Readings for Palm/Passion Sunday: 17 April 2011
Matthew 21:1–11/Isaiah 50:4–9a; Psalm 31:9–16; Philippians 2:5–11; Matthew 27:11–54
On this Sunday we remember both the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, Palm Sunday, and his betrayal, trial and death, Passion Sunday. It is to this latter theme that will occupy our attention.
Philippians 2: 5-11 sets a tone for us, the followers of Christ, to adopt. This passage is believed to be based on a hymn sung in the early church.
The tone of the passage is set up front: “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ” Phil 2: 5 NRSV. Or as the New Living Translation captures the thought: “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”
Exactly what attitude did Christ have? Simply, that of a servant or a slave. Jesus in human form was still God. Yet he did not exploit or cling to the powers and privilege of His all knowing and all powerful nature. Instead, He humbled himself and took upon Himself the Cross and all that came with His part in God’s plan of redemption.
Consider our Gospel readings for today. At first Jesus is hailed as king and the people rejoice at his entrance to Jerusalem (Matthew 21). “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They boldly proclaim as he passes by on a donkey. Then he is betrayed by one of his own, abandoned by all who followed him, falsely accused, spat on, beaten and mocked. Yet he answered them not. He did not defend himself. His own creation, his own people were treating him as if he were a despicable criminal. Those whom he created in his own image, those whom he gave the law, and the prophets, spat in his face, beat him and turned him over to the Romans and insisted on his execution.
He was God. The creator of the universe. Yet he humbled himself for our sake. He could have called fire down from heaven. He could have ordered the angels to destroy the Roman armies. He could have dropped them all with a word, a breath. Yet he answered them not. He surrendered himself for our sake—and also for the sake of the very people, Jews and Romans alike, who were treating him in this despicable way.
This is the mind, the attitude that the Apostle Paul is speaking of to the church at Philippi. This attitude that does “nothing from selfish ambition or conceit” (2; 3a); and an attitude that humbly considers others as “better than yourself” (2: 3b—NLT). A mind that includes the interest and needs of others.
This is what is lived out in the passion story of this week. The love and humility, this thinking of us, his creation, over his pain, suffering or humiliation.
Examining our own hearts and minds, is this same attitude that we have seen in Jesus, our Messiah, in us? As we enter this week where we contemplate the passion of Christ, are there things in our hearts that are getting in the way of us living out this attitude?
N.T. Wright, a retired Bishop of the Church of England and theologian, speaks of Lent and Easter as the time to weed the garden of our heart; but not for the sake of having a weed free heart. Rather so that the new life of the resurrected Messiah is planted and bear much fruit (my paraphrase).
Lets consider for a moment how this applies to a specific area of our lives. That is, our service to others who do not know or are not walking with Christ. How willing are we to share our faith? Remember the Samaritan Woman by the well for a lesson a few weeks ago (John 4). She had a brief encounter with Jesus and went back to the village excited and inviting people to “come and see” for themselves.
She did not know much about this Jesus. She is clearly a very recent convert! Yet she invites others to come and see and hear for themselves. In the middle of this passage Jesus uses this opportunity to teach his disciples, those who walked with Him daily, heard His teachings, saw the miracles, that there was a harvest before their eyes. It was this recent convert, excited about Jesus, that went out and helped bring in a harvest.
What is getting in the way of us sharing our faith, sharing the living water that has been so freely given to us? There are many reasons. Many of these reasons are linked in someway to pride. We may be laughed at or mocked, considered backwards, un-evolved or an idiot. We may be afraid that we do not know what to say or how to respond to a question or objection. These are understandable feelings. Yet we are called to so much more than letting ourselves be controlled by these feelings.
We are called to “Let this mind” be in us. Yes, this is something that we must “let” be part of our life, part of our thinking, our principle attitude.
Responding in the way our Lord responded to those who spat on, beat and killed Him takes a work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the willful surrendering of our pride. We must cooperate with God’s work of grace to change our attitude and way of thinking.
When we begin to place the interest of sharing God’s love and redeeming power with those who do not know Him we are starting to have the mind of Christ. When we humble ourselves and invite our neighbor, friend, coworker, relative and even our enemies to have an encounter with the Creator of the Universe we are beginning to place their interests over our own.
In a very practical way, as we contemplate how Christ humbled Himself, how might we grow in His attitude this week? There is not one answer; but I challenge each of us to take a few steps closer to the heart and mind of our Lord:
Ask God to remove the bad things in our hearts that are getting in the way of living out the mind of Christ.
Let God guide you in praying for a friend, coworker, neighbor, relative, family member, who does not yet have an active relationship with our Lord, our God, the Creator and Redeemer.
Pray for this person. Pray for their salvation, openness to the Gospel, for practical needs in their life or whatever God puts on your heart.
Reach out to this person with the love and kindness of God. Is there a need you can help address in their life? Is there some act of kindness we can do to bless them?
Share what God has done for you…the joy, peace, etc. (Perhaps we must first rekindle our relationship with Him.)
At the very least…Invite them to “come and see”, to experience the Joy at the celebration of the resurrection.
It starts with examining our hearts in the light of the attitude that Christ displayed in His life, suffering and death; but it does not end there. It continues with surrender our pride, or whatever else it may be, to our Lord and leaving it on the Cross. Alone, in our place of pray, it may be easier to think that ware are making progress. It becomes even more real when we walk out those changes by touching another life with the grace and love of the Good News. Our Lord lives!