March 24, 2024 –
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion [Year B]

Fr. Michael Brungardt

Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

As we begin this Holy Week, we enter into the heart of the Pascal Mystery of Christ. And the Church tells the priest something very important: be brief. The homily should be brief.

But why? Because there are too many words already? Because Mass shouldn’t be too long? Because people are bored? No! What the Church is saying is, “Let the words and actions of the liturgy speak for themselves. Let people live, truly live, enter into, walk with this Mystery.

The great mystery Jesus lives this week, that he embodies, is that the greatest things in history do not come from seizing power or taking care of ourselves, but from handing everything over to Another, from handing our lives over to Another, by placing our lives in the Fathers hands.

The Mystery we need to live, the mindset we need to embrace, is summed up in the words from our second reading. St. Paul tells us to “have the mind of the Messiah,” to think and look at reality just as Jesus himself did. And what is that mindset? “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.…Christ became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him” (Philippians 2:6-7a, 8-9). That’s it “[Jesus], though he was in God’s form, did not regard his equality with God as something he ought to exploit.” Stop there. We do the exact opposite of this all the time. We think, “If I were in charge,” or, “If I made the decisions around here.” The first thing we think to do is exploit our power and influence. Our instinct is that if we are going to get people think the right way, the use of power and force is the best method (e.g., political, physical, psychological, etc.) But has that ever worked in the long run? Julius Caesar, this was his method: he exploited his quasi-divine power to impose his own mindset on the people. How long did that last? Last time I checked, the Roman Empire fell off the map.

What did Jesus do instead? “Instead, [Jesus] emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of humans.” Jesus could have used divine power to accomplish his mission, he could have exploited his divine power. Jesus did not have to allow anything bad to happen. But instead, he took on the form of a slave, he became a weak human being.

And then what? “He humbled himself, and became obedient even to the point of death, death on a cross.” And that’s the crux of it, huh? Jesus, God himself, didn’t accomplish things by use of divine power and imposition. Instead, he emptied himself, humbled himself, and became obedient.

In this week, we enter into the great mystery of obedience, the mystery that obedience, and not doing whatever we want, leads to the greatest things in life, to exaltation, to eternal life.

The answer is obedience, simple obedience. And this sounds crazy, I know! We’re raised to think that the goal is to be able to take care of yourself, to provide for yourself, to be the one to forge your own path, your own destiny, to make your own history.

And we see it throughout history. In the extreme cases, think of those people that decided they had to take-over the world: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Adolf Hitler. They thought they could change the world by their own power, by the sheer force of their own will. But even though these were some of the most powerful people in history, even they couldn’t succeed.

And we all try to do this, usually just on a much smaller scale. We try to take over our own lives, to be the one who can shape and change our history and destiny, to make ourselves happy. We think that at some point we can go at it alone, that at some point obedience becomes obsolete. And if we only see obedience as being forced to do things we don’t want to do, then yeah, obedience isn’t worth it.

But that’s not the obedience the Lord is asking of us. He is asking us to obey, to listen to his example, and realize that the greatest things in history do not come from seizing power or taking care of ourselves, but from handing everything over to Another, from handing our lives over to Another, by placing our lives in the Lords hands. In this way, we live free from the powers of the world, and instead are caught up in the Force that truly moves history and truly makes us happy. We are caught up in the Mystery of this Holy Week. Because at the end of the day, we either believe in our own power, or we believe in God.