story, He adopts us and becomes our Father in an act of supreme love. The Son of God becomes our advocate even while he hangs bleeding on the Cross. At no point are we rejected even when we reject Him. His love and forgiveness are eternal. We do not know a vengeful, angry God. There is no courage in revenge, jealousy and anger. Those are little, ugly, cowardly things unbecoming a God of Compassion and unbecoming also of us. If we accept His gracious invitation and come to live in His house, enjoy His company and sit with Him at the Eucharistic Supper, then we must expect that we will die and be reborn time and time again.
This demands a conscious effort to turn aside from causing suffering to ourselves and others and to nurture in us the things that bring peace. It is the Via Dolorosa. This path is definitely not for the faint of heart. So, let us go up with Jesus to Jerusalem and be crucified with Him.