Sunday Sermon for March 20, 2016, Palm Sunday, Year C
Readings: Lk 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14-23:56
In the readings today there is just too much to be able to make a single, coherent homily. The tragedy of this is that there is so much packed into the reading of the Passion and there is hardly any occasion for being able to preach about these readings. With this in mind, I want to digress from what I normally do to look at one particular passage from the Gospel.
I do this for two reasons: first, because it is a bit of a strange passage which, in the midst of all the details contained in the Gospel, would very rarely be addressed. Second, the passage is found only in the Gospel of St. Luke, so there would be no opportunity to touch upon it for another three years.
The passage to which I am referring is the exchange that our Lord has with the women who were weeping and lamenting Him as He was walking toward Calvary. He says to them: “Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say ‘blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains ‘fall on us’ and to the hills ‘cover us’ for if these things are done when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
We begin our consideration with the realization that there are three different Scripture passages here to which our Lord is referring. He is putting them all together as one, so we must see them also in this same correlation. The first reference is to the “daughters of Jerusalem.” This may just be a colloquial way of referring to women who live in Jerusalem, but it is not seen being used this way anywhere else in the Bible. It is used a few times in the singular (daughter), but not referring to a woman from Jerusalem. Most importantly, it is used in the singular form in the Book of Lamentations in reference to the destruction of Jerusalem.
The term in the plural form is used only one other time in the Scriptures and that is in the Song of Songs, God’s song of love for His bride. Here the woman is looking for her beloved; in her search she speaks to the daughters of Jerusalem asking if they had seen her beloved. In the Gospel we have the Beloved walking the streets of Jerusalem unrecognized; His bride was unable to see Him for Who He is.
Our Lord then speaks of the blessedness of the wombs that never bore. The only place in Scripture that this comes up is in the Book of Wisdom where the reference is linked to a woman who never defiled herself with someone who was not her husband. The problem Israel had throughout the years was going to what God calls “other lovers.” She was not faithful to God and committed spiritual adultery by worshiping other gods.
The reference to the people asking the mountains to fall upon them and the hills to cover them is a direct quote from the Book of the Prophet Hosea. In this case, the people had been offering sacrifice to false gods in the “high places,” meaning the hills and the mountains. They had built altars up in the heights where they would go to make their offerings to idols. As God begins to purify things, the people pray that their acts of false worship would be covered up by the false gods as they beg that their pagan shrines would fall upon them and cover them so that they would be spared the wrath of God Whom they had offended by violating their marriage covenant with Him.
Perhaps the Lord meant all of this simply as a warning to these women as He had twice warned the people, especially mothers, about the destruction of Jerusalem (see chapters 19 and 22). But the specific manner in which He makes these references makes me think that He had a very different purpose. He is calling the people to recognize their Beloved, He is calling them to recall their marriage covenant with Him, He is reminding them of what happened in the past due to their infidelity.
In our world we are facing a similar situation. People have abandoned the worship of God but they seem to be quite enamored with many false gods. We have to make sure that we remain faithful to our covenant with the Lord. As the circumstances in the Church and in the world continue to deteriorate, as the infidelity continues to consume more souls, we must guard ourselves through prayer and penance, recognize the Beloved, and to remain faithful to Him.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.