PALM SUNDAY: THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
We are beginning the greatest week in the life of the church. The passion narrative presents a snapshot of the last hours of Jesus on earth. The Holy Week marks not only the culmination of the reason for Christ’s coming to earth, but significantly sums up the mystery of our salvation. In the words of Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Life of Christ), “The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the person of Christ, however, it was his death that was first and his life that was last.” Such is the story of “the Lamb slain as it were, from the beginning of the world.” And so we begin this holiest of weeks.
Here's what the American poet Robert Frost writes in the poem, The Road Not Taken, writes,
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Frost seems to capture the experiences of the followers of Jesus in the passion story where one flees, the other hands him over, the other denies him, while everyone looks for their safety. The followers of Christ seem conflicted between two divergent roads: either pitch camps with the master and risk their lives or take sides with the Roman authorities and betray their Lord. In the last stanza of the poem, Frost writes,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Wouldn’t it make the difference if Christians take the road less traveled in the world? Perhaps you tried it during the 6 weeks of Lent and it made an impact, maybe not. The life of the Christian isn’t easy but it’s never boring and when lived well, it’s glorious.
There’s this little joke about two baseball players, both in their 90s and good Catholics. These friends were asking whether or not there was baseball in heaven. So, they made a deal that whoever died first would come back and tell the surviving player if there was baseball in heaven. The older guy died first. A few days later, he appeared to his friend and said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is baseball in heaven. The bad news is that you are pitching tonight!” This is where we all (please God) are going. To heaven. But the thing is, we must participate in the journey. How have you done with your Lenten obligations? Isn’t it fascinating that Lent is finishing? Another Lent, right?
No doubt, real Christians fight with Christ.
At the beginning of the Palm Sunday’s liturgy, the crowd who gather raise their voices to shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” This glorious chant lasts only for a short period. The people quickly flip; they believe that Jesus deserves to die, and they shout, “Crucify him.” This calls for deeper reflection on who we are and what our lives mean as followers of Jesus. The mystery of the life of Christ resides in his suffering, death, and passion. But the case does not close with Good Friday, rather starts on Easter Sunday.
What we see in the passion narrative is humanity’s instability. Jesus ends up alone. One of the most painful experiences of the human condition is feeling of abandonment and rejection. To be abandoned by friends, family, or a trusted friend leaves a lasting wound in the heart. Jesus is abandoned by his friends, his disciples, his followers, and those who benefitted from his ministry.
Think about it and imagine who’s left with Jesus. Only the weak! Simple women like Veronica! Reluctant persons like Simon of Cyrene! Helpless individuals like the women of Jerusalem! Good-for-nothing thief on his right! Minority leaders like Joseph of Arimathea who offer the tomb at his death! Jesus does not thrive by popular opinion.
The Holy Week brings our attention to reflect deeper on this question, “Who is left with Jesus?” Where would you say you fall in the narrative of the passion -betraying, failing, compromising, shying away, shrinking, mocking, or not caring at all? Would you say you would be in the minority who make efforts to defend him?
That little girl, that bystander, and that maid who confronted Peter can, in our circumstances, be the opportunities we have before our family, our kids and grandkids, to bear witness to Christ. Those moments we speak up or fail to speak up before our colleagues about our faith matter. Those times we choose to stay quiet in order not to face the stereotypes of being Catholics before non-believers.
Like Robert Frost says in that poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.” Our faith and society can be the “two roads” diverging in the wood of