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Sixth Sunday of Lent

March 20, 2016
Reflection by Professor Thomas Groome
Director, Church in the 21st Century Center

Thomas Groome, Professor of Theology and Religious Education at Boston College, is completing his fortieth year of teaching at BC. He also serves as Director of BC's Church in the 21st Century Center. Tom is widely recognized as one of the leading Catholic religious educators in the world and is known for his commitment to integrating faith with the everyday of life. One of his many widely read books is What Makes us Catholic: Gifts for Life (Harper Collins).  

Readings for Palm Sunday:
Isaiah 50: 4-7
Philippians 2: 6-11
Luke 22: 14 - 23:56  

The Paradox of Christian Faith

Christian faith is riddled with paradoxes; yes, self-contradictory truth claims that are literally “contrary to reason” (para - doxa).  For starters, we can recognize at least three in this Palm Sunday readings. The first is of Christ the King of the world riding into the eternal city of Jerusalem on an ass (Matthew’s word, not mine!). The second is well captured in Paul’s description of Jesus’ self-emptying: “though he was in the form of God” yet “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness.”  So, in Jesus, God was among us as one of ourselves. What a paradox!  Then, the third and ultimate paradox is today’s passion story of a Crucified God. Indeed, faith in such paradoxes (we might soften to “mysteries”) requires big leaps!

I’ve never seen so many crosses anywhere as I did in Lithuania. You can see crosses on people’s houses, in their front and backyards, on village squares, at road intersections, in the most unlikely places. Then, the ultimate location is the “Hill of the Crosses,” just north of the city of Siauliai. A place of pilgrimage dear to Lithuanians, they have been planting crosses there for hundreds of years. The estimate is that a quarter million crosses are on that hill now, and more come every day. (The Soviets forbad the practice and Lithuanians planted all the more – at great risk). When I asked my translator why all the crosses, she said, “During difficult times, they remind us that God is suffering with us.”


Pause and Reflect

  • The Catholic tradition has long insisted on “faith seeking understanding” – that faith and reason are partners. Yet, the paradoxes remain. In your own life, how do you handle aspects of Christian faith you find difficult to believe?
  • What does the cross of Jesus mean for your own life-in-faith?

God Suffers With Us

Every person of faith must face the scandalous paradox of a benevolent God and yet so much suffering in the world. There is no satisfying explanation - though God’s gift of freedom to humankind and to nature is my favorite. In the Bible, the Book of Job is devoted entirely to this question, and ends by saying only what the answer is not – that God never causes suffering, as punishment or otherwise.  

Then, in this Palm Sunday passion reading, we encounter the dreadful suffering of Jesus.  Note well first that throughout his public ministry Jesus himself worked to alleviate human suffering and made amply clear that disciples will be judged by our efforts to do likewise – to care for the poor and suffering. Then he ended his life crucified on a cross by the Roman authorities – among the cruelest forms of execution. He suffered to the very depths of crying out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” - today’s Psalm response.

Yet Jesus’ cross makes clear that instead of sending suffering, God opposes it and, through Jesus, suffers with us. My Lithuanian friends have it right; the cross of Jesus means that God is in solidarity with us most at times of suffering.

Remember Jesus saying “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me” (Matthew 11:29).   Note well that in Jesus’ world, the yoke was always for pairs.  So, when Jesus urges us take on his yoke, he commits to pulling with us; this is what lightens every burden – us and Jesus pulling together.

Reflect and Decide

  • Has your understanding of “the cross” – your own and that of Jesus – shifted any from this time of reflection?
  • What is the burden you most need to bring to Jesus at this time?  How can he help you carry it?

How We’re Poorest

The Church now constantly urges Christians to “favor the poor and suffering.” The conviction is that God’s universal love for all favors those who need the favor most (another paradox). As our God is, so should live a people of God – yoked with the poor and suffering. However, we can also take consolation in knowing that the aspect of our own life in which we are poorest is where God’s love is most at work.  Put another way, how/when our own cross is heaviest, Jesus, our Co-yoker, is pulling hardest for us. 

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