Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for Palm Sunday, March 25 – Announcing the Good News

From the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern’s 2018 Lenten Reflection Guide: Embracing Jesus’ Practice of Nonviolence

Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16 | Isaiah 50:4-7 | Philippians 2:6-11 | Mark 14:1-15:47

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In the Gospel reading, Jesus’ journey finally reaches its destination – Jerusalem. Rome’s representative, Pontius Pilate, has also arrived. Pilate rides into Jerusalem on a horse past crowds shouting praise – an entrance befitting a conquering ruler.

But Jesus rides on a donkey. In eastern cultures, like the one in which Jesus lived, the donkey was considered an animal of peace; the horse was a war animal. A king riding a horse intended to wage war, and one who rode a donkey was conveying a message of peace. Riding a donkey into Jerusalem symbolized Jesus’ entry as the Prince of Peace.

The reign of God that Jesus announces during his ministry is a reign of peace and nonviolence. The first reading is from Isaiah, chapter 50, and is part of the third Song of the Suffering Servant:  “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.”

The second reading from Philippians continues with: “[Christ] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness, and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

The reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday completes this reflection. In his book Jesus, An Historical Approximation, Father José Antonio Pagola reflects on the death of Jesus and concludes, “Jesus understands his death as he always understood his life:  as a service to God’s reign for the benefit of all. Day by day he has poured out his life for others; now if necessary he will die for them.”

Those of us who receive our palm branches, who attempt to follow Jesus and announce the reign of peace, are called to this same commitment to serve others, without reliance on great sources of funds, without the use of manipulations, with respect for the dignity of our neighbors, and without weapons of destruction, like the latest missiles and drones.

The sixth and final principle of nonviolence defined by Dr. King in Stride Toward Freedom is: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win. Nonviolence believes that God is a God of justice.

We all know someone who, despite tragedy and hardship, gives of herself or himself with such dedication and cheerfulness, that you wonder how they do it. Where do they find the strength and the determination to go on?

Often in being humbled by life’s losses and suffering, we are offered the gift of faith, and with it, the love that sustains and calls us to be more than we think we are. For Maryknoll’s founders, the heart of being a missioner is love expressed with joy. In serving, in being humbled by our vulnerability when immersed in a strange culture, we lose ourselves – only to encounter Jesus in new ways.

Click here for the rest of this reflection, questions, a prayer, suggestions for fasting and action, and more.

* Photo credit: “Christ of Maryknoll” icon by Robert Lentz, http://robertlentz.com/featured-icons-christ-of-maryknoll/.
Lent, Nonviolence, Peace Spirituality

Lent 2018: Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 11 – Rejoice in the middle of Lent

From the Maryknoll Office for Global Concern’s 2018 Lenten Reflection Guide: Embracing Jesus’ Practice of Nonviolence

2 Chronicles 36:14-16, 19-23 | Ephesians 2:4-10 | John 3:14-21

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This Sunday is traditionally called “Laetare” Sunday for the first words of the opening of the Eucharistic Liturgy: “Laetare, Jerusalem,” – “Rejoice, O Jerusalem.” We rejoice on this day that is half way between remembering our death on Ash Wednesday and our life through Resurrection on Easter Sunday.

“We rejoice knowing in faith that our brother Jesus lived, died, and still lives among us,” Maryknoll Father Jack Sullivan, a longtime missioner in Hong Kong, says. “Despite our infidelities, Jesus continues to send us messages, warnings, and hope, calling us to love Jerusalem, the City of God, which is our whole earth itself, with all its people and creatures, even when we understand so little, fall short repeatedly, and suffer without cause.”

Today’s Gospel reading tells about Nicodemus, a Pharisee who seems to want to follow Jesus. One night, he approaches Jesus to acknowledge Him as someone who has come from God but, in the dialogue that follows, Nicodemus misunderstands Jesus at every point.

It doesn’t matter, though, because John’s gospel includes a theological reflection on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, including an observation about human sinfulness. Jesus is the light that has come into the world, but people prefer the darkness. Jesus has come into the world to reveal and die for our sins so that they may be forgiven. This is the Good News; it is our reason for rejoicing during the season of Lent and throughout our lives.

In his six principles of nonviolence, Dr. King named the fourth principle to be: Nonviolence holds that suffering, like Christ dying on the cross, can educate and transform. Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities.

“This doesn’t mean that suffering itself is good,” wrote Mika Edmonston in The Power of Unearned Suffering: The Roots and Implications of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Theodicy. “But in the light of the cross of Jesus Christ, believers have held that God’s omnipresent goodness will have the final say over every form of suffering, no matter how severe.” … “For King, the cross of Christ represented the definitive proof of God’s purpose to bring redemptive good out of suffering, and the guiding example of how to actively engage suffering toward a redemptive goal.”

James Cone, in The Cross and the Lynching Tree, offers the lynching tree as a viable symbol for reflection on the cross of Christ. According to Cone, understandings of the cross and lynching tree can explain how events of trauma and injustice can still inspire hope for the African American community and all marginalized communities.

Click here for the rest of this reflection, questions, a prayer, suggestions for fasting and action, and more.

* Photo credit:  Licensed in the public domain and available at http://bit.ly/2rwJqib.