THE CROWDS WITHIN (Mark 14:1-15:47): 05 April 2009 (Passion or Palm Sunday)
Dear Lord Jesus,
Today there are two prescribed Gospel readings: The first, right after the blessing of the branches, recounts your triumphant entry to Jerusalem. The second Gospel reading is the familiar account of your Passion, starting with your interrogation by Pilate until the laying of your body in the tomb.
The moods in the two readings are worlds apart. In the first account, you ride into the city of Jerusalem in triumph, amidst the jubilation of a small crowd that has gathered to welcome you like a hero returning home from battle. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord,” they shout to you. “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
You yourself were probably surprised and overwhelmed by the crowd’s greeting. But it is not hard to understand the crowd: For years they have sought and hungered for something that would ease their pain and give them hope in their fear-filled dreamless days. In you, a man who comes into their midst riding—of all things—a donkey, they recognize something of their deepest hopes and dreams. And so many of them wave palm branches, their faces beaming, as they meet you. Some, in a gesture of extravagance, rush forward and spread their cloaks in the dusty road in your path.
We are told that this crowd actually gets so carried away that they get a little too rowdy and noisy for the Pharisees who ask you, in no uncertain terms, to tell the crowd to shut up. Barely recovering from the overwhelming welcome, you answer: “If they keep silent, the stones themselves will cry out.”
In the second account, the situation has changed dramatically and drastically. Once again you find yourself before the city of Jerusalem—but this time no longer as an acclaimed hero who returns to his people, but as a condemned criminal whose hours are numbered. Here once again, we have a crowd, and once again shouts arise, but the shouts are different. We are told that with “increasing violence,” their loud cries demand that you be crucified. “Away with him!” they shout. And “Crucify him, crucify him!” And as we read that account at Mass today, we as the crowd had to shout, “Away with him!” and “Crucify him, crucify him!”
Lord, I know there is crowd inside each one of us. And this crowd, like the crowds in the two Gospel readings, may be raising voices too. As I begin our observance of Holy Week, let me look into the crowd inside myself, into my heart. Let me scan the faces in that crowd, to listen to their voices and shouts. What could the voices be shouting? Are they like the jubilant crowd that met you as you entered Jerusalem? Have I, like them, been waiting and hungering for you? If so, then the shouting I hear will echo the praise that that crowd spontaneously sang out as they waved their branches and laid their cloaks on the road: “Blessed are You, o Lord, who comes into our midst, who comes into our lives, into our hopes and fears and dreams!”
Or could it be that the crowd I will find in my heart and the shouting I will hear there are not as welcoming of you? Is it possible that, to my horror, they sound suspiciously more like that misled mob that cried for your blood? Not as loudly perhaps, certainly not as blatantly. Maybe not in words like “Away with him!” or “Crucify him!” but more like “Please don’t come into this part of my life!” or “Is it okay if you leave me alone in this particular matter?”
It is also likely that I will not see the crowd in my heart or hear their voices. Maybe because of all the running around that I’ve been doing, I’ve grown so out of touch with myself and with my heart that I’m not even sure how I feel or who I am anymore deep inside. Maybe my heart has been hardened into stones. If this is the case, it will be consoling to remember what the Lord said to the Pharisees: “Even if this crowd keeps silent, the stones themselves will sing and cry out.”
Lord, teach me to listen to my heart this Holy Week. Grant that I get in touch with myself once again, the part of me and the heart of me where I groan and cry out my deepest fears and deepest desires. And even if my heart has turned into stone, you have promised that if I let them, it will learn to sing and cry out again. Amen.
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