Of all the “attention-getting” devices ever designed, the greatest was the human Jesus. Some of these person-made spectaculars have been false and a distraction throughout our history. Throughout our history there has always been this God attempting to get our attention, attract our wavering interests, and rearranging our sense of values and importances.
The birth of Jesus gets our attention once a year, but then it was quite unnoticed. From His being made public by being baptized, through all His teaching-moments and miracles and conflicts, Jesus was slowly getting the attention of His followers and dissenters. Today we are celebrating His having gotten our interest, attention, and commitment.
Those who shouted praises and laid down palm branches had heard of the Man and perhaps had seen or heard Him. Jesus, riding into town on a donkey, had heard similar shouts after His having done actions which had gotten their approval. Now He was about to do a special something during which He would hear other kinds of shouts.
The Readings for the entire liturgy for today are long and our attention spans are short. We will hear of the riding in and the cutting down of palms; we ourselves might do some walking and waving of palms. This will keep us focused for a while.
The Eucharistic Liturgy has for its first Reading a confident boast of a servant who is not afraid to be a person of God no matter what the consequences. For this person, faithfulness overcomes frailty.
The Second Reading is part of a song which Paul inserted into the chapter celebrating Christ as a Servant Who is faithful while being humanly frail. His being a Servant might get our attention for a while.
The long Gospel will not be able to hold our thoughts and imaginations for several reasons. There are no surprises; we have heard this wonderful story so often. It is long and even if there are several people taking the voices of the Gospels’s persons, our human mental capacities to stay focused will fail our good desires.
In drama, there is the movement from “Inciting-Incident” through the “rising-Action” to the “Climax.” In our watching of a play, we might be able to follow most of the action and some of the subtleties. If we were to see this play once or twice a year, almost every year of our lives, we probably would not pay as close attention as we would like to or once did.
He was born, He lived every moment of His life, and He died; all this to get our attention. Here is the comfort for us; He did all this whether we can follow perfectly the movements of His personal drama, or not. If the celebrant of the liturgy were to say to the congregation that he would be giving a multiple-choice exam instead of a homily, we might listen a little more ear-fully. The exam of our lives does not depend on whether we paid strict attention or not. The workings of God are more subtle and graceful than that.
Jesus’ life and death did not startle the world into being a Kingdom of God. His Resurrection began startling some into living within that Kingdom. The moments we drift away from our being attentive are moments we represent the vast majority of the people of Jesus’ time. Did He die only when He got everybody’s absolute attention? He did die and did rise and continues to labor for our being attracted to His Kingdom and getting our attention whenever we are moved to do so. We do know the outcome of this story, but this story’s outcome is our personal ascent to what the centurion and the men watching over Jesus said after His death, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” The quality of our listening to these Readings does not disqualify us from living their effects. The quality of our attentiveness during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, as we celebrate in mysterious fact what we have rehearsed in word, does not separate us from receiving again the Fruit from the new Tree of Life, the cross.
Jesus lived obedient, listeningly, to Who He was even to His ultimate
act of being a Servant of God and a Servant of humankind. Our lives
are in no way an exam about how we have paid attention, but rather how
we ourselves, were attention-getters. We follow Him by listening
to Scriptures for as long as we can, as attentively as we can, but listen
also to the various ways He calls us to serve, even to the dyings of our
egos, plans, and our lives. Our lives are not an exam, but a poem,
a drama, and a gospel in which the good news of our days, shouts loudly
the praise of the Jesus Who comes riding into town upon our faces, our
hands, our shoulders and our hearts.
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