Bible Reflection (24 March 2024)

Palm Sunday Year B

Isaiah 50:4-7
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1-15:47

This Holy Week, let us develop a greater sense of spiritual awareness. Let us be uplifting to others; let us listen to others and persevere in our trials and sufferings.

My brothers and sisters, we have embarked upon our Holy Week journey. This is a time of the year when the Church invites us to heighten our spiritual senses, to witness, to contemplate, to reflect and to grow spiritually.

Let us begin our reflection with the First Reading. In this text, the prophet Isaiah exalts three spiritual virtues, that is, to uplift, to listen and to persevere in our trials.

  1. On uplifting, the prophet wrote, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” (verse 4) So we ask ourselves: In my relationships with others, have I been spiritually uplifting to others? Jesus shows us a great example when He said to the centurion, “Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith.” (Mt 8:10)
  2. On listening, prophet Isaiah wrote this about God: He “wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught.” (verse 4) So we ask ourselves, In my relationships with others, have I provided a listening ear to others, to listen and to empathise with their challenges and their joy? Or have I been too self-absorbed with myself? Again, Jesus shows us a great example in His encounter with the woman at the well (Jn 4:4-26). In the Gospel of John, we read how Jesus listened attentively to the woman, on how she, in spite having many relationships, had failed to find happiness. Having listened to her, Jesus then showed her the way to true happiness. We read how the woman, having found true joy, experienced a conversion that was so immediate, genuine and profound, that she left her buckets, immediately ran into town to evangelise to her townsfolk.
  3. And finally, on perseverance in our trials – probably the most challenging of the three virtues – the prophet Isaiah wrote, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (verse 6) But how do we learn to persevere like this? Let us turn to the Second Reading and the Gospel.

To persevere in our trials and sufferings, it takes humility. Once again, Jesus shows us the way. As St Paul wrote in the Second Reading, ‘though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” (verse 6-7) Humility leads to obedience. And it is with obedience that we are able to look beyond the immediate pain of our trials and adopt the attitude of an obedience servant. As St Paul wrote of Jesus, “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (verse 8) And we reflected last week, it is with obedience and perseverance in suffering that we are able to convert hardened hearts and lead ourselves and others to salvation.

Reading the account of Jesus’ Passion in the Gospel this week, we witness many examples of those lacking in humility and obedience. Let us recall some of these as we reflect:

  • Wanting things his ways, and not preparing to follow God’s will, Judas betrayed Jesus: “Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them.” (verse 14:10) We reflect: Am I similarly disobedient? Rather being submissive to God’s will, do I similarly take thing into my hands when they do not suit me?
  • Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” (verse 14:18) But Peter was over-confident, saying, “Even though all become deserters, I will not.” (verse 14:29) But Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” (verse 14:30) And our Lord was right. For as soon as Peter was put under pressure at the Sanhedrin, he too betrayed Jesus by denying Him (verse 14:66-72). We reflect: Gifted with a good education, intelligence, a stable job, am I similarly over-confident, thinking I have everything under control? Perhaps, I might even think that I do not need God! And when God reveals to me how inadequate I really am, do I deny Him? Or do I accept my failure as Peter did: “And he broke down and wept.” (verse 14:72)
  • At the hours when Jesus needed them most, Peter, James and John repeatedly fell asleep at the Garden of Gethsemane. (verse 14:37-41) We reflect: Have I similarly failed someone when the person needed me most? Do I accept and admit to my failures?
  • In perversion of justice, many in the Sanhedrin conjured lies and bore false witness against Jesus (verse 14:55-59). And later in Pilate’s courtyard, they even requested that the violent criminal Barabbas be released instead of the innocent Jesus. (verse 15:6-11) We reflect: Have I promoted or undertaken a course of action that perverted justice? Do I reflect on this failure? Do I feel sorry? Or am I in denial and look for excuses for my actions?
  • At the cross, the chief priests and the scribes gloated at their victory, of having administered the great injustice upon their perceived enemy, Jesus, an innocent man. “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” (verse 15:31-32) Similarly, the passersby, with hardened hearts, being unable to perceive the injustice and innocent human sufferings before them, taunted Jesus. “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” (verse 15:29-30) We reflect: Am I similarly blind to the injustice and innocent human sufferings before me? Perhaps it is homeless person, perhaps it is a friend, or perhaps it may be even a loved one? By my insensitivity, have I damaged my relationships with others? Have I been a true disciple of Jesus?

In truth, my brothers and sisters, all of us have failed in humility and obedience. Indeed, we are fallen beings. But just as the Passion story is challenging to us, there are also many episodes that inspire us. So, let us heed these examples:

  • Let us be like Simon of Cyrene, who carried the cross alongside Jesus, walking alongside Him. (verse 15:21) Let me walk alongside our brothers and sisters who are afflicted. As Jesus said, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Mt 25:40)
  • Let us be like Joseph of Arimathea, who in doing what he could to ease the injustice, gave up his own tomb for Jesus. (verse 15:43-46) When I witness sufferings, let me be ready to make sacrifices, so as to ease sufferings and injustice.
  • Let us be forgiving like Jesus, that in spite of the injustice and sufferings inflicted upon Him, prayed that His perpetrators be forgiven: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) Let me too have a forgiving and generous heart like Jesus, that I may learn how to love and forgive those who inflicted injustice upon me.

My dear friends, we have embarked on our Holy Week journey. Let us heighten our sense of spiritual awareness, let us prepare our hearts for Easter. May the Holy Spirit walks with us.