The Testimony of Stones and Witnesses
by Paulist Fr. Rich Andre
April 14, 2019

Paulist Fr. Rich Andre preached this homily on Palm Sunday (Year C) on April 14, 2019, at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Horseshoe Bay, TX. The homily is based on the day’s readings: Luke 19:28-40; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; and Luke 22:14 – 23:56.

After the first gospel but before the procession: 

Only one part of Luke’s Palm Sunday account is unique from the other three gospels: Jesus declares that the stones will cry out if the people are silent. 

I’ve traveled to the Holy Land two times, and I will be leading a pilgrimage there again next February. I have now witnessed the testimony of the stones of the Holy Land. I have stood where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. I have touched the spot where Jesus Christ was born. I’ve celebrated Mass at the site of the Transfiguration, and I’ve seen where Jesus is said to have mounted the colt on Palm Sunday.

In Nazareth, Bethlehem, Mt. Tabor, and Bethphage, the stones themselves testify to the glory of God. For nearly two thousand years, pilgrims have flocked to touch these stones and hear their Spirit-filled songs, songs that reverberate in our souls for the rest of our days!

Today, we re-enact the joyful procession of the first Palm Sunday when the people of Jerusalem hailed Jesus as the Messiah. But for us, that joy can feel forced: we know that the people thought that the Messiah would be a military conqueror who would defeat the Roman occupation. That did not happen. However, Jesus did fulfill another belief about the Messiah that was predicted by the Jewish midrash a thousand years before Jesus’ birth. The midrash predicts that the Messiah will appear on the Mount of Olives and will head, as Jesus did, towards the Temple Mount.

Dear brothers and sisters, like the crowds in Jerusalem, let us go forth, proclaiming that we are ready to follow Jesus Christ!

After the procession but before the collect (opening prayer):

Now the mood of our Mass changes drastically.

For the rest of this Mass, we journey with Jesus as he became our king through his humble faithfulness to the Father’s will.  

As we listen again to the story of Christ’s passion and death, how are our life experiences like Jesus’? How are they different? How are we similar to the descriptions of Jesus in our Isaiah reading and our Philippians reading?

The homily:

To me, the Passion definitively proves that God is not remote. God understands the human condition. Jesus Christ emptied himself of godliness. He experienced the full range of human emotions. He suffered and died in the midst of the complexities of social sin.  

Let’s admit it: Calvary plays out continually all around the world, nearly two thousand years later, day after day. Politics continue to make for strange bedfellows and frequent betrayals. People continue to be wrongly convicted for crimes they did not commit. Violence is everywhere. Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are persecuted – even killed – for their religious beliefs today. 

It’s doubtful that any of us here in Horseshoe Bay will suffer the horrific things that so many of our brothers and sisters suffer around the world. It’s even harder for us to compare our own sufferings to those of Jesus. But yet, Palm Sunday invites us to find a visceral, personal connection to the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

One personal connection I can make is this: I have touched the stones that continue to witness to Jesus’ passion and death. I’ve celebrated Mass at the rock where Jesus was betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, as I’ve prayed for those people in my life that I have let down. I’ve prayed in the pit under Caiaphas’ house where Jesus was imprisoned, as I’ve prayed for the people around the world today who are wrongly imprisoned and tortured. I’ve reverenced the rock where Jesus died. There, I’ve prayed for all the people around the world on death row.

Surely, we can more easily find bonds with the unique secondary characters in Luke’s account of the Passion. Together, these characters represent a host of ways that we can interact with those who are suffering. 

King Herod was given the perfect opportunity to intervene on Jesus’ behalf. If Jesus had performed a few minor party miracles to entertain the king and his entourage, Herod may have pitied a man whose suffering did not affect him. The soldiers and the unrepentant thief had no power to alleviate Jesus’ pain, but they chose to intensify Jesus’ suffering by mocking him and dressing him in regal clothing. The women could not lessen Jesus’ suffering either, but rather than running away from the bloodshed, they trod with Jesus and grieved his fate. The repentant thief, hanging next to Jesus, made the extraordinary effort to protest the web of sin that entrapped Jesus. Through his dying gasps for air, he threw his lot in with this stranger he somehow knew to be innocent.

Every day, people walk the road to Calvary. And our instincts urge us to act with a combination of the whim of Herod, the self-preservation of the soldiers, the grief of the women, and the compassion of the repentant thief.

Compassion. That is the gift we are called to give. To be with those who are suffering. The Latin word is misericordia, to suffer with the same heart. We usually translate misericordia into English as mercy.

Jesus Christ, who was sinless, freely accepted to suffer with the same heart for our sins. We who have received God’s mercy, we are called to show God’s mercy to others. Each of us mere members of the body of Christ can only alleviate a small part of another member’s suffering. But Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of the Living God, can do it fully. Let us end with the prayer that Pope Francis wrote for the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy:

Lord Jesus Christ, you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him. 
Show us your face and we will be saved.

Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal, and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.

Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman: “If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed, and restore sight to the blind.  

We ask this through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy,
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.