The Kingdom of God
by Norm Tanck, CSB
We have arrived scripturally and liturgically in Jerusalem. There are two alternate Gospel readings for the blessing of Palms (Mk 11:1-10 and Jn 12:12-16) that remind us that Jesus had come there as crowds of pilgrims were gathering to celebrate the Feast of Passover. For the Jews this was a feast that celebrated their freedom from slavery in Egypt but also looked forward to the time when Messiah would come and free them from the oppression of the Roman Empire. It would not be too much of a stretch of the imagination to see Jesus’ arrival as a protest march confronting the Empire, proclaiming that its power would end, hopefully soon. But it is much, much more than that. Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus arrives riding a colt, which could be a horse (only Matthews’s Gospel says it’s a donkey). He comes riding in like a king, while people place their cloaks on the ground, a gesture usually reserved for royalty. At the same time, they are waving leafy branches and shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!”. That kingdom would come sooner than, I am sure, the crowds may have expected or hoped for. But it would be much different than the kingdom of their dreams. It would be a kingdom that transcends political powers and boundaries. It would be an eternal, universal kingdom of justice and peace. A kingdom where even death would not hold God’s people captive. It was the Kingdom of God. When we read about the suffering and death of Jesus today and on Good Friday it is important for us to look beyond the Cross, and even the Resurrection, to see that the Kingdom of God is breaking through and that we have been invited to live in it forever. The Triduum (Holy Thursday through to the Easter Vigil) is a celebration of our liberation from sin and death and of our citizenship in the Kingdom of God.
Letting Go by Michael Pirri
“…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and it dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. […] Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” (John 12.24-26) This Gospel passage presents a metaphor which is very interesting. Being a grain of wheat is easy; we grow up as one of what seems like infinitely many grains, never really preoccupied with anything other then being a grain. But is that our full potential? Not even close! What’s most compelling is what happens to the grain when it falls. Away from it’s plant, the grain is starved for life — but all is not lost. What is most interesting is the notion that the grain dies. If you’re like me, this seems absurd: surely if the grain dies then it wouldn’t grow into a new plant. And while this may be the case, Jesus is trying to tell us that we have to leave our preconceived notions behind in order to follow Him, to grow to our full potential. We are reminded of the mustard grain; but we have to trust that we are capable of much more than we realize. For if the grain does not fall from the plant, there it will surely die. Jesus tell his disciples “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16.24-26) Here the answer is difficult, but the question for us is straightforward — will you leave it all behind?
by Lisa Fernandes
Today’s readings, on the third Sunday of Lent, are about signs and symbols of God. The first reading is about a physical symbol of God’s word, in this case the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments which were “…written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18) In the Second Commandment we specifically read about the danger of worshipping physical objects meant to signify God: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above…” (Exodus 20.4). This is not a literal prohibition against carving physical images; it is about placing our faith in anything that takes the place of us depending on God. The responsorial Psalm 19 tells us that the precepts law and fear of the Lord are more to be desired than gold: ”More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;…” (Psalm 19.10) The importance of a sign or symbol of God is what it means, not what it’s made of. We encounter in our lives not only religious symbols but also secular ones. The Olympics this year partially took place during Lent. The ultimate quest in the Olympics is for the gold medal, a sign that an athlete is the best in the world and some athletes worship the gold medal almost just like worshipping an idol. Some are happy just to be there and participate. We need to take caution in not relying on the wrong kinds of idols to fulfill us (want to put down your phone?) The second reading continues the theme of the first and reinforces the importance of the cross as a sign and symbol of Christianity. In first Corinthians we read that the Gentiles may see our signs as foolishness however: “The message about the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1.18) When we were marked on Ash Wednesday with the sign of the cross on our foreheads, that was a visible symbol of the Cross that also expressed that we are mortal and fallible: “…For dust you are and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) Finally in the Gospel we read the important story about Jesus driving out the moneylenders who were more concerned with the signs of material wealth than this being a temple of God. We see a very angry Christ telling us how important this is. The Jews demanded a sign that he had the authority to cleanse the temple: “…What sign can you show us for doing this?” and he anticipates his death and resurrection. (John 2.18) The most important sign is one you cannot see – your faith.
1 Corinthians 1.18, 22-25