Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv DD STL, Bishop of Parramatta
Homily for Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, Year C 2022 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Parramatta
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 21(22):8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14 – 23:56
God breaks the grip of scapegoating by stepping into the place of a victim
We have just listened to a very sombre account of Our Lord’s Passion. It speaks of the worst of human nature, manifested not only by the enemies of Jesus but also by his own disciples. We can recognise our own sinfulness, individually and collectively, that contributes to the suffering of the Body of Christ, in the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalised and our wounded Mother Earth.
Palm Sunday is also about the best of human nature and the revelation of God’s greatest love in Jesus. He is the Suffering Servant in Isaiah – the one who resisted all forms of evil and totally faithful to God’s purpose for him. He is the one who humbled himself to the point of accepting death on the cross, thus being the expression of the self-emptying God who gave himself entirely to humanity.
The Gospel is at pains to point out that the way Jesus carried out his mission was fundamentally counter-cultural. He was a king who rode on the back of the donkey, who mixed with the outcasts and washed the feet of others. He was not a warrior but a peacemaker. He was not a conqueror through domination and violence but a humble servant through non-violence and justice. In Jesus, who surrounds himself with the outcast, we see a God of solidarity and vulnerability. In Jesus, we meet a God who disturbs our comfort and pushes us out to the periphery to be with the least of his brothers and sisters.
Our entrance into Holy Week calls us to renew our commitment to heal and transform our wounded humanity and broken earth. God is involved with the pain and suffering of our world. God is involved in our quest for justice, peace and the flourishing of all creation. The victory of shalom is won by the awesome power of compassionate love, in and through solidarity with those who suffer. It is the precarious existence where we dare to accompany the Samaritans of our time, just like Jesus did before us. For the rough edges of life is where the God of surprises beckons us.
Palm Sunday galvanises us to transformative action, for it gives us a glimpse of the victory of love over hatred and life over death. It was not evil that had the upper hand. It was not injustice, violence and death that had the last word. It was God’s unflinching fidelity, his unconditional love in Jesus that brought about the victory of shalom.
Jesus’ willingness to face death, specifically death on a cross, is truly the expression of the ‘wisdom of God’. God breaks the grip of scapegoating by stepping into the place of a victim. God is willing to die for us, to bear our sin because we desperately need deliverance from our propensity to violence. Jesus’ persecutors intend his death to be sacrificial business as usual. In other words, one can use violence in order to counter violence. But God means it to be the opposite. Jesus’ death and resurrection means that God has reset the cycle of human behaviour.
The work of the cross is the work of a transcendent God, breaking into a cycle we could not change alone. To believe in the crucified one is to want no other victims. To depend on the blood of Jesus is to refuse to depend on the sacrificial blood of anyone else. It is to refuse to play the mob that makes a scapegoat out of the victim who may be the weak, the marginal and the minority among us. The Church, as a new community formed through identification with the crucified one, is dedicated both to the innocent victim whom God has vindicated by resurrection and to a new life in Christ that overcomes conflict.
May we follow the example of the Suffering Servant who shows us the way of disarming hatred with love, evil with goodness, violence with benevolence, indifference with compassion. May our commitment to heal and transform our wounded humanity and our broken earth be brought to fruition in accordance with God’s plan in Christ.