Sunday April 10th 2022 Palm Sunday (Cycle C)
The tie in between today’s readings: The People in the Passion
It began in the mind of the Trinity in eternity past before the foundation of creation. So radical an idea it blindsided heaven. The plan went into effect at the Incarnation and reached its’ climax at the Crucifixion. The brilliantly absurd humiliation campaign of God Almighty as described in today’s reading in Philippians 2:6-8 was absolutely necessary in order to redeem a fallen human race. His act of love for us also gives us glimpses into attributes that otherwise would have remained hidden. Besides humility, we see grace, mercy, patience, and loving kindness dovetail in a God who must always be holy and just. The Psalm 22 and Isaiah 50 references about Jesus’ crucifixion agony also reveals that our God is courageous. Having seen how the Lord relates to us in our condition, let’s look at the players in today’s gospel reading, Luke 23:1-49, and evaluate who we would be most like. Be honest.
A sycophantic politician, Pilate showed his lack of core beliefs with the cynical, “What is truth?” sneer in John 18:38. Because of his heavy-handed methods of keeping the peace, Rome received many complaints about our governor. Pilate is on thin ice. So, when the chief priests show up at his doorstep before breakfast with Jesus and a crowd, he knows it’s going to be a long day. He tries to avoid the problem with a series of ducks and dodges, even his wife tells him to let Jesus go, but to no avail. In the end, the threats to go over Pilates head and report him to Rome win out. What else can a self-seeking, spineless, pragmatic do? He washes his hands of it all and seals his reputation in history by condemning the innocent Son of God to death in order to save his own skin. Maybe he should have listened to his wife. Bringing it forward to today, when the crowd you’re with is amoral, atheistic, and anti-Christ, what do you do? Rock the boat by standing strong in your faith? Say that you never knew Him by keeping your silence? Go to the bathroom? It’s a hard place to be even for the best of us, but we must be ready to give an account of our faith in love.
Herod had many questions and had always wanted to meet Jesus. These weren’t honest questions leading to belief, though. They were more the mocking prove to me challenge questions of the skeptic. Jesus did not answer nor did He put on the early morning magic show that Herod anticipated. He sent the Lord back to Pilate, unamused. Are you the skeptic? Are you the type who will not believe unless he sees? Does Jesus have to walk through the wall for you before you confess Him as your Lord? Don’t hold your breath. First, seeing is not believing, believing is seeing. Miracles bolster faith more than they produce it. Second, Jesus Christ does not do tricks nor does He cast His pearls before the contemptuous. He will, however, guarantee answers to the true and honest seeker. Which one of these two types are you?
Guilty and condemned to death, Barabbas is the illustration of the sinner being acquitted from his consequences by Jesus who became his substitute. Jesus is his get out of jail free card! Barabbas is understandably overjoyed by his unbelievable luck. The question is does he mistake luck for grace? Most church members have an idea of sin forgiveness through Christ’s sacrifice, but it stays on the contractual level. God loves me. He provided an insurance policy protecting me from Hellfire. I “believe” and get it free because my Savior paid the premium for my policy on the cross. When I sin, I am always forgiven, covered by my Jesus policy. Of course, I say that I’m sorry, duh! But is there any real contrition? Any real repentance or just an unlimited Christ tab for my vices. A superficial salvation understanding of the gospel is tragically misinformed. There must be a true transformation in the believer to want to live according to God’s will. Believing without a changed life is a deception. Satan is laughing. Faith in Christ is not taking advantage of a “good deal” when you see one. Examine yourself to see if you really love God. Hunt for a true understanding of the gospel and God’s grace for you in Christ. Be truly born again.
Simon of Cyrene
Jesus doesn’t look like He’s going to make it. The soldiers pull an onlooker out of the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, and force him into carrying the cross. He reminds me of the pew sitters. Roll in every Sunday, pretty much have their own spot reserved, week after week, year after year no other involvement with the Body of Christ besides singing the songs, praying the prayers, and dropping a few bucks in the plate. There for what they can get out of the service, they have to be guilted or cajoled to give any service of their own. If this is you, turn it around! Look for opportunities to participate in church life: join a Bible study, teach a class, sing in the choir, whatever gifts you have and time will allow. You will grow closer to other believers and to God in the process.
The Thief on the Cross
An odd incident, the thief on the cross is the exception to the rule of all who limit the dispensing of grace to sacramental ceremonies. No Baptism, no Communion, but with a last-minute confession, skips to the front of the line of heaven’s turnstile. He is not, however, an inspiration to anyone who wants to live for the Devil and then slide into heaven on a deathbed conversion. He is a marvelous example of salvation being a God thing. In Matthew 27:44, the Bible notes that at the start, both thieves on either side of Christ were insulting Him along with the crowd, as if they didn’t have enough troubles. Then, miraculously, one of them does a total 180, rebukes his partner in crime, and has his famous “come to Jesus” moment. The Messiah promises him that he will enter Paradise. What made the difference? God spoke to his heart. The Lord can use the consequences of our circumstances to get our attention away from the noise of this world and focused on Him. Many of our “Why me?” or “How could this have happened?” trials could be just that. Listen for Him. As the Bible says: “If you hear His voice today harden not your heart” (Hebrews 3:15). By the way, if you are counting on a deathbed conversion…aaaah, good luck with that. Even if you get the opportunity, the Almighty will not take too kindly to the fact that you really don’t want to be with Him in heaven; you just want to avoid hell. Understand this, in all things salvation: the heart is the heart of the matter. Where is your heart toward God today?
The gospel ends with the crowd dispersing. Jesus Christ has died on the cross for their sins and ours. He rose from the grave on Easter Sunday, triumphant! The humiliation of the Almighty is over! The Father has exalted the Son so that every knee will bow and tongue will confess Jesus is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). How does Christ’s sacrifice on the cross affect you? Do you see yourself in any of our portraits or are you like the crowd, standing far off, not even in the picture? Do you want to make a change? There’s room at the foot of the cross for you. Get the picture. Come to Jesus.