9 April 2017
The first processional antiphon for Palm Sunday reads, "The children of the Hebrews, carrying olive branches, went to meet the Lord, crying out and saying: 'Hosanna in the highest'". The "children of the Hebrews" are the subject of this acclamation although that phrase appears nowhere in the Bible.
The precision of those words, and the fact that they do not come from the Bible, caught my notice and made me reflect on the journey of the "children of the Hebrews" and on our closeness to them. Two sons of the Hebrew people in particular emerge in the gospel for Palm Sunday as illustrating the possibilities that face every human person, no matter their race or nation, at the end of our earthly journey: life and death, redemption and despair, the blessing and the curse.
The gospel reading of the passion from St. Matthew describes these two men in terms of their profound betrayals of Jesus: the betrayal committed by Peter and that committed by Judas. Both men were part of God's chosen people, both were elected by Jesus to be members of his most intimate band of disciples, and both were accompanied by him on their journey of faith just as we are.
Peter and Judas walked together with Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, they dined with him at the last supper, they sinned against him in ways that stand in the spotlight of world history-and that crouch in the shadows of every person's heart of darkness. In a real sense, Peter and Judas dwell in each one of us, not only on account of our common capacity for sin, but on account of our common longing to cure the effects of sin in our lives.
Peter found resolution to the sin that marked the cardinal moment of his life by lamenting it and turning back to Christ, and thereby obtaining forgiveness and a new beginning. John tells us that Peter would later be commissioned by the risen Lord to be the chief pastor of his earthly flock and to give his life in witness to Jesus (see John 21:15-19). Judas on the other hand is so racked by the horror of his betrayal that he despairs of forgiveness and takes his own life, thinking that the only resolution to his action was death itself.
While we share with the "children of the Hebrews" in human weakness, we hold as well to the same hope for wholeness and forgiveness that they demonstrate time and time again. We believe as Catholics that this wholeness which is variously called salvation, redemption, justification, and reconciliation comes only through Jesus Christ. At the same time we believe that this treasure of divine grace which we hold in earthen vessels is found at least partially in many signs and movements of the spirit which animate our brothers and sisters who have yet to hear the gospel in its fullness.
We maintain also that the victory over sin and death in which we rejoice on Easter Sunday will in God's own mysterious design bring salvation to the "children of the Hebrews", for "if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead", and because "the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable" (Rom 11:15, 29).
This year, in the very same days when the Jewish people celebrate Passover we mark our own observance of the Paschal mystery. Passover represents liberation from servitude, including sin in all of its dimensions, and the beginning of the long journey of Israel with God as his uniquely chosen people.
As we begin Holy Week, let us not forget that we too are a pilgrim people, making our journey of faith in this life by walking together not just with the "children of the Hebrews" but with the children of God of all nations and all ages-ultimately tracing the footsteps of Jesus himself, who humbled himself to share in our humanity, that we might share in his divinity, and might follow him into his Kingdom. (677 words)