I’ve been writing each week through Lent about the Gospel passages that the church selects for us to hear and to learn from. Each year on this Palm Sunday we get a double Gospel: One at the start of Mass (before the blessing and procession with palms), and at the usual time the story of Jesus’ Last Supper, arrest, and crucifixion.
Together the Gospels tell the story of Holy Week – and they invite us to see it as our story as well. At the start of Mass we hold palm branches – for Jesus’ culture, the traditional way of welcoming a hero. There’s a part of us that does that.
But later in the Mass, we hear the crowds yelling “Crucify him”; and there’s a part of us that does that, too. Our job during Holy Week is to locate within ourselves those two parts of us, and to learn from each.
Notice I don’t say, “to eliminate the second part.” I don’t say that first, because it’s impossible and damaging, and second because that part of us is there for God’s purposes – it has something to teach us.
There’s a strange and wonderful parable in Mark’s Gospel that makes this clear. In it Jesus tells the story of a man who sows his field, but at night an enemy sows weeds there. As they sprout together the workers want to pull the weeds out; but the farmer, wiser than they, says not to: it might damage the good crops. He tells them to wait until the harvest to do the separating…
When we attack and try to eliminate the part of ourselves that would like to be rid of Christ (like the crowds before Pilate in the Gospel), we run a great risk of damaging ourselves. I see this regularly in confession, when truly good people torment themselves about things that might not even be sins, but are failures to live up to their own expectations for themselves. And – beyond the pain – the tragedy is that such people rarely learn – about themselves, or about Christ and His work within them. “Eliminating the sin” is often like cutting dandelions in the lawn with a lawnmower: the heads disappear, but the roots remain; and the effort only makes things worse.
The hard work of becoming a mature disciple means, first of all, self-knowledge: We must see clearly before we can act wisely. Today’s two Gospels invite us to just this seeing: What emotions, habits, and impulses within us want to say to Christ, “Welcome!”? And which wish to say, “Later!”? During this Holy Week, take some quiet time for self-observation. Come to confession, if you think that would help you to sort yourself out. And certainly, join in worship on Holy Thursday and Good Friday as well as, of course, on Easter. Until next week, Peace.