Palm Sunday, Year C-2010

From Vincentian Encyclopedia
Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore (Heb. 13: 13)

Asked recently in Dayton, Ohio, to name the politicians who inspire him, Elie Wiesel admitted no politician does [1]. “I am inspired by philosophers, by students, by an unknown beggar I meet in the street,” he said. “Once upon a time politics was a noble endeavor, today politics is ambition for power and I don’t trust power.”

If the emergence of the Tea Party is any indication, they are not a few, those in the U.S. who share Wiesel’s distrust of power even if they have probably never experienced the kind of atrocities and torture this Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner endured in Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Most of us, I guess, agree with Lord Acton who wrote in 1887 that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

But who would not want to have power and the greatness associated with it? Even Jesus’ disciples did not find it easy to understand his teaching about power and greatness. Their callous misunderstanding surfaced at a time when it should be least expected to surface. For they argued among them about which of them should be regarded the greatest at a farewell meal that was eagerly desired by their Teacher and precisely after he had spoken of a treacherous betrayal awaiting him. It is as though the disciples did not at all see Jesus making any reference to his impending suffering, missing completely as well the sacramental prediction and preview he gave them of his self-emptying and humble obedience to the point of death on the cross and his subsequent exaltation. The disciples would rather rely on the power of the sword in time of crisis, not on the provident and unstoppable designs of the powerful God, so that Jesus had to tell them, first, “It is enough!” and then later, “Stop, no more of this!”

And, as Jesus’ followers today, have we fared better in our understanding what Christian power and greatness consist in? We, as Church, continue to take in Jesus’ memory the bread that is his body given up and the cup that is the new covenant in his shed blood and thus proclaim our solidarity with him.

But are we in solidarity with the Jesus in whom the Scripture passage, “He was counted among the wicked,” was fulfilled and who rendered himself too powerless to avoid arrest and subjection to unwarranted and unjust judgment, torture and crucifixion? Is the Davidic King and Messiah we welcome the one humbly riding on a colt and not on horse or chariot of war?

Wouldn’t we rather dictate from the position of worldly power and authority instead of opening our ears, morning after morning, so that we may hear God’s word and be strengthened for suffering lest we turn back, and so that we may acquire a well-trained tongue that knows how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them?

Do we really and effectively love the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters that we want to be recognized as the “Church of the poor” that reserves the first and best in it for them? Or do we prove Jon Sobrino, S.J., right? He contends that “[e]nvisioning the Church as “poor and powerless” has never prospered much among us” [2].

If we have a long way to go in this regard, the liturgical celebrations today and this week provide an opportunity to keep “our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, who for the sake of the joy that lay before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). St. Vincent de Paul thought of the Church as the Church of the poor at the beginning (P. Coste, X, 504). He surely is ready to help us return to being the Church of the poor, given that, at age 79, he did not feel excused from his obligation to work for the well-being of the poor (Ibid., XI, 136).

Wiesel feels obliged, at 82, to continue his lifelong mission. “How can I stop?” he asked. “There are so many injustices in the world that it would be immoral not to take a stand. We live in such strange times. Today I’m bothered by the resurgence among the extreme right in our country. Some people call our president ‘Hitler!’ My God!”