“When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.” (Matt 21:1-3)
The master has need of them.
The Mass for Palm Sunday begins with the Gospel account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to the acclamation of the crowds, “stirring” the entire city and setting the stage for his Passion and Death just days later.
He overturns the tables in the temple, withers a barren fig tree with a word, silences the Pharisees, and foretells his not only his crucifixion but the destruction of Jerusalem and the final coming when he will judge the world, seated on “his glorious throne.” (Matt 25:31)
But before that, in fact, so that, all these things can be fulfilled, he first humbles himself. He makes himself ‘have need of’ a donkey. It’s the irony of the incarnation—God becomes man and makes Himself dependent on His own creation. In His human nature, he needs a mother, a father, food, water, wine, friends. And when He establishes a Church to carry out His work in the world, the Lord of heaven and earth chooses to use the ordinary stuff of the world: oil, water, words, wafers of wheat.
And then, too, incredibly, he makes it so He has need of us.
We carry out Christ’s mission in time, we are the mission, played out in a million lives, small extensions of His own. He lives and moves in us—He continues His work through our hands and hearts. He heals, teaches, guides, reveals, feeds, admonishes, prays, suffers, and loves in us.
This is the meaning of our baptism, of becoming one with Him, of becoming other christs. He calls us forth from the tomb not just to save us but so that we can take possession of this saving power to draw all things back up to Him. It’s astonishing but true. He needs us.
He can enter the world any way He wants to. He chooses to do it through us.
“Yes, bearers of life, penetrate, in every place—in factories, workshops, fields—wherever Christ has the right to enter…And then open wide your arms to welcome all who come to you, anxious for a helpful and reassuring word in this atmosphere of darkness and discomfort.” (Pope Pius XII, “Christians, Bearers of the Life of the Risen One,” Homily for Easter Sunday, quoted in Fruitful Discipleship by Sherry Weddell)
“We must continue to accomplish in ourselves the stages of Jesus’ life and his mysteries and often to beg him to perfect and realize them in us and in his whole Church…For it is the plan of the Son of God to make us and the whole Church partake in his mysteries and to extend them to and continue them in us and in his whole Church. This is his plan for fulfilling his mysteries in us.” – St. John Eudes, quoted in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 521.
We extend his infancy and childhood, his hidden years, his teaching and healing years, and yes, his cross. We make them all present to the world. It’s a tremendously sobering thought, that another gospel is being typeset within the ‘press’ of your life:
“So the rest of the story, which consists of the whole mystical life of Jesus in the souls of the saints, remains a matter of our faith…We are in an age of faith, the Holy Spirit no longer writes gospels, except in our hearts; saintly souls are the pages, suffering and action the ink. The Holy Spirit is writing a living gospel with the pen of action, which we will only be able to read on the day of glory, when, fresh from the presses of life, it will be published.” (Jean-Pierre de Caussade, The Sacrament of the Present Moment)
This is why we are given gifts and we are signed, sealed, delivered—right to the world’s doorstep. Equipped with precisely what our slice of the world needs, we are entrusted with particular ways to make Christ present. The chant of a prayer, the carrying of a child, the serving of a meal, the provision for a family or a cause, the swipe of paint on canvas or the counsel offered over coffee. Gifts given to be given away.
“It is too easy to forget that all we give is given to us to give.” – Dorothy Day
Maybe sometimes this makes us squirm, this idea that we have anything to offer. Maybe our wounded hearts have been told to be quiet and to be afraid. Maybe something has suggested to us that humility actually means shame and that we are incapable or unworthy of creating and healing and redeeming. Who do you think you are? we hear that something hiss, and we cringe.
That’s only true in the sense that alone, yes, we can do nothing.
But we have it on the best authority that we are not alone.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” – John 14:16-18
To believe that God wants to use us, that He has in fact equipped us and prepared us for great things for His Kingdom does not mean that we are not humble—although the success of these things necessitates that we are. It means, quite on the contrary, that we have begun to understand what it means to die to ourselves. It means we know and believe and have taken deeply to heart this truth: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lives in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
The desire to do great things (or what is sometimes even harder, to do small things with great love) for the Kingdom has been planted in us by God. It is undeniably part of His plan for our lives. We can try to push away this call, to cover our ears, but it comes back again, bobbing back up—this suggestion that the Master has need of us.
The world is hurting now, as it hasn’t hurt in a long time. It gasps for breath in fear and loneliness. It is finding deeper, buried aches surfacing as distractions drain away. Who will carry Christ into the deserted streets and even emptier hearts?
In the quiet this Holy Week, when the “Hosannas” are softer and solitary, ask the Lord in the stillness how you can help him in the mission of redemption. Be brave enough to desire that He use you, that He meet you at the gates of the city, tethered to His will and ready to be found. Totally available to carry Him into the world in a way that only you can.
“Each person carries within himself a project of God, a personal vocation, a personal idea of God on what he is required to do in history to build his Church, a living temple of his presence.” (Pope Benedict XVI, quoted in Unrepeatable by Luke Burgis and Joshua Miller, PhD.)
Living out our call is our personal shape of holiness. It is when vocation and calling and sanctity stop being ideas and become lived out in real-time. It is the stuff of saints. It is the stuff of us.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.