Friday, March 30, 2012

Reflections on Holy Week 2012

How willing are we to take up our cross?

This Sunday we will be celebrating Palm Sunday which will mark the beginning of the Holy Week in our Church calendar. As we set foot into this auspicious week, it may be the right time for us to reflect on and adopt the virtues that Jesus demonstrated during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the washing of the feet and the subsequent Passion and death on the cross.

The triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday indicates the willingness of Jesus to stand up for the truth despite knowing well that it is going to cost Him his life. Almost every day we too are faced with situations where we have to stand up in defense of truth. It will be extremely difficult for us do so especially if the person whom we have to stand up against is our superior or those in positions of power and influence.

How do we measure up to Jesus when we are asked to stand up for truth at such times in our own lives? Do we take the easy way out and follow the masses or stand up to be counted knowing that by doing so we may be penalized? In times of trouble do we abandon those under our care for fear of reprisal? Do we betray those who have been loyal to us in their times of need because of fear or greed?

The washing of the feet of his apostles on Holy Thursday was an act of extreme humility that Jesus wants us to emulate in our own lives. “If I, then, the Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you must wash each other's feet”(John13:14). In His Passion and death he demonstrated his forgiveness towards even those who insulted and persecuted him in the cruelest form. Instead of retaliating with anger and vengeance he reacted with love and forgiveness saying, “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing”(Luke 23:34).

Most of us will not be able to do what he did but that is what we must try to do to be worthy to be called his followers. At least we can reflect on ourselves to see how we compare to him. Do we harbor hatred and anger against those who have hurt us? Are we willing to forgive those who have hurt us? Are we willing to go out of the way to seek forgiveness from those we have hurt? We may be willing to take the easy way out to pray for them and do some penance as a form of seeking forgiveness but more important is to personally approach them to admit our mistakes. Are we prepared to do that?

On Good Friday we commemorate the Passion of Christ that led to his crucifixion. The Passion should be more than a lesson in history but a lesson in life for us to stand up for truth and justice. Jesus accepted all the persecution and humiliation of his Passion willingly without anger and hatred for those who inflicted pain and insult on him.

Jesus humbly accepted his punishment which he knew was unfair and unjust. However he accepted all that willingly without fighting back or defending himself. He did not show even the slightest anger or retaliation for being victimized, falsely accused and sentenced by the kangaroo court that tried him.

We too in own small ways are often falsely accused, humiliated and punished for standing up for truth, by the authorities in the government, our places of work, families and even in the church. When we are denied our rights we fight back fiercely, sometimes with vengeance. We organize protests, demonstrations, hurl verbal abuses and resort to legal recourse. We may even resort to violence and wars to redeem our lost rights.

The Holy Week culminates in the resurrection of Jesus, that symbolizes his victory over death and sin. His resurrection gives us hope that if we continue to do his will and suffer as a result we too will one day come out victorious over our own sins and death.

Who is Jesus and what does his Passion mean to us?

Of late, like in all religions, there has been an over-emphasis on the rituals than the substance on which the church was founded. The celebrations during the Holy Week are full of rituals to which we all seem to be more attracted rather than the real principles for which Jesus suffered and died – Humility, Forgiveness and unselfish Love (Agape).

The church asks us to do charity during Lent and many of us do so faithfully without fail. Unfortunately we give more importance to rituals in the church than to good deeds which take a secondary role. We have the wrong notion that it is by adhering faithfully to the many rituals that we have we can be saved. This might have been right when we were children but it is time we grow up.

After many years of following these rituals faithfully I now begin to wonder whether Jesus is all about rituals. I now know for sure Jesus is not about waving palms, fasting, reading and enacting His Passion and feeling sorry for his unjust and cruel death on the cross. It is not just about cueing up to kiss the cross as a mark our veneration for the man who died on it over 2000 years ago. Jesus is not just about history where we enact his birth, life and death but He is about the present. I am now convinced that Jesus is about the way we live in the midst of fellow men. He is about going the extra mile to touch the hearts of others by our emotions, words, actions and attitude towards them, especially those in helpless situation. Jesus is about us seeing Him in each and every person we meet.

Who was this man Jesus who called himself a King but allowed himself to be tortured and crucified like a hardcore criminal? Who was this Jesus who did not fight back or resist being crucified? Who was this Jesus who showed no anger or hate towards his persecutors but instead forgave them? What does this Jesus mean to us who claim to be his followers?

The following true stories helped to illustrate what Jesus should mean to me and I am sure it should also be the same to you as well.

1.The first story is about a friend whose humane attitude towards her domestic maid really touched me. Her maid, with whom she was not happy as she always took advantage of her kindness, came one day after recovering from a short illness. She looked so weak and could hardly do her work. On enquiring what had happened to her, the maid told her she had not eaten a decent meal for many days as she was sick. She hardly had any money to buy food for herself and her children as she could not work to earn her daily wages. My friend was so disturbed by the plight of her maid that she not only cooked some special food for her but also gave her RM50.00 to buy food some good food for her and her children. The maid was so touched by the kindness of my friend that she stayed longer that day to help out.

My kind friend said she found Jesus in the maid who was sick and hungry and feeding and nursing her was like feeding and nursing Jesus Himself.

2. The second story is about another friend who visited an old folk’s home with his colleagues. They spent some time talking to the inmates and they presented them a mahjong table bought from their contributions to be used by the old folks there. He described the tremendous happiness he felt on seeing the enthusiastic response from the old folks who were so delighted to see them. He described how he was touched by one of the inmates, a young handicapped boy, who rushed forward to open the gate and gave them the warmest welcome with a most radiant smile of happiness. The incident so touched my friend who had this to say, “Real happiness is seeing someone happy by doing something, however small it may be, for him without expecting anything in return”.

My friend had just reinforced into me a very hard fact of life that we often tend to forget or overlook. We need not do big things but little things with great love and expecting nothing in return. Real happiness is when we see the joy in others which we give without expecting anything in return.

This friend of mine found Jesus in the elderly men and women who were lonely and neglected in the old folk’s home. He found Jesus in the smile of the handicapped boy who rushed forward to receive him with great warmth in his heart.

3. The third story is about a seventy year old man who has been fighting his wife’s cancer for the many years. His wife was terminally ill but he continued to shoulder on his responsibilities to her with great love and concern. Towards the final days of her life she became very demanding and got angry and scolded him over many trivial things which he overlooked and continued to keep his cool fully realizing it will not be long when she will leave him for good. Her friends and relatives left her one by one as she lingered on with the crippling illness. The doctors treating her gave up and even her pastor seemed to be conveniently avoiding her. The husband was the only one there for her twenty four hours without fail.

It was very heartening to note one of her friends never failed to visit her every week to be just her companion for a while to give her some moral and spiritual support. This friend said she got so much satisfaction in seeing the happiness in the face of the dying woman each time she visits her.

This gentleman saw Jesus in the suffering of his dying wife of over 40 years. He humbled himself to serve Him in his wife who needed him at her side to console and encourage her during the final days of her life.

These are just a few true stories of the some good people whose good deeds have touched me. There are many more such good people in our midst doing many such good deeds quietly without much publicity. Unfortunately we pass them by without noticing them as they are just ordinary people with small deeds, nothing to shout about. However these are the small people whose small deeds that really matter in the final outcome.

When we finally meet our creator, God is not going to ask us whether we prayed, fasted or abstained from eating meat. He is not going to ask us whether we went to church, waved palms, burnt candles, carried his statue in procession or kissed the crossed on which he was crucified. No, He is not going to ask all these things which we do faithfully without fail. On the other hand as Mother Teresa said He will ask us, “When I was hungry did you feed me, when I was naked did you clothe me, when I was sick did you console me, when I was in prison did you visit me ……. “

I begin to realize that Holy Week is not about just praying, fasting, abstaining from certain food, punishing yourself as penance for sins committed or attending the various rituals in the church. It is more about touching the heart of someone who is in pain, agony or distress not by our big deeds but the small things in life that we tend to overlook. Jesus is not dead but risen and is alive, not it the beautiful and elaborate rituals that we perform but waiting for us to seek Him in each and every person whom we encounter, especially destitute and downtrodden.The only way to find Him is to touch the heart of these people in whom He dwells.

Wishing you all a blessed Holy Week and a Joyous Easter

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Palm Sunday Reflections 2012 - more than just blessing and waving palms

It’s about courage to walk alone in righteousness

This coming Sunday we will be celebrating Palm Sunday which will mark the beginning of the Holy Week when we would relive the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Palm Sunday historically commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem before his Crucifixion.

According to all four Gospels accounts, on that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a borrowed donkey. The disciples spread their cloaks on the donkey for Jesus to sit on, and the multitudes came out to welcome Him, laying before Him their cloaks and the branches of palm trees. The people hailed and praised Him as the conquering King who came in the name of the Lord to free them from the cruel and suppressive rule of the powerful Romans. As He rode to the temple, where He had taught the people, healed them, and drove out the money-changers and merchants they shouted “Hosanna,Hosanna” at the top of their voices.

However Jesus was quick to point out to them that He did not come with might to defeat the Romans. Which king would come as a lowly servant on a donkey, not a prancing steed, not in royal robes, but on the clothes of the poor and humble?

Jesus made it clear that He came not to conquer by force as earthly kings, but by love, humility, mercy, and His own sacrifice for His people. His was not a kingdom of powerful armies and splendor, but of lowliness and servant hood. He conquered not nations, but hearts and minds of the people. He did not come just to preach but came to show them how to live by what he preached.

When He failed in their expectations, when He refused to lead them in a massive revolt against the Roman occupiers and those who collaborated with them, the crowds quickly turned on Him. Within just a few days, their Hosannas changed to cries of “Crucify Him!”. Those who hailed Him as a hero soon rejected and abandoned Him.

What is the significance of Jesus’ triumphant entry today?

On Palm Sunday year after year we wave blessed palms as the priest makes his entry into the church. We enact the scene of Jesus entering Jerusalem in triumph and glory and read his Passion. Is Palm Sunday all about blessing and waving of palms? Surely it must mean much more than just enacting a historic event.

We should realize that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem to fight and win the Romans but to humbly subdue to them, their cruel injustice. Jesus entered Jerusalem to face his imminent torture and death on the cross which he was well aware of. He took it willingly and placed full trust in God. Jesus was willing to walk the path of truth knowing very well that it is going to cause him immense suffering and death on the cross.

Jesus did not just preach but practiced to the fullest every word he preached. Very few people, including those who profess to be followers of Christ, have withstood bravely to defend their principles in life.

We too are very often asked to bear witness to truth in our daily lives. Are we willing to walk the path of righteousness in an environment of hostility and ridicule? Are we willing and bold enough stand firm to our principles in facing up to the challenges in life? Many of us may think we would but only to succumb to the temptations of greed, lust and hatred.

The main reason we succumb to temptations is our lack of faith and trust in God. Real faith is tested not during good times but at times of great trouble and difficulty. It is easy to say we trust God when we have everything going our way but it is more important to hold on to that unwavering trust when we are encountered with failure after failure and even when struck by one tragedy after another. God will answer our answer our prayers but often in ways we do not recognize or comprehend. Whatever He gives is what we deserve and is the best in the circumstances we are in.

Jesus was well aware the multitudes of people who welcomed him like a King will betray him a few days later. They will dessert him to go through his torture and death in great pain and agony all by himself. Many sympathized with Him but did not have the courage to be by his side when it mattered most as they feared the wrath of those in power.

Many of us too would have experienced the betrayal by those close to us in times of real need in our struggles to defend truth and justice. We may have been let down by those close to us, our spouse, children and friends in our struggles to build an environment of love and concern. When we are young, powerful and wealthy many flock to us but the moment we lose all the so-called friends leave us to continue your journey all alone. Do we have the courage to carry on enduring the pain and turmoil in walking the path of righteousness?

Christ’s message is simple. It is one of peace with God who dwells in those around us, not of temporal peace. It simply means Jesus is living in every person we meet, in everyone in need. The question is whether we are willing to reach out to Him in those around us. If we are not then waving palms and shouting “Alleluia” and “Hosanna” will all be in vain.

Palm Sunday should not just a day to show our love for Jesus by waving some palms and shouting “Hosanna”. It should a day to welcome him into our hearts. If Jesus has made a triumphal entry into our hearts, He will reign there in peace and love. As His followers, do we exhibit those same qualities for the world to see the true King living and reigning in triumph in us?