Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
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One final lesson
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the March 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
Some friends of mine have just returned from a pilgrimage to the land where Jesus walked and taught, died and rose. Having been blessed by my own visit to the sacred sites several years ago, I have pummeled the new pilgrims with questions. After all, they say that only the cold-hearted can visit the Holy Land without returning a different person. So ... where did they go? What did they see? For me, the most revealing questions: What were their most memorable experiences, or what was the most impressive place they visited?
I must say I await answers with baited breath, hoping not to be disappointed. The Holy Land pilgrim can be led astray by over-zealous tour guides and the marketing locals, sincere as they may want to be. Tourist heritage has handed on a lore that often can be off-base and ill-founded. Sometimes the application of quotes from the Gospel narrative can be stretched beyond feasibility.
The approaching days of the Sacred Triduum take me back to my visit to the Holy Land and, more specifically, to what is now popularly identified on maps as Old Jerusalem. The eyes of the pilgrim can hardly miss the site of the ancient East Gate to the ancient entrance into the confines of Jerusalem. Standing in the Kedron Valley, one’s back to the Garden of Gethsemane, the eye makes its way up a stone-ridden bank to the very spot where the portal once embraced the faithful of God. Sixteenth-century crusader brickwork now fills the site, but history has not changed the significance of the spot. Without a doubt, it is up this bank and through the gate that once stood there that Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just a few days before his Passion and Death.
According to Scripture, the crowds went wild that day. Passover was near, to begin with, and the emotions of the crowds always reached a fever pitch on such an occasion. More importantly, the din gleaned its power from the mounting expectation that perhaps the man Jesus from Nazareth would be the Great Liberator of his people. The air swished with palm branches as voices acclaimed him as Messiah: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Some liberator, this Jesus: He rides through the crowds on the back of a donkey, the common work animal of the day. (The modern pilgrim can still see evidence of them in the streets.) The ever-vigilant Roman soldiers sat upon their sleek, fattened stallions. Certainly, their armor must have clattered as their bodies chortled at the craziness of the scene. Noting his transport, these men surmised immediately that Jesus was no threat to them or to the grip of Caesar. The lesson of the donkey was not lost on them. Jesus had not come to pick a fight. Their mighty towers of power were safe. The crowd could be left to its senseless frenzy.
Beginning with the celebration of Passion Sunday in a couple weeks, the Church leads us liturgically back to our roots. Once again we enter figuratively into Holy Week through the East Gate of Old Jerusalem. Up that difficult bank once again, and into the city with Jesus. Palms in hand. Voices at the ready.
Our suits, dresses, neckties, and jackets show a people of a different era. Beneath the clothing, nevertheless, is a common crowd of pilgrims. We seek not to replicate an historical event; history by its very nature has come and gone. Yet like those original pilgrims who greeted the Master, we number among the thousands who have walked in their spiritual sandals. We are all too ready to lay upon Jesus the burden of our expectations. With voices loud and voices silent, we raise our demands that he be the kind of messiah and establish the kind of community that meets our expectations and fulfills our needs. We, too, want a Great Liberator who will give us positions of power and dominance. We, too, want a Leader who will look aside from our pillaging and plunder. We, too, want a Macho Man who will snuff our enemies.
When we find our voices giving reign to such self-serving and self-destructive cries for “salvation,” Jesus himself offers one final lesson before circumstances take their course. He rides through our demanding crowd astride a donkey. No word need be spoken for those who can see and learn. Jesus is the kind of Messiah God sends him to be. He is not the fantasy of our imagination or the fulfillment of our base dreams. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, proclaimed in truth as Messiah, but as one who is God’s Anointed One. Violence, domination, power and control have no place in his master plan of salvation. The way of the cross which is about to take his life is his only way. From beginning to end, the lesson of the donkey is the same. It’s not all about me, but all about him. It’s all about forgetting self and living for others. It’s all about dying and rising.
This year’s Passion Sunday draws nigh. We are presented with yet another opportunity gather at the Eastern Gate of Jerusalem and re-learn the lesson. Holy Week’s grace helps us re-orient our priorities and refocus on the kind of truth that really sets us free: God’s truth, riding on a donkey. The Romans of contemporary times watch us from their positions of dominance, power and influence. What is this they hear us shouting about?
(Father Savelesky is the elected administrator of the Diocese of Spokane, pastor of the parishes in Rosalia and St. John, and administrator of St. Rose Parish, Cheney.)
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