Within a little more than a week it will be Holy Week and on Palm Sunday we will be invited to “enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby” God has “given us life and immortality….” Those mighty acts are, of course, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Not just one or the other, but both of them together.
At the core of the Gospel is the proclamation of a crucified and risen Savior, Jesus, who was most certainly dead but is now alive forevermore. But as we ponder the passion, as we think about what it means for us to have faith in, to put our trust in, and to follow our Lord and Savior, we need to take care that we do not forget what kind of person was crucified on Good Friday.
The Gospel according to Matthew, the one from which most of our Gospel readings are taken this year, provides us with some significant reminders of what kind of person Jesus is and why he got on the wrong side of the civil and religious authorities. Matthew tells us that immediately after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus “drove out all those who were selling and buying in the temple and…overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold doves” (21:12), an action which may be seen as a dramatic retelling of a statement that Jesus had made earlier, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (9:13) A few chapters later, Matthew gives us one of the most challenging teachings of Jesus. In the Parable of the Last Judgment, we are challenged with Jesus’ statement that what we have failed to do for the least of his brothers and sisters we have failed to do for him. (25:31-46)
Jesus challenged – and challenges – religious and social complacency, the very idea that we are doing just fine. Our own worship can just easily fall into empty formalism as did the worship of the temple. And the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters are still hungry and naked and homeless, not only in what we call the Third World, but also here in our own country. Jesus constantly challenges us to move beyond words to action, to translate our faith into service of others. Jesus does not – and for this I am very thankful – expect us to serve all of the least of his sisters and brothers, but he does call us to serve those we can, to give ourselves in service of others, just as he did.