Chapter 24: Palm Sunday
The genuine identity of the Christ was difficult at the beginning for his disciples to understand. Although the prophets had spoken about the Messiah, the Jews expected either a social revolutionary or a political king who would come to free them from Roman occupation. Jesus was cautious to remind his followers to keep silent about his identity, for it was his duty to avoid any misunderstanding during his earthly life. However, following Peter’s confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi, Jesus began to change this image that people had of him. He declared that the Messiah would be humiliated and crucified, and that he would die and rise from the dead. In the light of this, we understand why Jesus accepted the Messianic cheers of the crowds on Palm Sunday.
What does Palm Sunday mean? What practical life lesson can we deduce from Palm Sunday? This is the focus of today’s talk.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Jesus enters Jerusalem as King (Mt 21:1-11) – Palm Sunday
1When they were near Jerusalem and had come in sight of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village facing you, and you will immediately find a tethered donkey and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, you are to say, ‘The Master needs them and will send them back directly.’” 4This took place to fulfil the prophecy:
5Say to the daughter of Zion:
Look, your king comes to you;
he is humble, he rides on a donkey
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.
6So the disciples went out and did as Jesus had told them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt, then they laid their cloaks on their backs and he sat on them. 8Great crowds of people spread their cloaks on the road, while others were cutting branches from the trees and spreading them in his path. 9The crowds who went in front of him and those who followed were all shouting:
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord
Hosanna in the highest heavens!”
10And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil. “Who is this?” people asked, 11and the crowds answered, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
2. 1- Explanation
The glorious entry of Jesus in Jerusalem is an important event in his life. The story begins with a request from Jesus to two of his disciples about the arrangements: Jesus relies on his Church to organize matters. Jesus did not ride a horse, as did great warriors of the time, but a simple donkey – a symbol of peace, not war – as Zachariah had prophesied. He was a humble king, unlike other kings, reigning through peace, not the sword. Indeed, the beginning of the passage from Zachariah “Say to the daughter of Zion” (Mt 21:5a), quoted by Jesus, should immediately attract our attention. Jesus announces to the capital, the Holy City of Jerusalem, his arrival, and we may well wonder: will it be happy to welcome him? Indeed, his position will be clarified in verse 10, where we hear that the city was restless and troubled and asked: Who is this? It was as if an earthquake had shaken it, and it is not at all happy about what is happening, despite the peaceful nature of his entry: exactly the same state as on the day Jesus was born (Mt 2:3).
Jerusalem was populated by simple and humble people. In this city, there were religious and civil leaders who had clearly taken a stand against Jesus, but there were also people who laid their coats along the road, cut branches off the trees and strewed them on the way, shouting Hosanna. Among them were those who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee, and those who had come from other places to make the annual pilgrimage on the occasion of the Passover. Their Messianic chant was inspired by the Psalms (Ps 117/118:26); the Hebrew word Hosanna means “save us now, Lord! It is a cry for help, directed to the Redeemer King. The expression “son of David” (Mt 21:9), used also by the Canaanite woman (Mt 15:22) and by the two blind men (Mt 20:30), signifies that Christ is descended from the lineage of David; it is a name that the Pharisees refused to give to Jesus (Mt 12:23-24). And the crowd’s answer to the question “who is this?” was “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee”, meaning in turn that he was the long-awaited prophet, sent by God, who would fulfil the messianic promises: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves, from your own brothers” (Deut 18:15). One wonders how such inspired responses and such wonderful cheers rose from the crowds of Palm Sunday, only to vanish on Good Friday where crowds screamed “Crucify him, crucify him!” in front of Pilate. Not a very firm stance to take; may we never follow such an attitude in our lives.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
Jesus is a king who is very different from earthly kings, as we see in his entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday. Jesus is humble and his throne must be in our hearts. And if Jesus is to be the king in our lives, we should keep away from the other little ‘kings’ who still occupy a place in our lives, which make us waste our time, and for which we make many sacrifices. Following a certain king means that we must devote a lot of time on him. How much time do we devote to Jesus? The unreliable attitude of the crowd, vacillating between “Hosanna” and “crucify him”, is a betrayal of the covenant of love. Perhaps, we too betray God with our sins, but as He is merciful, He will forgive us if we repent and turn back to Him. We need to depart from duplicity in our behaviour; the hypocrite is, indeed, the perfect actor before people, but never before God. He who believes in Christ in his heart must manifest it by his words and by his actions.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the children shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Mt 21:15); the feast of “branches” or “palms” is also the feast of children who know how to praise the Lord. To live a spiritual childhood requires living in the humility that is primarily a recognition of God’s power and praise for His greatness.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: Messianic Mission – Jesus is the Christ
The promise of God is fulfilled! When God made a promise to His people in Old Testament times, it was a decisive step in His plan of salvation, one which would affect the whole world. But this people demanded from Him a king, as all the other peoples of the earth had. God warned them through His prophet Samuel that having an earthly king would have dire consequences for them, but they insisted. A king was anointed with oil at his coronation; from there comes the word “Messiah”, the “anointed one”. God promised that He would one day give them a Messiah King who would exceed their expectations. Indeed, kings of this world frequently dominate their people by abusing them, waging wars and killing many people; but the long-expected Christ will establish peace, and he will be a good shepherd who will watch tenderly over his flock.
The Jewish people kept God’s promise to heart, but some were waiting for a king who would make them formidable in the face of other peoples. These people dreamed of victory and glory, and they began to wait for a Messiah in that spirit. It turned into a tragedy; this is one of the causes of conflict between Jesus and the Jewish authorities of his time. When Jesus was with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, he asked them what people were saying about him. Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” However, the same disciple refused to accept Jesus’ words concerning his passion and death. Even the disciples were waiting for Jesus to realize their dream of an earthly kingdom. Thus, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, he chose to mount a donkey, to direct people’s thoughts towards what the prophets of the Old Testament had proclaimed: a Messiah, the Christ (Greek for “anointed one”), who would spread peace and not war; he would be a humble king, who would live according to the will of God, his Father.
Thus, it was on the Cross that the identity of the Kingdom that Jesus came to realize became clearer, and at the same time, it was there that his kingship became apparent. In the accounts of the Passion of Jesus according to the Gospels, especially John’s Gospel, we find many indications that he is the long-awaited Messianic King, fulfilling his mission by the gift of himself. And God proclaimed His Son’s victory by raising him from the dead. Jesus is not only King through his death, but also through his resurrection. By his death, his love has reached its climax, and through his resurrection, his eternal life reached its peak in us. To this day, the old dream of messianic glory survives in some Jews who have not accepted Christ. And this dream also exists in some Christians, who have not understood the true nature of the Kingdom of God. However, true disciples of Jesus confess, like Peter, that he is the Christ, the Son of the living God, even if this confession may require them to walk, too, on the same path as Jesus, and following his way, proclaiming love, peace, and resurrection, to the last breath.
4- Reading and Meditation: Reading from St John Chrysostom (354-407)
Homily for the Friday leading to Palm Sunday
As we have arrived, by the grace of God, at the end of the forty days of Lent, and as we have accomplished what is expected of us, we still have to beware of boredom, to refuse failure, to be afraid of the cunning of sinners, to show warmth in being full of hope, and redouble our supplications. Thus, we will reach the height of virtue, and we will enter the city of the victorious. Indeed, a ship’s captains act in this way: when they embark on a long journey, they double their efforts as they approach the shore; if they have to face monstrous waves, they row with even more vigour, in making engines and men work twice as hard: all this to ensure a safe and secure arrival at the harbour.
If a ship’s captains make this effort to reach their goal, and if they compete with themselves to the point of sacrificing themselves to carry out their mission, so we, too, must step up our efforts, because we are the custodians of the real treasures and precious pearls. We must beware of thieves, enemies of virtue, for if they see us watching all night over our treasures, they will wait until we are tired and asleep. Then they surround us and steal our precious treasures and relics.26