Christ or Barabbas, Palm Sunday (A), March 24, 2002

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
Palm Sunday, Year A
March 24, 2002
Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66

1) This Palm Sunday Liturgy is framed by two expressions. The first is “Hosanna,” which was shouted at the beginning of Mass. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” This is a salutation of praise and joy. It was said by those seeing Jesus enter the Holy City 1972 years ago. It is said by each of us every time we come to Mass, right before he gives us his flesh and blood. “Hosanna in the Highest! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the Highest!” The second expression is “Crucify Him!,” which was just shouted by the crowd in front of Pontius Pilate and is said by us every time we sin.

2) I always like to ask myself, and others, what would we have done and said if we were present in the Praetorium courtyard that late Friday morning, April 7, 30 AD. When the chief priests and the scribes were going through the courtyard telling everyone to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus crucified. Many of those there would have been those to welcome Jesus five days earlier when he solemnly came into the Holy City amid cries of exultation and jubilation. Those who were screaming at the top of their lungs just five days ago, were either mute or crying not for Christ, the Son of David, who had come in the name of the Lord, but for Barabbas, a thief and a murder. What would you have said if you were there? Would you have had the guts to stand up for the faith against the crowd and say, even though it might have meant your death, “Give me Jesus!” “Give me Jesus!” “Give me Jesus!” Or would you have been silent and watched your Lord be brutally manhandled and killed in the most gruesome way imaginable. Or would you have gone the way of the crowd, giving in to peer pressure, and shouted, “Release to us Barabbas; Crucify Jesus?”

3) The greatest American Catholic preacher of all time, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, wrote a beautiful Way of the Cross. Right at the beginning, when we get to the first station, when Jesus is condemned to death, he wrote:

Pilate, the time-serving politician, stepped forward on his sunlit portico. On his right stood Christ, the Just One, who came to give His life for the redemption of many. On his left stood Barabbas, the wicked one, who has incited a revolt and taken a life. Pilate asked the mob to choose between the two: “Whom do you want me to release to you, Barabbas of Jesus?” How would I have answered that question had I been in the courtyard that Good Friday morning? I cannot escape answering by saying that the question belongs only to the past, for it is as actual now as ever. My conscience is the tribunal of Pilate. Daily, hourly, and every minute of the day, Christ comes before that tribunal, as virtue, honesty, and purity. Barabbas comes as vice, dishonesty, and uncleanness. As often as I choose to speak the uncharitable word, do the dishonest action, or consent to the evil thought, I say in so many words, “Release unto me Barabbas.” And to choose Barabbas means to crucify Christ.

4) To choose Barabbas, to choose sin, means to crucify Christ, because he died for our sins. He died for your sins and he died for mine. In order for me to have the chance to enter into heaven, he had to die for me. That’s the reality. So, as Bishop Sheen says, every day my conscience is the praetorium’s courtyard and I’m given the chance to choose between Jesus and Barabbas, between Jesus and Satan, between Jesus and my own will, between Jesus and sin. How have I been choosing? Do I realize that all that we just read in the Passion happened on account of my sins. And how great a love does Jesus have for me to have gone through all of that for me?

5) The second and last thing I’d like us to focus on today happened at the beginning of Mass in the first of two Gospels. Jesus sent two disciples with the instruction: “Go into the village straight ahead of you and you will immediately find an ass or donkey tethered and her colt with her. Untie them and lead them back to me. If anyone says a word to you, say, ‘The Master needs them.’ Then he will let them go at once.” In Jesus’ day a donkey was something like a car today. How would any of us feel if we came out of church and found our car missing? Anticipating that the owner of the animals would not be happy to see them hijacked, Jesus told the two disciples to say simply: “The master has need of them.” And it worked! Would it have worked with us? A preacher in a Protestant congregation accustomed to shouting comments during the sermon, told his hearers: “The church really has to walk.” “Let her walk, preacher!” someone responded. Encouraged, the preacher continued: “The church has to run!” “Let her run!” came the reply. Whereupon the preacher shouted: “The church must really fly!” “Let her fly, preacher,” someone shouted. “Let her fly!” The preacher saw the opening he was hoping for. “If this church is going to fly, we’ll need money,” he said. The response was disappointing: total silence. Finally there was a voice from the back of the church: “Let her walk, preacher.”

6) This story has a real moral to it. What do I have that the Lord needs? If it’s something I value, would I be willing to part with it, simply because he needs it? The Lord who asks for my gift gave all for me, even life itself. What am I willing to give him? The Master needs you. He needs you to be his donkey, carrying him to others. We all know many people who are not at Church this morning, people for whom Jesus died, who keep him at arms’ length. Because of the recent scandals in the clergy, some of these people whom Jesus longs to see here, to forgive their sins, to feed them with his own body and blood, are now two arms lengths or more away from the Church. The Master has need of you to bring Him to them, so that He might invite them back to share in this Last Supper and share in the fruits of his death and resurrection. Having just heard in solemn proclamation all Jesus was willing to do for you, are you willing to do this for him, this week?