14 April 2011

'Hosanna to the Son of David'. Sunday Reflections, Palm Sunday Year A

Jesus entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Fresco in the Parish Church of Zirl, Austria

Gospel for Procession of Palms Mt 21:1-11

When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet  might be fulfilled: Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road,  while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”

And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

St Matthew, El Greco, 1610-14

This year has seen the overthrow of two north African leaders who had been president/dictator of their respective countries for decades. Other long-term leaders may find the same thing happening to them. The other day the previous president of the Ivory Coast, who refused to accept the election results some months ago in which he lost, was arrested this week hiding in a bunker, similar to the arrest of the lat Saddam Hussain. In February we in the Philippines marked the 25th anniversary of the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos who made himself dictator when he couldn’t accept that his legal term as president was coming to an end.

We have many examples in history of powerful figures coming to a sorry end, people who tried to cling on to power or to glory.

From 1409 until 1963, before the coronation of a pope, while he was being carried from the sacristy of St Peters’ the Master of Ceremonies would stop the procession three times, kneel before the pope while holding burning flax and say in a loud voice, ‘Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi!’ ‘Holy Father, thus passes the glory of the world!’

Jesus didn’t need anyone to hold up burning flax and remind him of what future popes were to be reminded of. As the people held up their palms and laid their cloaks on the ground for him he knew what was going to happen within a week.

I’ve often wondered if the people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were the same people who shouted ‘Crucify him!’ five days later on Good Friday. I’m sure that some who welcomed him turned against him.

One of the most distressing things that can happen to a person is to be falsely accused. It is even more distressing if a person is executed for something he hasn’t done, something which happens far too often. It ‘s too late for the individual if he is declared innocent after having been put to death, though such a declaration can give some comfort to his family and defenders. (As far as I know, Jesus has never been officially declared innocent by any civil authority.)

Unlike the many dictators who have been overthrown and have died in ignominy, Jesus never sought power of any kind. He rejected any attempts of people to make him king. As he listened to the ‘Hosannas’ on Palm Sunday he was acutely aware of what was about to happen and had tried to warn his disciples in advance. But they couldn’t comprehend any such end, or that many of them would come to a similar end.

It goes against our grain as we try to come to terms that God who became Man was born in a stable and died a terrible death on a cross, after unimaginable torture and insults. This is the depth of God’s love for us.

Holy Week focuses on our Lord Jesus Christ, on his sufferings and, at the Easter Vigil, on his Resurrection and the hope of our own resurrection at the end of time. It helps us to see that in his sufferings , which he embraced wholeheartedly in obedience to the will of his Father and out of his love for us, Jesus is with us in ours. We cannot celebrate Easter Sunday if we do not share Good Friday with Jesus. And we won’t be able to participate in Good Friday unless we see through the emptiness of so much adulation as Jesus did on Palm Sunday.

Readings for Mass 
Isaiah 50:4-7
Phil 2:6-11
Mt 26-14 – 27:66 or 27:11-54

Christ Carrying the Cross (detail), El Greco 1580s

Holy Week by Fr Thomas Rosica CSB

1 comment:

A Pilgrim said...

Thanks for your reflection. God Bless!