In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus, the Jew of Nazareth, my brother, my living Lord, my Savior. He quoted the Shema, the summary of the law, teaching us that we should love God with all our hearts, all our soul, our mind, and our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
He taught this not only with his words but also with his life. Jesus’ passion, which we celebrate today in this solemn liturgy, taught us that true love is to love others more than we need them. At the heart of the passion story is the witness of this true love and the truth about love. Jesus’ passionate love for his disciples including the women who were part of the larger body, was more than confidence that they could carry on his mission. In fact, that group had fallen apart and were no where to be found. His love did not assume that the people who cheered him on at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem would now rally to his side. And surely it was not that Jesus believed that you and I would be sinless, would be always faithful without doubt and without failures. And that we as the Church could be counted on to always lovingly represent Christ’s ministry.
No, we all know that none of this is true. Yet, what is true is that Jesus still loves us more than he needs us. A continuation of this saving act, for at the heart of the Christian faith is this love that is beyond utilitarianism, beyond practicality, passionate love that is distinguished from need.
Another wise Jew, the twentieth-century philosopher Martin Buber, once wrote that “we are to love people and use things, but in our society we use people and love things.” We often think of the dispassionate use of people such as exploiting people for labor or sex or street crime victimization. However, it’s important to remember that we can also use people, even those we normally love and cherish, when our passions and agendas, when our needs find potential expression in them.
I am sure if you’re at all like me, one time or another you have placed a condition on the love of a spouse or a family member or a child, saying something like this: “If you really love me, you’d do this, or you’d do that.”
We have also seen how passionate fears can cause the scapegoating of others, often entire groups of people we do not even know, seeing them as embodying the evil of the danger we fear. We can see this in the news regarding Central Europe and parts of Africa, neighbors against neighbors. And in our own communities, how groups’ ethnicity or race or religion, history or sexuality, including often people we know and say we love, become as objects over against which we passionately project our fears and distinguishing prejudices. And of course in our own time, we too commonly see the ugly way in which children get used in parental custody battles in homes and in the courts.
Perhaps this sense of need, vis-à-vis love is more powerfully represented in the current passion of agendas confused as love in this sad media drama being played out through the dilemma of little Elian Gonzales. Whether Cuban or American political leaders fumbling with antiquated cold war ideologies or passions for potential votes; whether it is the news media’s passion to feed the beast of public curiosity; or whether passionate mobs of revelers and political idealists, who are nursing old hurts and fears–it all really seems more about need and agendas rather than love for a little boy. The climate is such that even caring passionate caretakers and family members seem now desperately in need of affirmation as to who loves him best.
Yes, whether revelers, politicos or caring surrogate parents, I often find myself wondering, who is there that loves little Elian more than they need him?
But to be sure, we all need others. And in some way, we all use others. It is human to define ourselves in relationship to others. Yet, it must always be done–in the witness of Jesus Christ in the Christian faith–it must always be done respecting the human dignity and the divine worth of the other.
Our Baptismal Covenant includes these words: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all peoples, respecting the dignity of every human being?” Dignity refers to an intrinsic human worth indelibly bestowed by God. So, therefore, even at the core of the worst person is the redeemable quality God so loves.
a word that the New Testament Bible writers used to distinguish passionate love and platonic love from the highest love, respect for the individual, a respect that understands that most essentially we belong to God. Others belong to God and not just us, not just our agendas, not just our fears or our passions. But there is a dignity conferred by God’s creation that can and must exceed our passions.
So Palm Sunday is about the passionate love of our Lord. It is about more than agony in the Garden, injustice in the Court, crucifixion on Galgotha. The passion narrative is about Jesus ultimately showing us that he loves us more than he needs us.
Now, to be sure, Jesus does need us. He needs our hearts and our hands and our lives to be a witness in the world of justice, of reconciliation, of healing and hope. But most of all there must be agape, there must be a basic respect for the child of God’s creation, a respect without which such virtues can never be achieved, without which there can never be reconciliation. There cannot be peace. There cannot be hope in our marriages, in our families, in our communities, and in the world.
In Jesus we see that ultimate witness of God that says from the heart of the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world.” Loving the world much more than he needed it, that whoever would trust this love would not perish–would not perish because of passion or fears, but would find the everlasting quality of life–God’s eternal love.
Dag Hammarskjold understood this. He wrote a wonderful poem that I have loved, in which he gives voice to Jesus and his musing as he prays and agonizes in Gethsemane. Hammarskjold wrote:
The moon was caught in the branches
Bound by my vow, my heart was heavy.
Naked against the night the tree slept.
Nevertheless, not as I will.
The burden remained mine.
They could not hear my call. All seemed silence.
Soon now, the torches, the kiss,
the grey dawn of the judgment hall.
What will their love help there?
There? The only question is if I love them.
At the cross Jesus loved the people that gathered around–the Jews, the Romans, the Gentiles. He loved them. He loved them more than he needed them to believe in him. What pain it must have been to look out and to see the faces of some who had only a few days earlier believing him to be a symbol of their political ambitions, and defy with the mockery the Roman occupation, had waved their palm branches, and cheered him on as we have done singing, “Hosanna in the highest.” Only now, to hear them, chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Yet, our Lord said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” And Jesus, the living Lord, who sits in the exaltation of God and is present with us by the Holy Spirit, it’s so important that we know that he loves you. He loves you. And he loves me. He loves us.
Therefore, as we gather to this day preparing to walk the way of Holy Week, to live and be present with our Lord at the times of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Holy Saturday approaching the glory of Easter, let us be mindful that he loves us, even as each of us walk our own way of passion. For as we leave this place, indeed, our lives will know joy and sorrow. Our lives will know success and failure. Our lives will know sin and blessings. Our lives will know the joy of companionship and the loneliness of death’s loss.
But one thing we can know and one thing in our faith, and by faith we cannot doubt, is that Jesus loves us. He loves us unconditionally. And it is upon that faith that we lead the life of Christian hope. It is not an antiquated fairy tale that we tell to children. It is the truth of the Gospel. It is at the heart of the Bible message. We sing it with joy. We sing it with hope.
Sing with me, “Yes, Jesus loves me; Yes, Jesus loves me; Yes, Jesus loves me; for the Bible tells me so.”