Passion Sunday (B)
April 1, 2012
You simply have to give it to the excited Israelites, city dwellers all, residents of the famous Jerusalem, for taking time out to welcome the Lord in his triumphant entry to the royal city! Rich and poor, young and old, shod and unshod, elite and hoi polloi alike, they all came in full force, lustily singing “hosanna in the highest!”
It was a moment of triumph. It, too, was a moment of truth – at least, for him alone who knew all along what this entry would mean … in just a matter of days!
Triumph can make anyone among us lose one’s head in glory. Triumph can make us proud, conceited, and given in to megalomaniac tendencies. And so, there you have it … a number of them in the euphoric crowds were singing paeans to him who would be King, who would liberate them from whatever enslavements they thought they had. Triumph can make our heads swell with misguided self-importance.
But not if it is counterbalanced by truth! And truth is what Jesus who-would-be-king had, and held onto, taught, and lived. Days after this tumultuous welcome, the man-who-would-be-king stood face to face with Pontius Pilate, who would ask him that monumental question: Quid est veritas? What is truth? It was as much philosophical, as whimsical and sarcastic. But it was a question answered fully by him who stood right in front of him, as if to say, as opined by St. Augustine: “Est vir qui adest!” – making a play of rearranging the letters of the very same question … Truth, he, in effect says without saying anything, is the very man who is in front of you!
A popular homespun Chinese saying is worth quoting at this point. Talk, they say, does not cook rice. Talk is cheap, and words at times, are just – well, words. But so, too, is admiration. Merely laying down one’s cloak for the Lord to walk on this day, Palm Sunday, does not make us get anywhere near his stature. Buying that fancy palm frond, painstakingly made from coconuts that don’t fetch much money anymore, does not make us any better than when we decided to come to Church today, and go through a liturgy that is beyond the understanding of most of us. They can all speak for how much we admire the triumphant Lord in his equally triumphant entry to the city of Jerusalem. Doing all that puts us all in league with his legion of admirers.
But I have it on the authority of Soren Kirkegaard that the Lord never wanted admirers, but followers. Jesus, he said, used the word “follower” consistently, and never asked for admirers, adulators, and facebook friends!
Now, I submit, we have a little problem with Twitter “followers.” Words have changed, indeed, and postmodernity has put a new meaning to every term, to every word, and to every utterance.
We need to go back to the Word par excellence – the Word of God as read today in the liturgy. What do we see? We see for one, an image of the Servant of the Lord who dares not utter any word, dares not disobey, and dares not return spite for spite … “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard. My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Now, this is a far cry from the twittering generation, where every twit needs to be re-twitted, replied to, or commented on! In this world of online and real time instant communication, waiting won’t do … tarrying won’t do … and ignoring messages just won’t pass muster! One now feels obliged to “like” something, to “plus 1” something, or simply to “forward” something else. One’s feelings of popularity, however, has not changed … it still has to do with numbers, with warm bodies, with the number of “hits” or “visits,” or at the very least, “likes” and “plus 1’s”
Admirers … legions of them … One feels sad if one is not re-twitted, google plussed, and liked! One feels bad if one is not elevated to the status of going “viral” in cyberspace, and not winning the most coveted number of hits that made instant celebrities of virtually unknowns, that is, before they uploaded that Youtube video that went viral worldwide!
Admirers is all we often want. Admirers is all we really are now. We admire Jesus, but we keep him at arms’ length. We admire the Lord, but no, thanks, but no thanks! I am not ready to give up my android based tablet and listen to some boring homily in Church! I know I need to pray, but this twitter thing keeps on bugging me, and telling me things I really do not need to know, for dear life.
Admirers was not what Jesus worked for … “though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.” In fact, “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.” No, he does not care much if you push that “like” button in a cybersurvey that seems to be found now in every site.
But we have to come to the meat of this reflection. This Sunday, Passion Sunday, we need to realize that what we are called to do is not to simply push the “like” button. This the Jews did, when told to choose between Jesus and Barrabas. They did the equivalent of an online poll. They did the equivalent of a survey done in real time. And all those who cried out “crucify him” much later, were the very same one’s who “google plussed” him, or “liked” his status, and laid down their cloaks and palm fronds in his path towards Jerusalem.
But whilst there were many who accompanied him in his entry to the city, there were but few who followed him to Calvary.
Lesson for today then? Let us hear it from Soren Kirkegaard … The Lord needs followers, not admirers … so get your butt of that couch, and get rid of that iPad or android tablet. Stop “liking” Jesus’ status, and, go, take up your cross, and follow Him!
He needs followers, not admirers!