The readings called us to spend this six weeks of Lent in a special way of preparation for the great celebration of Easter. Three things: giving alms, reaching out to the poor, giving away our goods; doing penance, fasting, mortification; and prayer, the kind of prayer that is described in our first lesson today where the prophet Isaiah, in the format of the Third Servant Song, tells us: "God has taught me, so I speak as God’s disciple and I know how to sustain the weary. … Morning after morning God wakes me up to hear, to listen like a disciple. God has opened my ear. … If God is my help who will condemn me?"
The prophet describes what a disciple does — a disciple listens. So, during the weeks of Lent, we have been trying to listen in a deep way to the message of Jesus. This coming week, we will try with even greater determination to listen, and listen deeply as a true disciple to learn from Jesus so that, as Paul wrote to the church at Philippi in our second lesson, we can begin to change from within, change our mind, our heart, our attitude.
Paul tells them and tells us: "Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was God … emptied himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness. And he humbled himself by being obedient to death, even death on the cross." This task of having this mind in us which was in Christ Jesus is something that we must work at all the time, but especially during this Holy Week when we listen deeply to the words of Jesus, we watch carefully how Jesus acts, and we go with Jesus through his suffering and death to the glory of the resurrection, transforming our world into the reign of God.
Today we start by listening deeply to the Gospel lesson where Jesus doesn’t speak in words, but dramatically speaks through his actions. Jesus is showing us what we must try to do always in reaching out to those who are enemies. We learned this especially in that Gospel lesson where Matthew shows how Jesus very deliberately stages his arrival into Jerusalem for the last week of his life. He tells his disciples he wants to ride on a donkey.
Matthew, in recording this many years later, realized what Jesus was referring to: the book of the prophet Zachariah. Matthew cites the passage where, when we go back to that book, we read: "Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! For your king is coming, just and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey." You remember at that time the crowds were gathering in large numbers around Jesus.
They thought he was coming to lead a revolution, a violent revolution to overthrow the Roman occupiers that were holding Jerusalem and the Jewish people in a terrible kind of subservience, being occupied, ruled over in a very cruel and humiliating way. They were expecting Jesus to overthrow these occupiers. They were looking for a messiah, someone who would be their leader, an anointed one, like the great King David of old, a warrior king.
But Jesus, in today’s lesson, does what the prophet Zachariah says: "No more chariots in Ephraim, no more horses in Jerusalem, for he will do away with them." A warrior king would come in on a warhorse, heavily armed, ready to lead an army in an overthrow of the oppressor. But instead, as Zachariah says, "The warrior’s bow shall be broken when the savior dictates peace to the nations. He will reign from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth."
Did you hear that? No more chariots, no more warhorses, no more armies in Ephraim, in Jerusalem. The warrior’s bow will be broken. Jesus comes into Jerusalem not as a warrior king, but as a humble servant riding on a donkey. If we can fully grasp what Jesus is telling us through this picture, it will begin to change our attitude, our way of acting. Throughout this week, the message of Jesus will become more and more explicit and intense. You must reject violence, war making, hatred, hostility, and vengeance. You must forgive. You must love even your enemy.
Today we hear the beginning of this very clear message. Throughout the week, as we follow the way of Jesus through Good Friday, we find Jesus loving and forgiving those who hate and violate him. We have to begin to look at ourselves, the way we act. This week if we listen deeply, we can begin to change so that we do begin to have the attitude, the mind, the heart of Jesus, that we begin to imitate his actions.
As you know, that means in our everyday life, in our interactions within our families, within our workplace, within our community, within our nation, and within the world community. Just this past week, once more our nation carried out an explicit act of war, sending missiles into Syria in retaliation for what we claim Syria had done by using chemical weapons. Can we really say that is the way of Jesus? Do we not have to begin to look more carefully at how Jesus acts and to listen more carefully to what Jesus says?
That again means each of us, individually, in our personal interactions, but as a community and as a nation. I hope we leave here today with this clear picture in our mind of Jesus rejecting war, coming into Jerusalem where they want to make him a king, rejecting the role of warrior king, and only acting out of peace, forgiveness, and love. We must keep that image in our mind; we must continue to listen to Jesus and listen deeply.
Gradually, through the week, especially through Good Friday, we can fulfill what St. Paul urges us: "Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus." Have this attitude, this way of thinking, this way of acting, which was the attitude, the thinking, and the way of acting of Jesus. Obviously, this requires conversion. We’ve been working at this conversion throughout Lent. This week we must intensify our efforts so that on Good Friday, together with Jesus, we die to hatred, to violence, to killing, and we become converted to peace, forgiveness, and love.
[Homily given at St. Philomena parish, Detroit, Michigan, April 9, 2017. The transcripts of Bishop Thomas Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]