Thursday, April 16, 2009

Year B

Are you a Yankee?

First time anyone asked me that question – I was a kid then and we lived in New Jersey – I said, “No, I’m a Dodger.” I thought we were talking baseball teams – and the Dodgers were still over across the harbor in Brooklyn.

Since then I’ve been places in the US where that question would be fightin’ words. “Ah ain’t no Yankee!” would be the response, usually with an adjective describing Yankee that you might not want to hear in church.

But I’ve also lived in New England where local people told me they weren’t Yankees; Yankees were really just the members of those old, aristocratic New England families – Cabots, Lodges, Lowells, Kennedys…. Wait, not really the Kennedys; only Protestants were real Yankees. But the old, Protestant, New England, real Yankees would say, “No. Real Yankees are people from Vermont who eat cheese for breakfast.” (I kid you not; I remember hearing that – from a Vermonter. I don’t know what he ate for breakfast.)

It depends where you’re from, what you really mean by “Yankee.” Vermont? Boston? Brooklyn? New Jersey? Alabama? Texas?

But think of this: You may be from Texas or Alabama and hate the name “Yankee.” But if you’re overseas somewhere and the local people are running around yelling, “Yankee, go home!” it would probably not do you any good to trot out your Southern drawl and think it’ll save you.

It’s like that with one of the words we hear in today’s Gospel. In fact, the sort of explanation we used for “Yankee” is about the only one that allows that Gospel reading to make sense.

Later on the day of resurrection, the Gospel tells us, the disciples were hiding behind locked doors, afraid. Imagine this:

Just about all the disciples were there, because they wanted to be near one another for support and comfort, yes, but also because nearly none of them were from Jerusalem, and they needed accommodations. But scared? Yes, they certainly were.

One man in the group notices the doors aren’t completely barricaded. “Oh, my gosh, the Jews might be coming after us!” He gets up nervously and goes over to lay a huge beam into the big iron brackets on the doorposts to make it impossible for anyone to get in. He – like all the disciples – is really worried about what the Jews might do to them.

“Oh, thank the Lord,” he breathes, and turns around to walk back to where he was sitting. Suddenly he looks up – and it hits him: The whole room is full of Jews! All those people sitting there are Jews. Not only that, but he notices another Jewish Man who seems to be coming through the walls of the room to be with them!

Is that an accurate picture of what was going on?

No, not at all.

If we insist on using the word “Jew” the way we usually use it, the story makes no sense. It would be comic, a wild farce.

Here’s the difference: The Gospels, you know, were written in Greek. Iudaios [sounds like: you DYE oss] is the word we find translated as “Jew.” Originally, though, it’s the word for Judean, somebody from Judea.

Of course everyone in the room was Jewish – but they were not Judean. Jesus’ disciples were mostly Galilean – and the Galileans were the ones who wouldn’t have their own place to stay in Jerusalem, Judea.

Remember the young woman accosting Peter in the High Priest’s courtyard? “You must be one of his disciples. You talk like Galilean!”

And that Jewish Man who entered the room without needing to open the door? Well, history has more or less dubbed him “The Galilean” – Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.

It wasn’t Jews anybody was worried about. They were all Jews themselves. It was the local people, the city folk, who were a little more sophisticated, a little more cocky, a little more aggressive than the country bumpkins from Galilee – who even talk funny. It was the Judeans. And, really, that’s just what the Gospel says.

John – this Gospel bears his name – was also a Galilean. A lot of times, when he says Iudaios, he’s not thinking of Jews like himself; he’s thinking of those brash people from Judea.

In fact, when John tells us about the death of Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary – in Bethany, in Judea, not far from Jerusalem – he says, Many of the Jews came out to support Martha and Mary in their grief. Jews as opposed to whom? Hindus? No, of course, not. Judeans, that’s who they are, people from Jerusalem and environs.

Now, Luke – he was pagan before Christ changed his life: Luke virtually always, when he says “Jew” – Iudaios – he’s thinking of not just Judeans, but all Jewish people. He even says in the story of the first Pentecost that people visiting Jerusalem from everywhere in the world were “all Jews.”

Who is it asking that question: Are you a Yankee? Who is it asking the other question: Are you a Jew? Jewish? Judean?

Jesus and his first disciples were all Jews. But very few were Judean.

Believe what the Bible says – what the Bible says! Not just what we might think we might mean if we used the English word that sometimes translates what somebody else originally said in some other language 2000 thousand years ago.

“Jew” is not the only word that we have to be careful with. “Lord” Thomas and the other disciples call Jesus; what does that word mean when they use it? Or, for that matter, “brother,” “sister,” “first-born son” – even “blessing” and “bless” and “give thanks.”

And maybe we should not insist too strongly on old words that sound familiar – “for fear of the Jews,” for only one example – when they don’t mean for people today what John and Luke and Paul and Matthew really wanted to say. Same thing goes for Moses, Abraham, Esther – but with another one or two thousand years added into the mix.

But the word “Jew” is a good place to start, because we won’t really understand those other words if we forget that the people using them were Jews from 2000 years ago – or maybe 4000! We’ll need to talk again about Jewish words from the days of Jesus.

Some of those words have much to reveal to us.

… On another Sunday.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Year B

I can remember as a kid anticipating being asked
by my mom or dad to go to the basement for something.
Whether it was the laundry, a hammer, or a book,
I really tried to resist going down there by myself
or make as few trips as possible.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to help my parents, no.
It was the fact that I had to walk
past the backdoor of the basement that led outside.

Now this wasn’t the typical back door – of course not.
It was a door that had tinted plexi-glass windows
that you couldn’t see through clearly.
It opened up to a few cement stairs
that you had to walk up to another door,
kind of like the one in the Wizard of Oz,
where they went to be safe from the tornado.

Now as I came to realize later on in life
a shadow was cast from the slight crack
in the opening of the outside door onto the glass.
Of course, in my mind it meant a monster was there.
And so, each time I had to go down the basement for something
I pretended the door just wasn’t there, and so I wouldn’t look at it.

Inevitably, as I was getting the laundry, the hammer, or the book,
some sort of noise would, I believed, come from the door –
and so I would fly back up those stairs as fast as I could,
sometimes with the laundry, the hammer, or the book –
and sometimes (most times) with nothing.
The good parents that they were, over and over again,
my mom and dad would come down the basement,
with me creeping behind them, and fearlessly open the back door
and show me time and time again that nothing was there,
that there was nothing to be scared about.

Today’s gospel reading from John,
which is the same year after year,
is not unlike my encounter with the basement back door.
Mary Magdalene comes to Jesus’ tomb
on that first Easter morning and encounters the unexpected:
the stone is rolled away from the tomb,
and so, in fear, she runs back to the Upper Room
(perhaps faster than I!)
where she meets up with Peter and the other disciple,
who join her in running back to the tomb
to investigate and find the burial clothes wrapped neatly.
They go into the tomb and come out to see that nothing is there.

Indeed, nothing is there, for death is gone!
We hear that the other disciple, which our tradition often claims
to be John, the beloved disciple,
comes to Easter faith at this encounter,
but Mary Magdalene and Peter do not right away.

This empty tomb points to the Resurrection,
and it will be a little later in the story
when the disciples have an encounter of the Risen Christ,
when it will begin to make even more sense to them,
when they look back on the life of this man Jesus
and see that this is what God was doing all along,
culminating in Christ’s own Resurrection!

And what is it that God was doing, has been doing all along,
but continuing to re-create, to make things new and fresh –
for the new life of Christ, found in Christ,
the new creation cannot be contained, even in a tomb!
It bursts forth and rolls stones away,
anything that once may have blocked it is now gone, rolled away,
even death itself,
letting new things emerge and spring forth!

This Easter, this highest of feasts in our Church,
invites us once again to go into our lives and go to the places
that we have shied away from, which we have feared,
the places that we pretend aren’t there, those tombs,
those backdoors we’ve been running away from,
and to allow the power of Christ to roll away the stones
that have been blocking new life and growth from emerging.
They are places, they are relationships in need of healing,
that have been covered in darkness for quite some time
and have yet to be discovered by us, that God so wants us to see.
They are judgments we have made,
or ideas and thoughts we are fixated with,
Or things that have happened to us that have stifled us,
all of which God wants us to roll away
and allow the Spirit to move around us.
Of course, none of this is done on our own,
we do this as a community, in a community,
as brothers and sisters in Christ.

As we renew our baptismal promises this day
and as we celebrate Eucharist,
we are united with all those
who joined our community last night at the Vigil,
and we remind ourselves that we are knit to each other
and to the Christ who strengthens us
to embrace the new life that God has in store for all of us.

With Easter Faith, let us run
together with the Beloved Disciple,
as the Beloved Disciples that we are,
to those places and embrace the Resurrection,
the new life in Christ, with Christ, as Christ!

Kevin M. DePrinzio, OSA
Words in the Liturgy

Like a thunder-clap in the sky right overhead, like a sonic boom – or, to stay with Biblical images, like a burst of angels in the Bethlehem sky : “Glory to God in the highest.”

Words can hit us like that. They have that power. They can be symbols in the fullest and most powerful sense of that term. They can snatch you off the streets of everyday life, fling you around the world, set you down in a place you've never been, in a century very far from your own.

It's seems a bit like magic. A strange, special-sounding phrase is launched into the air, and reality changes before our eyes.

Yes, it seems like magic because it happens so quickly and with what seems like very little effort. But with such symbols as the Bible and the liturgy use, it’s not magic. If the symbols don’t enter our mind, we can’t expect them to have much impact on us – on our reality, our world.

The human race doesn’t yet understand all the ways of communication, and certainly doesn’t have a handle on the million ways God can use to touch the human heart. That’s true.

But we do know what the ordinary channels are, and we do know something we can do to help communication, even our communication with God – maybe, especially our communication with God.

Words the liturgy uses are symbols like that. When we see how they are connected to all the events and thoughts of the Bible, they become rich, rich sources of prayer, meditation, and contemplation.

The Triduum of Easter overflows with such passages in Scripture and worship. That Paschal Triduum begins this Thursday evening with the Mass of the Lord's Supper. It will end after Evening Prayer (Vespers/Evensong) on Easter Sunday.

We read from so much of the Bible during the liturgy of these three days, and almost all of what we read will be the same year after year. It gives our ears – and our minds and hearts – the chance to get used to them, to come to know them as we know our friends, and to be glad to see and hear them again. And they become important points in our Ministry of the Word – and in our own personal prayer.

Don’t deprive yourself of the pleasure and the help you can get if you look up in the Bible or in the Missal the setting and context of any of these word-symbols.

Holy Thursday

Here are some of those words from the Holy Thursday Liturgy – from the Book of Exodus:

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt….” So begin the Scriptures of the Triduum, the Scriptures that mean to us the death and resurrection of Christ, and the Memorial of the Lord, the Eucharist he gave us.

“Tell the whole community of Israel…”

“You shall keep it [the Paschal lamb] until the fourteenth day of this month,

and then, with the whole assembly of Israel present,

it shall be slaughtered in the evening twilight.”

“It is the Passover of the Lord.”

From the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians:

“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,

that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread….”

From the Gospel according to John:

“… Jesus knew that his hour had come….”

“During supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power

and that he had come from God and was returning to God,

[Jesus] rose from supper….”

The following day we celebrate Good Friday, the Passion and Death of Christ. There will be more phrases that can snatch us up and bring us to a new place – if we let them lead us to new understanding, to prayerful contemplation.

Good Friday

Yesterday, after the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper, we were like Jesus' disciples. We left our "Upper Room" singing hymns of praise, hymns very appropriate for the season of unleavened bread and Paschal lamb.

Like those disciples, also, we left in the company of Jesus. It's true, of course, that, as Jesus promised us, we never need be out of his company ― unless we force him out of our lives. But last night we did the opposite.
We... well, our pastor did it where I was, but as one of us, as one like us who wanted to keep close to Jesus' presence, especially "on the night he was betrayed": so "we" took the presence of Jesus from the altar ― the Presence that is the fruit of his suffering, death and resurrection, and of the Eucharist we had just celebrated ― and we gathered that Presence ― we gathered Jesus ― to our hearts.

Our pastor ― as yours, too, I suspect ― wrapped the ciborium (the gold or silver vessel) containing Jesus' Eucharistic presence in the folds of a long white veil as he lifted it up from the altar. This year, I don't know why, it made me think of the swaddling clothes of the beginning of Jesus' earthly life and the burial wraps of the final day.

The pastor clutched the wrapped Eucharist to his chest – to his heart – and began to walk down the church aisle toward the steps that lead downstairs to a chapel where the Eucharist would remain till our communion this Good Friday afternoon.

This next happening reminded me of the Hebrew children on the first Palm Sunday ― or maybe a sudden sale at K-Mart! The pastor had walked just two steps; suddenly everybody emptied out of the pews in front of him, eager to go with him ― with Jesus, really.

Later some stayed in prayer in the downstairs chapel. Some who'd gone home came back. But our gathering, our assembly dissolved in silence.

So this afternoon, in great silence, the priests and the altar servers made their way through the length of the church toward the altar. No hymn. Just silence. We were not really beginning another liturgy; we we’re continuing the one we’d left off the night before. Besides, it was Good Friday afternoon – not a time for much noise or much hilarity.

And the prophet Isaiah said:

“… many were amazed at him” – he’s speaking of God’s Servant in his suffering –

so marred was his look beyond human semblance

and his appearance beyond that of the sons of man….”

“He grew up like a sapling before him…”
– a line of beautifully poetic imagery that always leaves me with many questions, more questions than answers – questions I should maybe try not to answer.

“… there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him,

Good Friday, Washington, DC, Ford’s Theater –

Could Abraham Lincoln ever be elected President today – with our fixations on good looks – and our televisions and news photos that delight in pointing out visible flaws? Could someone else, more handsome, have accomplished for our nation what he did? … What would we have lost?!

And for the people who are in our own day – can those growing up today think well of themselves if they are not good-looking? And worse than it is, I think, for a boy or a man – can a young girl, a young woman survive the advertising and the expectations that push them relentlessly toward “beauty treatments” – many, expensive, and mostly unnecessary? – And, of course, it is the media that bring those questions to my attention, even in the Passion of Jesus. And what should we say?

nor appearance that would attract us to him.

He was spurned and avoided by people…

spurned, and we held him in no esteem. (Are there people like that in our lives – in my life: spurned, held in no esteem? I think I’m afraid to look.)

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, (My infirmities, my weakness? No wonder the cross was so heavy!)

our sufferings that he endured…;

he was pierced for our offenses,

crushed for our sins; (And I want to ask, What sins? But I don’t want to hear the answer.)

upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,

by his stripes we were healed.”

“… a grave was assigned him among the wicked and a burial place with evildoers,

though he had done no wrong….”
– and we convict the innocent and try to bar them from scientific tests that might, after their many years in prison, prove them innocent. How can we??

“Just lock ‘em up and throw away the key” – can we do that, and still sit quietly through this reading? Guilty most may be, but prison does not take them out of crime and violence; it enmeshes them into more crime and violence that they experienced outside.

Don’t say that’s punishment they deserve; we, you and I, our states and our nation, are the ones who (most often rightfully) say they deserve punishment. But what happens too many times in prison are things about which we would get fightin’ mad if anybody accused – heck, even hinted that we might be involved in. The convicted are in our prisons, sent there “in the name of the People.” And, besides, the US is a republic! – the country belongs to us. So do its prisons.

So why are we not ashamed at the violence inflicted on the weak in places we bear responsibility for? The least of the evildoers suffer more because we allow the more wicked to continue their wickedness even in prison.

“Assigned… among the wicked…, place with evildoers, though he had done no wrong….” Is it Christian on Good Friday to restrict our sorrow only to the suffering and wounds and death of Jesus Christ? No one else?

But Isaiah continues:

“… he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked;

and he shall take away the sins of many,

and win pardon for their offenses.”
(How different is the Lord from our sometimes so insensitive hearts!)

Then came the story we knew we were working up to, this time from John’s Gospel as every year on Good Friday; it doesn’t change with the year as the Passion story does for Palm Sunday:

A chilling prophecy by a man not sympathetic to Jesus – and not very sympathetic to many of the other Jews he had responsibility for, either. He said – and with truth beyond his intention, but not beyond the sacred office he held – “that it was better that one man should die rather than the people.”
Yes, indeed it was. He spoke the truth there.

The story will continue in that vein, but first there is a smaller event, a littler story unfolding. There is a set-up line for the events of that little story, and it gets repeated a couple times. Like many more solemn and ringing set-up lines in the Bible (“The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt….” “The earth was a formless void…. And God said, ‘Let there be….’”) this little one brings the whole event back to our mind:

“Peter was also standing there keeping warm. … And later:

Now Simon Peter was standing there keeping warm.”
– It’s easy to see that homey little picture in our minds, isn’t it? It’s a tiny clearing in a forest of catastrophe. It invites Peter to imagine he is on the shore of Lake Genneseret, after a night of fishing, warming himself with Andrew and maybe James and John in the brisk chill just before sunrise.

It is really a mind-boggling contrast to the other events of this night… until The Question comes: Oh, didn’t I see you with…. And then Peter, too, is caught up in the horror.

Then we hear of another scenario – a not so tame one. This scenario might convict us, too, if we act too much like the chief priests, if we are too uncaring, too cavalier – even too un-Constitutional, I believe we could say in the United States. That attitude –

Of course he’s guilty. We arrested him, didn’t we?

In the original, it reads: "If he were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you." Forget the trial; of course he’s guilty.

Well, that’s a lot.

But even after all that, and all it might convict us of – me of – I’m afraid to type the next one of these extraordinary and iconic lines.

You know how in the Book of Job, when his wife tells him just to curse God and be done with it, the original text and older translations can’t bear to say “curse God” and they say instead “bless God and die”? That confused the daylights out of me when I was a kid. “Curse” is what makes sense – and “curse” is what was meant.

Well, I’m in a position like that now. It’s easier for me to shout with the crowd, “Crucify him!” than to mumble this next terrifying statement. Of all the lines in the Passion, this one I cannot handle. It’s like cursing God… – actually, it is very much like it.

And notice: John does not say the people said this, and he does not say the chief priests stirred up the crowd to make them say this. This time it’s only:

“The chief priests answered, (no one else!)

‘We have no king but Caesar.’”

It scares me to think it, but in that moment what they said became true. For the chief priests, the Temple “establishment,” that statement might not even have been a big jump from their usual dealings: they were more interested, often, in allying themselves with Caesar, with Rome, and with its local procurator Pilate, than with the One they were to serve and the people he had made his own. They were, moreover, in Jesus’ day, actually appointed by the secular, pagan authorities.

In this statement they did not speak for the people, and the people – as John himself lets us know – did not join them in this sentiment. But, oh my! It frightens me that they would take this step. How could a Christian or a Jew ever say this? It shows, though, the gulf that separated that era’s Jerusalem authorities from the rest of their people.

This following line we see all the time:

"’Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews…’

written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek.”
– probably, scholars tell us, really Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, the language of the people, the language of the occupying government, and the most wide-spread language of the time. Pilate was covering all bases, making sure that this little bit of nastiness would be accessible to the largest number of people.

What he wrote we would say is true – much too restricted, but true. We’ve kept an abbreviated version on all our crucifixes: “INRI” – “Iesus Nararenus Rex Iudaeorum,” the Latin that Pilate wrote on his little sign. We consider it a badge of honor for Jesus, but that wasn’t Pilate’s thinking. His little sign was aimed at insulting Jesus and – I think especially – all the other Jews.

Amazing! Pilate, whose ironic or even sarcastic “What is truth?” has resounded down the centuries, here actually has found something true! More amazing still, he sticks by it – "What I have written, I have written" – not because it’s true, but because it makes a better insult than the suggested alternative: “He said, I am king of the Jews.” Here’s God again, writing straight with (very) crooked lines, just as with Caiaphas’ statement. It lets us know who it is that’s going to win this battle.

All the centuries since Jesus’ crucifixion have found joy and inspiration in the special tenderness and love that shines through this next iconic statement of Jesus – iconic in its 21st-century sense.
“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved

he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’

Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’”

This little exchange has been much commented upon. Very recently I saw another commentary I want to share with you:
What was hardest for him to take? The Judas kiss, Peter’s denials, the glib skepticism of
Pilate…? None of that, I think…. It must have been the worst agony for Jesus to witness
his abjection worm its way into the hearts of those he loved the most.
“’Woman,’ he says to Mary, ‘here is your son….’” *

We could think – I did when I was a kid – that Jesus was referring to himself. He wasn’t. The same commentary continues: “Where we might have expected self-pity or a desire for revenge, Jesus acts to reconstitute his family.” *

When Jesus raised the dead son of the widow of Naim (Luke 7:11 ff), Scripture says, “He gave him back to his mother.” Otherwise, the son would, of course, still be dead, but also this: his mother would be living a kind of dead life without the male relative to stand up for her and keep her inserted in the social structure. (In those days in Israel, women had many of the disadvantages they have now in Muslim countries.) Jesus, in his final thoughts, does that for his own mother – and through her, for all of us.
Augustine, of course, can’t overlook the similarities between himself and that young son in Naim. But we may reflect on that some other time.

For the following line, too, I recently came across another very significant way of looking at it. The priest who preached on Good Friday at our parish pointed it out.

When the end finally came, Jesus uttered his last word; that word has come down to us in Greek, because that is the language the Gospels were written in. It is tetélestai – quite literally: it has been brought to its end, to its farthest point. It’s perfect tense and passive voice – a pretty unusual grammatical form in the New Testament: an oddity there.

"It is finished."

But there’s more, as our Good Friday preacher pointed out: tetélestai is the Ancient Greek equivalent to our stamp “Paid” on a bill where nothing more is due – maybe better, “Pail in Full.”

And so it was.

“And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.”

“Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden,

and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.”

A garden. A new garden. There’s a nice summary of the Scriptures, right there in that word “garden.”

The Lord planted a garden in Eden when earth was first formed. At a tree in that garden, humanity took a wrong turn.
Our imaginations, less sober than Genesis, place the serpent, the Tempter, up in the tree in that garden. On this day, Good Friday, it was Jesus Christ up on a tree. And humankind was brought back to the right way, to life.

The garden-problem is solved: tetélestai again.

In a garden, on a tree.

* These comments are taken from a commentary on Good Friday by Professor Jim Wetzel of Villanova University’s Philosophy Department in Lent 2009: Daily Reflections by the Villanova Community. The booklet is paginated only by the dates –in this case, April 10. Villanova’s Campus Ministry and Mission Effectiveness Offices distributed the booklet.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Year B

Today’s a little odd. We began Mass in a very different way from our normal custom. And now we’re standing or sitting here with these palm branches in our hands. Yeah, a little strange.

And this, too – We read today twice from the Gospel. There’s no other time we do that in the Roman Rite.

Now, it is true, at the Pope’s Mass for major international celebrations the Gospel is proclaimed traditionally twice: once in Latin and once in Greek, but it’s the same Gospel passage. We do it that way – okay, maybe we don’t, but they do in Rome….

Wait a minute! Yes, we do – we! You and I – we!

Look, imagine you’re the pope. You’re presiding at a huge celebration of the Eucharist – maybe not right here where just about everybody understands English – because then, of course, the Gospel’d be proclaimed in English. But say, some international, world-wide celebration where there is no common spoken language, we would – we would – likely resort to Latin, and, if you’re the pope, Greek.

The whole point is that Greek and Latin historically have been the Church’s universal languages, Greek since about year 50, Latin since a century after that. The two languages are used to show and to celebrate the fact that the Church is catholic – that’s a Greek word (See? Greek again.) meaning universal.

Well, after all, … that is a bit like our two Gospels today. And it’s also a bit like the writing Pontius Pilate will do this coming Friday.

Remember? Pilate wanted to use that universality, that “catholicness,” when he explained why he had Jesus crucified: He wrote that little sign above Jesus’ head – that one up there.

It says “INRI.” That’s an abbreviation for the Latin words that say, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Pilate put it up there together with the Greek translation and the “Hebrew” – probably really Aramaic. All the locals who would go by could understand the Aramaic; anybody in Pilate’s world – any of them who could read anything – would most likely (say, 95%) understand the Greek. And of course, Latin was the governmental language: Jesus was condemned to death in Latin. Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The whole world.

“Iesus Nazarénus, Rex Iudaeórum.” [accents added here just for pronunciation ease]

And then, remember Pilate’s immortal line – “Quod scripsi, scripsi.” “What I have written, I have written.” So it will remain. We won’t hear that line till Friday; it’s in Good Friday’s Gospel reading. But we have been living all our lives in light of that and of what so many people have written about this one truly extraordinary event.

Pilate might wonder some, though, at what goes on in his Rome these days. Imagine him watching, not the Roman crowds at the Forum or in the Coliseum – but watching the people from all over the world – all over worlds Pilate never dreamed existed! – gathering across town near the Vatican Hill. He might then really understand what he had written, and realize his inscription was far too little, far too narrow.

Have these memories in you when we come to the next Gospel we’ll proclaim – we, all of us here together, this time. In a way, especially today, all of us together around the whole world: hours ago in Rome, a few hours before that in the city where it all took place, Jerusalem, many hours before that in the very Catholic isles of the Philippines and the not very Christian isles of Japan. And then, several hours after this, in the tinier isles of Hawaii, Tahiti, Samoa.

This Jesus of Nazareth has gone beyond “Hebrew, Greek, and Latin,” hasn’t he? At a Mass in the Vatican we might use two languages for the same Gospel passage, but on Planet Earth we use thousands more to proclaim the same gospel story.

But… oh, far beyond the language of the readings is what we’re doing here today. We're proclaiming two different Gospel passages. And, oh, so different!

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” What great, triumphal phrases – shouts of appreciation, cheers. What a fantastic high!

That’s one Gospel. Listen to the other:

“Crucify him! Crucify him!” We’ll say that shortly as we proclaim the Gospel, all of us together. Every year, when the first “Crucify him!” comes, the whole worship space here teeters with hesitation; we don’t want to say it. The second time it’s easier.

That’s understandable. After the triumph of the earlier Gospel about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the next Gospel, when we read the Passion together, is the completely other end of the spectrum – the emotional antithesis to the joy of today’s first Gospel reading.

In all the worlds beyond us – from the world of Pontius Pilate two thousand years until us today; from the earliest hours of today in the islands of the Far East till late tonight in the islands far west; from “Hebrew, Greek, and Latin” to a thousand tongues of all the world’s lands…. In all the worlds within us, from the joy of triumph and the warmth of adoration and acceptance, to the heat of anger – “Crucify him!” – and the icy, stony cold of “Take him and crucify him,” Get him out of my hair; from an act of outgoing love to the selfishness of refusal….. This day encompasses the world and encompasses us.

Let us begin now in triumph… and hope that might help us when we get to the sorrow and the pain. Press on, for Jesus will pass though all this to the joy of resurrection – a joy we can feel when we celebrate Eucharist. … After hearing the story of Jesus’ death.

It’s all here… in Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.