readings are beautiful and lengthy. They highlight the reality of our human nature in a way that should make us really take a moment to ask ourselves if we are truly following Christ. The most interesting part of this Mass to me is that it has two Gospel readings. It starts with a reading before the procession in which the people shout Hosanna and throw palm branches before Jesus. Jesus is riding into town on a donkey. The people see Him for the first time publicly as the Messiah, as the one who was to come. They now have these hopes and dreams about who He is. They want Him to be a King, a military commander, a warrior to fight off the Romans and restore Israel to its rightful place in the land.
That same crowd that was chanting the words of adoration and praise as Christ arrived into town would later scream in hatred. They would spit at Him, pluck His beard, mock Him and eventually declare they had "no king but Caeser." Why? Why would they treat Jesus in such a manner? Because He wasn't the Messiah they were looking for. Instead of being a military conqueror, He came in the name of love. Despite having the power to demand worship and adoration, He bowed down and washed the feet of His disciples. Rather than declaring the temple the center of worship for all time and space, He had the audacity to infer that He could tear it down and rebuild it within three days. No, this was not the Jesus they were looking for.. but it was the one that God sent.
I often hear people say that they don't go to Church anymore because of the hypocrites who do. That the place is filled with men and women who don't live out the Gospel in the way that they should. I agree. That logic would put us avoiding gyms because of gravitationally gifted people and hospitals because someone dared to be ill. The difference to me though is it makes perfect sense for the people who are at the Church to be people who need the most Grace. People who aren't there yet. Sinners like me. We are all imperfect. We all make mistakes. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 hat the Jesus we are looking for is not the perfect, all put together person. He's the person in prison. The invalid in the hospital. The thirsty and hungry. He's the mother of five who just can't get her kids to behave. He's the man in the back pew who doesn't want to shake hands. Sometimes He isn't in the best of moods. He's trying though.
The problem for most of us is that the reason we don't see Jesus is that we are looking for the Jesus we want to find, not the one offered to us. That is what is so powerful about the Eucharist. When we approach a sacrament with the right disposition, with our hearts open to accepting Him and receiving His grace, it changes us. It's a lifelong process. Some of us need more time than others. What we hope to find is that even though the Church is full of hypocrites, it's full of hypocrites on the mend. People who aren't quite Holy yet, but are striving for it. People who make mistakes and don't live up to the Gospel. If we were capable of doing it on our own, Christ wouldn't have needed to die for us. We need the Holy Spirit. We need the Sacraments. Maybe, just maybe, we also need each other.
This isn't an attempt to give anyone free reign to sin, God forbid. Nor is it an attempt to tell people it's all in their heads. There are some pretty horrible people out there who call themselves Christians. Despite that, conversion starts with me. If I am spending all my time guessing which people are really Christian and which ones are fake, I'm missing an opportunity to encounter Christ in the moment. If my eyes are always scanning the crowd waiting for someone to notice me, or wondering why so and so is sitting with so and so... or so and so isn't sitting with so and so... I've stopped looking for the person who is most important in Worship. How can I pretend to worship God if my eyes are always on someone else? The only time I should be looking around is in an attempt to find Jesus, not in a way that looks for the holy, but in a way that looks for opportunity. As a popular meme says, "The only time I should be looking into someone else' bowl is to see if they need more food."
So this morning as I hold up my palm branches to watch the procession, and as I listen to the readings again, my hope is that I will look out and see Jesus in every face. Regardless of what they can do for me, not searching for a kind glance or love coming back my way, but converting my own heart. An attempt to see the image of God that is written into the soul of every person. I don't want anything to get into my way about my own expectations of God, but rather to let God tell me who He is. He did that through the incarnation. He's doing that today through the Scriptures and the Church. We can't pray "Thy will be done" and then go out and attempt to make God into another us. That's standing there demanding Barabas when we are offered, Christ. That's choosing Caesar over the King of the Universe. It's making God into me. No amount of ego will ever convince me that I am better at being God than He is.
His servant and yours,
"He must increase, I must decrease."
A reflection for the readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion: April 9th, 2017