Last year Palm Sunday, I joined the Christians of the Holy Land as well as other pilgrims from all over the world in a procession from Bethphage to Jerusalem. With a Nigerian family residing in the States, I felt at home but no more with than a group from Cote d´Ivoire drawing the whole attention of the inhabitants and pilgrims the whole week in their colourful and joyous parade around the City of David. It was so warm and hearty with music and songs from different groups of people from all over the world who have come to spend the Holy Week in this city. I could imagine how it was on the day that Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem. I was explaining to the Nigerians some of the important places along the way like Mount Olive. Then on our left was the Gethsemane Garden. One of them felt so excited about it but at the same time I felt so moody within me in solidarity with what Jesus suffered there, the loneliness, the impending death, the inability of the disciples to watch and pray, the torture and the unjust condemnation and above all the denial by Peter.

How can one hailed and praised by the crowd be deserted even by his own people? But that is the very reality of life. Once in a while we feel abandoned. It is an experience I will never pray that my enemy will have. Abandonment is different from solitude even though one can convert the former to the latter. The experience of being abandoned is like feeling irrelevant and not being wanted again, a kind of overstaying one's welcome. A lady whose heart has been broken by the boyfriend understands what I mean.  A bread winner of a family suddenly forgotten because of financial difficulty feels the same pain. One remembered only when he or she is needed can sometimes feel being exploited and reduced to a spare tyre. A struggling father denied by her daughter in the school only to be called a family driver can feel like jumping into the river. One forgotten on a hospital bed can remember his or her past years of active contribution to the society, church or group and devour regrets. Aging parents with ungrateful children can suffer heartbreak. The wife of an unfaithful husband could feel the same. The friend of an unselfish person could regret his good deeds when struck by the bitter side of his or her friend. A sincere husband who no longer commands respect and love from his wife simply because things are no longer the same could feel like rewinding the hand of the clock. There are different forms of feeling abandoned and each is very painful. It makes you feel lonely and worthless. It can lead to a kind of inferiority complex. If one is not careful, he or she will relapse into nurturing negative thoughts. Awareness of this can help save a situation.

Feeling of abandonment is a painful experience. Once in a while we experience it. It makes us cry "what an unjust world". It reduces the level of our trust in others. It makes us create a no-go-area in our souls. We are ruled and conquered by fear of the other. It is not a wonderful experience and it inhibits our growth and development. However, the good news is that it is not an abnormal experience. Feeling so should not bring about self-condemnation. Do you still remember that voice in the Gospel that cried, "why have you forsaken me?" It is read today in the passion narrative. I also hope that you remember the background. It is Psalm 22. It is a psalm of lamentation. The first two verses read, "Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but find no rest." This painful cry and description of a helpless situation is alternated with reference to God´s fidelity, love, care and deliverance in the past. The last part ends in praise of God for his benevolent deeds. That Jesus decided to cry out the words of this psalm on the cross shows us how painful the experience was for him. Earlier in the garden he had begged God to remove the cup from him. Reflect on the word he used to address God here. It is Abba. Abba is not just father. The Hebrew word for father is Ab. Abba only shows intimacy of filial relationship. A child calls his father Abba to accentuate the informality of the relationship. A good equivalence in English could be when a child calls his father dad or daddy. It is an expression of love, trust and confidence. In his suffering, Jesus believed that his father would deliver him. Even though he was open to God´s will, he still believed that it can be averted. After all God too is the creator of change. God chose the painful way and Jesus accepted it. Yet in his acceptance, he also felt abandoned. Abandoned by God, by the one whom he addressed as Abba, by the one whom he trusted. It was really an excruciating experience.

Jesus was not only abandoned by God. His disciples also abandoned him. Think of the expression, "I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered." This is in an imperative form in its Zechariah 13:7 source. The identity of this shepherd is yet an object of controversy among exegetes. Shepherd could connote a civil leader or even a priest. He is one charged with the well being of others. The context for the striking here is not clear but in the Gospel, it is about the death of Jesus and the scattering of the sheep has to do with his disciples denying him. Even though the narrative tells us Peter´s thrice denial and the young disciple that ran away, Jesus categorically foretold that they all without an exception will deny him. It all started with the descent from Mount Olive to the Gethsemane Garden and the inability of the disciples to watch and pray. There was then the betrayal by Judas, a disciple of his, who ate and drank with him. It was a breaking of a covenant. Secondly, kissing is an expression of love. This expression of love has turned to a signal for betrayal. This is actually where the pain lies. Before Peter´s denial three times, we have the running away naked of a young man. Some are of the view that this man that ran away in his birthday suit could be Mark. This argument assumes its premise from the possibility of Mark not trying to disclose his identity. Another argument is that giving the almost raw language of the Marcan Gospel account, hiding his identity could rarely be an option. Also, with some tradition identifying Peter as the author of this Gospel, it could also be far fetched that the writer is hiding his identity and at the same time telling us how he betrayed Jesus three times. Whatever be the case, the Greek word used here is neaniskos meaning a young man. (At the course of my research I could not find any difference between neaniskos and neanias).  A third way in this interpretation could be paved that neaniskos is a symbolic representation of the disciples of Jesus. The immediate previous verse seems to support this, "All of them deserted him and fled" (14:50). They fled stark naked minding only at that point in time life and survival. Even the women whose virtues are praised were all watching from a distance. That is the fate of the dying Jesus. It is not only the physical pain of crucifixion but also the psychological torture of being abandoned by the loved ones including his Father. It was only a pagan who stayed closer and watched and finally he confessed that Jesus is the Son of God.

Have you experienced this before? I´m sure yes. Someone must have repaid your good deeds with ingratitude. You must have been betrayed by a good friend. You must have been shocked by the silence of someone whose witness would have set you free. A friend must have unjustly dumped you. Think of it in many ways and bear it in mind that God in Jesus Christ also suffered the same. In this suffering, we experience the solidarity of God. This awareness is the first step to healing. Learn from Christ Jesus who too was abandoned and who is still abandoned most of the time by his followers. Those running away from the Eucharist. Those too weak to pray. Those who never visit the Blessed Sacrament. Those who refuse to offer helping hands to those in need. Those who refuse to join the crusade against injustice and all those guilty of the sin of omission. As Christ is abandoned we too are also abandoned. But learn from Christ´s silence, a sign of confidence. In all these, have an unshakable trust in God. Talk less and allow God a place in your heart for healing. Listen to his inner voice speaking to you. Do not feel lonely. He wants you to feeling his abiding presence. Then above all, never make anyone feel abandoned. It is a painful experience.


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