Sunday of the Passion C
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI as a Holy Week reflection.
Óscar Romero was born on August 15, 1917 in El Salvador and baptized a part of the Roman Catholic Church the following May. He attended school from grades 1-3 (the only grades offered at his local school) and then under a tutor until he was 13 years old. His father taught him the carpentry trade, at which he did quite well, but Romero felt a different calling. He entered minor seminary, a secondary boarding school for boys interested in becoming priests, and then the national seminary. He finished his studies in Rome itself, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1942 at the age of 25.
On his way home from Rome, which took him through Spain and Cuba, he was detained and spent some time in a concentration camp in Cuba before being released and returning to El Salvador.
He worked for 20 years in San Miguel before being appointed an auxiliary bishop, then a bishop, then finally the Archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. In this position, Romero began to strongly speak out against social injustice, the plight of the poor, and an epidemic of torture and assassinations occurring in his country. Two years later, in 1979, a revolution occurred in El Salvador that saw a new government come to power, a government rife with human rights abuses that freely utilized torture, assassinations, and terror to achieve its goals; one wholeheartedly supported by the United States government. Romero spoke out more strongly than ever about the evils being committed by both his government and various guerrilla warfare groups.
On March 24, 1980, Romero was celebrating Mass in a small chapel in a hospital called “La Divina Providencia”. As he finished his sermon and moved to stand in front of the altar, Archbishop Óscar Romero was fatally shot, assassinated as he began to celebrate the Eucharist. To this day, no one has been arrested or prosecuted for the assassination.
The time it takes for someone we love and adore to go from there to being someone we hate and revile enough to kill is no time at all. We human beings will utterly abandon someone without hesitation when they fail to live up to our expectations.
I’ve spent all of Lent talking about the script of life that dictates how we are supposed to live, to work, to play, to eat, to be good citizens, to be good church-goers as defined by the world around us. I’ve spent all of Lent talking about how difficult it is to go against that script, to live our lives according to God’s calling instead of human calling. I’ve said that sometimes, there may be a price to pay for disregarding the script placed in front of us that demands perfect obedience and perfect order.
Well now we know the price, don’t we? Now we know what can happen when we fail to follow the script, when we choose a different set of guidelines to follow. People can die.
But today, on the Sunday of the Passion, there’s an even harsher look at that reality. We know what the world can do to us for deviating from the script. The scary part is that we can do it to each other.
Judas betrayed Jesus and handed him over to be arrested, tortured, and executed. Peter, in the time of Jesus’s greatest need, denied knowing him and didn’t stand up for him. The other disciples fled from him and abandoned him. And then his own people had him killed.
Within one week, Jesus goes from the being the most hailed, the greatest, the most loved person in Jerusalem to the most hated and the most reviled. He went from being a celebrity to a criminal being executed. All because he wouldn’t follow the script.
They wanted a king who would kill their enemies, and he told them to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them.
They wanted someone to reestablish their earthly kingdom, and he told them his kingdom was not of this world.
They wanted someone to exact vengeance on their behalf, and he offered forgiveness instead.
It’s dangerous to deviate from the script. The world says we must act in one way, and God offers a different, better way full of grace and forgiveness and care for the poor and oppressed. We are called to proclaim this new and better way as loudly as we can as often as we can.
There can be a price to such deviation from the script. Archbishop Óscar Romero knew what that price could be, and he paid it. Jesus did too.
Will we be called to pay such a price, if necessary? Or worse, will we be the ones demanding to be paid?