What is your tipping point for following Christ, for declaring your faith, for laying down your will? We all have them. When life’s challenges arise is when those boundaries become clear. Do we only sing Hosannas when all is well or can we still praise God when the last words that we want to utter are thank you? Are we similar to the people today in the two Gospels of Palm Sunday, the first fervently acclaiming Christ as King, and the second shouts for his crucifixion? When do our hearts grow fearful and hateful? When do we turn our back on our Beloved?
The First Reading from Isaiah 50 tells of the servant of the Lord being abused but not hiding his face. God helps him and so he is not disgraced. He sets his face like flint and will not be put to shame. Psalm 22 has the Suffering Servant feeling forsaken as all mock him. He still says, he will praise God. In the Gospel of Matthew 26.14-27.66, another story line emerges: some who once stood by Christ begin to crumble, unable to praise and trust as fear and hatred overtake them. Judas, the exhausted disciples, the crowds, and Peter all betray Christ in their own way. Yet, the women are present at the crucifixion and Joseph of Arimathea as well, takes a risk of standing with Jesus, even after his death. If you are like me, then you will know all these stances of not being there for someone, of being there, even if it is at a more comfortable distance during the distress, and of being all there afterwards.
In the Second Reading from Philippians, we look to our Model, who humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross. Not many of us will humble ourselves in any way, especially to the point of death. Some do. Archbishop Romero comes to mind. I often give my retreatants the task of watching a film about him as homework because of his conversion experience. His obedience to the Church and government fails as he makes his allegiance to God. Not all of us will be called to make such a great sacrifice. However, in daily life, as believers, we are called to seek out the greater good and act on it. Sometimes this involves being obedient to the point of ridicule, shame, or dishonour.
Throughout this day, I have been returning to a quote I read as part of my morning prayer routine by Kathleen Norris: The hard truth about journeys is that they demand that we embrace the unknown…we actually know very little about what will be demanded of us along the way, let alone the outcome. At moments today I find myself standing at the tomb of St. Clare in Assisi, wondering what the intense emotions and tears were about as if it were yesterday. God was inviting me to an adventure then but I did not understand what it meant. I had experienced that type of mystical moment prior during my preparation for the Spiritual Exercises but it took me years to articulate what had happened and to embrace it as the gift that it was. The Presence that I felt at the tomb was a sensation that I have experienced a handful of times in my life. I knew it was powerful and I knew it was holy. The invitation to be obedient is never clear, I suspect. Did Mary know that the angel meant she would hold her beaten, crucified man-child in her arms with such sorrow? Did Peter comprehend that leaving his net would entail all that it did? Would each of them have said yes if they know the unfolding of the story? God is too merciful to allow us to know the outcome at times. The expectations are high though.
When people say that I am an inspiration to them, as someone did the other night at a church function, I realize that whatever was given to me at the Tomb of Clare gives me the strength and grace to go to the tipping point again and again–and to say, I am still with you, Lord. In hearing the stories of others who have cholangiocarcinoma, I am more than humbled at the ease with which I have moved to date through the illness. That may start to change shortly as the disease progresses without treatment. For now though, I continue to function to the undiscerning eye, quite well. I am incredibly grateful that I was able to have the life-saving initial procedure and then survive the surgery. My recovery was phenomenal. Even chemo did not limit me too much. I still very much believe that I am being carried by numerous prayers being lifted throughout this magnificent world. I only pray that my hosannas continue in the second half of this adventure. May I always find the grace to be there, praising you, Creator.
Think about times when you were the voice in each of the Gospel–of praise and of condemnation. Which would you rather use more often?
What has been your tipping point in the past?
Crucified Christ, some days we bring praises; other days we come with nails. Help us to be mindful of our tipping points. Teach us to sing Hosanna more than to shout crucify him. Give us what we need for our journeys and to stay in the moment, trusting you will provide all that we need when the time comes. Amen.