Sunday, March 28, 2010

You did that for me?

Palm Sunday Year C, St. Joseph's, Dalton, Georgia
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., Pastor

A number of years ago in France, a group of rowdy boys were hanging out in front of a Catholic church during the last days of Lent. They noticed a lot of people going in and standing in line, waiting to enter what appeared to be a small room, almost a box. Each person would enter for a few minutes, then come out, go into the main sanctuary, kneel and pray. Of course, out of curiosity, they wanted to know what was going on in that small room, and when they asked someone leaving, they found out that the old parish priest was hearing their confessions.

Well, boys will be boys, so they concocted a plan to have a little fun. One of the boys would go into the confessional with an outrageous story to see if they could fool this old priest. A young Jewish boy was volunteered to be the one, and he went into the confessional with a grin on his face. He started telling his concocted story, but priests aren’t so dumb and he caught on rather quickly. He asked the boy to leave, but not without doing penance. The old priest asked the boy to go into the front of the Church, stand in front of the Crucifix, look at it and repeat these words ten times: “You did that for me and I don’t give a damn!”

Amazingly, the boy did as he was asked, figuring it would complete the joke. Looking up at the Crucifix, he started to repeat the words. “You did that for me and I don’t give a damn!”

But after the first few repetitions, the words came out a little differently: “You did that for me? And I don’t give a damn?”

And finally, he fell to his knees and his words became simply: “You did that for me?”

The boy’s name was Jean-Marie Lustiger. He was admitted to the Catholic church the following Easter. And he became the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris. True story. He died on August 5th, 2007.

On this Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, we have an opportunity to see what the Lord did for us, and we can all reflect on the words of that Jewish boy who became a prince of the Church, “You did that for me!”

But perhaps it would be good if we perhaps look at what we did to him, if we are to appreciate all the more what he did for us.

For in the space of five days, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, the people of Jerusalem would go from crying out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” to shouting out, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Remembering his mighty deeds, they would give him glory and praise on that Sunday, but by Friday, they would mock him, flog him, spit at him, and beat him. As Isaiah prophesied, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”

They would even proclaim him the King of Israel on that Sunday, but on Good Friday, they would tell Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar!” They would welcome the king who would set them free from oppression on one day, and exchange him for a murderer, Barabbas, on the other.

They would cut palm branches, wave them and lay them in his path on Sunday, but on Friday, they would cut spears and pierce his sacred side.

They would take off their own cloaks and lay them on the path for him to walk on as he entered Jerusalem, but when he reached Calvary, they would strip him of his own garments and cast lots to divide them up among themselves.

On Palm Sunday, he would descend from the Mount of Olives and enter Jerusalem riding a donkey, and on Good Friday, he would ascend the Mount of Calvary carrying his own Cross.
When the star of Bethlehem shown to announce his birth, the angels would sing, “Glory to God in high heaven”, but at his death, the very sun would hide its face, ashamed to shed its light.

And only after it was all done would the people come to their senses. Surveying the scene the centurion would say “Surely this was an innocent man.” And the crowd who witnessed this “returned beating their breasts” in grief and mourning. As St. Paul would say later, (1 Cor. 2:8) “if they had [only] known it, they would [never] have crucified the Lord of glory.”

And why did Jesus submit himself to all this? Why did Jesus do this for all of us? Well, from the Cross, our Lord said, “Father forgive them, they do not know what they were doing.” He did it for love of us, each of us, individually. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” He wanted each of us to share in the glory of the Resurrection, and for that, he endured the Cross.
During this Holy Week, we can reflect on on all these wonderful things that Jesus did for us, and we can all say in wonder, “You, my Jesus, did that for me!”