Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
Based on Ernesto Cardenal, The Gospel in Solentiname (Orbis, 2010)
On this Palm Sunday, let’s listen in on a Bible study for Holy Week led by Padre Ernesto Cardenal among the campesinos of the Solentiname Islands in Nicaragua. Seated in a circle inside the village church, in the blistering heat of the Nicaraguan dry season, they are discussing Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, or Jewish Supreme Court:
Bosco says: “This looks like the Military Court that’s operating in Managua.”
Padre Ernesto: “They probably first asked Jesus his name, age, profession or trade. That’s the way they begin questioning in the Military Court. Maybe he answered, ‘Profession: Revolutionary.’”
Mayra: “Not only here in Nicaragua, but in many other countries of Latin America the same thing goes on now. Those who are struggling for freedom are taken before courts. Not to judge them and hear their defense but to condemn them. And as they can’t accuse them of wanting the freedom of humankind, they seek false charges instead.”
Felipe: “At that time Christ was all alone. Now there are many Christs being sentenced in many places.”
Padre Ernesto: “Jesus has said so many subversive things, how is it that they couldn’t find any evidence?”
Felipe: “It’s just that everything Jesus said was the truth. Even though he was against them, it was the truth, wasn’t it? So they couldn’t accuse him.”
Padre Ernesto: “So they accuse him on account of the temple. He had just taken over the temple. He went in there in a commando action, and they’re probably referring to that in the trial.”
Oscar: “I think they misunderstood. With his death and resurrection … the world was going to change. That’s the way I understand it.”
The next day, Good Friday, the Bible study continues with the story of Jesus before Pilate:
Olivia: “It seems to me that when Pilate heard ‘kingdom,’ all he thought of was a kingdom of injustice like their own kingdom, but Jesus is telling him that his kingdom is a kingdom of love. But that doesn’t suit Pilate either, the kingdom of love, because love is against injustice; and that’s why the powerful still go on being against this kingdom of love, this revolution of love. For them, the kingdom of love is subversion.”
Raul: “Christ’s mission was to bring truth to the earth. He says to Pilate, ‘I am a king, and my political order is to put an end to lying and exploitation; my followers are all those who struggle for the transformation of the world.”
Moving ahead, the group begins to talk about Jesus making his way to Golgotha.
Francisco: “They forced Simon to pick up the cross. He was just coming in from the fields, coming from work, going home to lunch. But it was because they saw he was lower class. If he’d been Mr. High and Mighty they wouldn’t have called him; they’d call someone else, someone as screwed as the one they were taking away. That’s why they screwed Simon.”
Padre Ernesto: “And then there were the women, who were real revolutionaries. And among them was his mother, the most revolutionary of them all. It was she who had said during her pregnancy, ‘The powerful will be toppled from their thrones and the rich will be left without a thing.’ Those ideas she had received from the prophets of the Bible. And those ideas Jesus sucked in with her milk. She shaped him, she influenced him, she contributed greatly to his being what he was.”
Mariita: “Well, those women were people who understood him. They understood his sacrifice, and that afterwards they also had to be ready to suffer. Lots of people in Holy Week think only about the sufferings of Jesus, and they don’t think about the sufferings of so many Christs, of the millions of Christs that exist everywhere.”
Padre Ernesto: “Jesus made the start so we could continue the work. ‘Redeem’ is a word from antiquity that means to ransom a captive by means of a price. It has often been said that Christ’s death redeemed us, but it’s not true; no death redeems anyone from anything. It was his message that redeemed or liberated us, and his death made his message have an impact on the world. With his death he tried to give strength and bravery to the poor. He teaches us to fight for that same liberation that he died for as a man, as a brave man (for he didn’t die a coward).”
Maria: “I realize that Christ didn’t give himself a Holy Week of devotions and processions and religious ceremonies or any of that stuff. He died beaten and tortured, giving a message of liberation to the poor. Although they imprisoned him and they sentenced him and they killed him and they did everything to him, they really didn’t do anything. He triumphed over death.”
Padre Ernesto: “It was to love that Jesus delivered up the life he received from the Father; he is one with love itself. One day the whole life of the earth is going to die, like these fields that are dry. The earth will be a dead planet in space, and in it will be buried our bones. But all that part of humanity that, like Jesus, delivered up its life to love will be alive in the universe. Christ is only the first-born of a resurrected humanity.”
There is a prolonged silence, broken only by the lowing of the cows in the hot, dry fields.
Padre Ernesto: “Hasn’t anyone anything else to say?”
In his little book, The Sign and the Sacrifice, Rowan Williams describes the cross as “the sign of the transcendent freedom of the love of God.” God, in other words, is shown to be a god who is absolutely free to be who God is: always ready to love and to forgive, never exhausted by what we human beings do. God is always there, always capable of remaking the relationship we break again and again. On the cross, Jesus shows himself to be free from the vicious circle of retaliation by which we ordinarily live. And it is that dynamic of freedom that reveals him to be at the same time both all-powerful and completely vulnerable.
Love is like that. Love can risk everything, because in the end it can’t be defeated. Love is therefore the source of freedom. Love means not having to acquiesce to the world as it is, but to be emboldened to struggle for its—our—conversion. That is the message for today.
As Padre Ernesto concludes his Bible studies with his little flock, “The Gospel ends with a final word, Amen, which means a very strong ‘Yes,’ the assent of a community to Jesus’ invitation to love. That is our response to his word, to the one who, as John said at the beginning of his gospel, is the Word that has existed from the beginning.”
Jesus said, “I give you a new command: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must love one another.”