The greater good is a common expression which indicates that you are doing something that most likely will not benefit you but many people. Palm Sunday is an example of Jesus choosing the greater good rather than his own good. On Palm Sunday we celebrate what is called Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. But this is the entry that Jesus prophesied about when he said: that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed. With the crowds shouting their support for him it must have been tempting for Jesus to follow Peter’s prophesy instead when he responded to Jesus – “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus could have succumbed to his own good and gone on to be their earthly leader – but for how long? How long could he have sustained his position as leader before the people chose someone else? And what about future generations after he died – if he died other than the sacrificial life he chose. Jesus didn’t succumb to temptation but continued towards Jerusalem and ultimately his death.
Let us not think for a moment that this was an easy decision for Jesus simply because he was the Son of God. As well as being God Jesus was also human like you and me and agonised over what Jerusalem would mean: In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus says: My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. But Jesus then considered the greater good and said: Yet not what I will, but your will be done.” Jesus chose the greater good over that of his own good, a lesson that is sorely missing in today’s “me” generation. So much today is not thought of for the greater good but for my own good. It’s all about my rights – my opinion – my desires. And when something violates “my” rights we demand action. My way – or we threaten to sue looking for compensation. We choose and keep leaders based on opinion polls rather than how good their policies are. And the trend these days for Governments once they are elected is not what good they can bring to the people but how we can ensure we are elected next time. And these days we are not prepared to go through some period of pain for the greater good but want the good only for us. There is this “demanding my rights” feel about the way many approach life today. We see it in politics – we see it in the church – we see it on the roads – in schools – in universities – in sport – in our daily routines.
Jesus on the other hand led a humble life. He had rights that he did not take up. As Paul said in our 2nd reading – though Jesus was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited. Jesus was truly God but he emptied himself of any right to use it to his advantage. When we was arrested and Peter wanted to defend Jesus honour, Jesus said – Don’t you think I could call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how would that have served the common good? Jesus needed to fulfil his prophecy of arrest, suffering and death. Instead – Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death– even death on a cross. We are called in Paul’s 2nd reading to let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus. What that means is that sometimes we forgo our rights for the greater good. And that’s okay because you will not miss out. Instead, Jesus says, a greater reward is reserved when he says – your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And this becomes the source of contentment for us. Instead of allowing our anger to govern and our thoughts, words and deeds, we allow the peace of God that goes beyond understanding to watch guard over us.
You only have to look at the anger of people when their rights are violated. We see people explode with road rage – or standing there at the shop counter demanding their rights – yelling at the person on the end of the phone. But look at Jesus and how he kept his composure even to the point of death when he cried out to his father – not to avenge his blood but to forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.
And because of his humility, Paul says, God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name. Sometimes the rights of the greater good exceed the individual rights as we see on Palm Sunday when Jesus goes from hero to outcast because he refused to demand his right to Kingship. True kingship was awaiting him; also you, as you claim the crown of glory for yourself.
Your life may not always go according to your expected rights but that is what the cross represents. It represents forgoing at times our own rights for the greater good. And the greater good is that all people come to the knowledge of God and be saved. St Paul talked about that also in First Corinthians when talking about meat sacrificed to idol. Even though the Christians had every right to do so they had to think of those who didn’t understand that. He said; Be careful that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. Whatever it is that you are doing you have an opportunity to show the grace and love of God to others particularly when you refrain from showing anger and instead showing love. Instead of chasing worldly success and possessions, we look for ways that we can serve others as Jesus did becoming a servant of all.
It’s a sad quality that is missing in today’s society as people will usually respond by saying “I know my rights”. God had the right to turn his back on humanity when it disobeyed him but it was while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us. And this is the mind that we too should have that sometimes in advancing God’s kingdom we forgo our rights for the greater good of sharing the gospel. But Jesus promises no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.