Fr. Shawn P. Tunink

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Homily 152 – Palm Sunday

The Blessing of Reconstruction

It was Palm Sunday 1865 and General Ulysses S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee were meeting at Appomattox Courthouse to officially end the Civil War. Grant was the conquering victor. Lee suspected that he would probably be executed for treason. Although Grant had all the power and could have completely crushed Lee’s army, he opted for a different route.  Imagine Lee’s surprise when he is met with a handshake and respectful greeting from Grant. After some friendly conversation Lee surrendered. Rather than imprisonment, trials and executions, Grant merely instructed Lee that his army must promise not to fight any more and they could return to their homes in peace.

Lee himself had chosen surrender because he knew that, while fighting remained possible, it would lead to countless deaths and only a slim chance of victory. Grant knew that the desire of many in the North to punish the South would only lead to more hostility and the end of the union he had fought to protect. The humility of both of these men would eventually allow to the country to recover and become a unified nation after the war. However, none of this would have been possible without the humble example and direction of President Abraham Lincoln.

The month prior to the famous Palm Sunday surrender, in his 2nd inaugural address, Lincoln addressed those in the North who wanted to severely punish the South. He said famously that there must not be any additional spilling of blood. Rather the country must proceed “With malice toward none, with charity for all.” Rather than retaliation and revenge, Lincoln envisioned what would come to be called “reconstruction.” 5 days later, on Good Friday, he was shot by John Wilkes Booth. Booth thought he would celebrated as a hero. Instead, many in the South were angry at Booth realizing that he had killed the best friend the South could have had after the war.

In our reading of Passion today, we see the kind of violence and retaliation, the mob rule that Lincoln wanted to avoid. Although Jesus had all the power and could have summoned legions of angles to fight for him, he chose not to fight. He remained largely silent at his trial. God would have certainly been justified in calling an end to this “human experiment” of his, given the way we have treated him and his plan for our happiness. Yet, rather than retaliate and punish us, Jesus chose to save us. On Good Friday we killed the greatest friend mankind has ever had. Through his humility and his love for us, Jesus chose not to fight and thus accomplished the greatest event in history, the reconstruction of mankind.

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