Before Procession: Lk 19:28-40; 1st Reading: Is 50:4-7; Psalm: 22. R. v. 2a; 2nd Reading: Phil 2:6-11; Passion Narrative: Lk 22:14-23:56
FOLLOWING JESUS: DEFYING THE WAY OF CROWD
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Church’s Holy Week celebrations which culminate on Good Friday and Jesus’ subsequent resurrection at Easter. This day is usually not a day for long sermon due to the lengthy nature of the narrative of the Lord’s passion. We shall therefore reflect briefly on Jesus’ significant entry into Jerusalem.
Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem on a colt coupled with vocal adulations from the crowd was very daring. Jerusalem has been under the siege of the Roman government since after her invasion in 70CE by the Romans. It was the seat of Pilate’s government, a Roman governor of the province of Judaea placed in charge of this city by Emperor Tiberius Caesar. So for Jesus to enter this city treated as a King by the crowd of Judaeans was a dangerous decision that could be interpreted as an act of usurpation. This crowd threw their garments over the colt and set Jesus upon it as he rode along a road strewn with their garments also. They accentuated their intention all the more by singing “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Some of the Pharisees who pretended to be concerned of this apparent uprising asked Jesus to rebuke the crowd but Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” This definitely was a different Jesus who would always want his identity hidden after performing a miracle (cf Mt 8: 4; Mk 1:44). Recall that incident in the scriptures where Jesus walked away as the crowd tried to make him king (Jn 6:15). But now his orientation has suddenly changed and the crowd loved it. This was what they wanted all along. A king who will march into their city of Jerusalem and usurp the Roman government. So one can imagine the passion and volume of their voices. This really has to be a triumphant entry.
But there was a clear discrepancy between the orientation of this crowd and that of Jesus. While Jesus was trying to portray a peaceful, loving and non violent kingship, the crowd conversely was seeing in Jesus a king who was marching into the great city of Jerusalem to take over leadership by force. The crowd expected Jesus to flow with this tide. For what do we expect of a people who has tolerated the oppression of the Roman Empire through tax payment and incessant subjugation for decades already. But unfortunately for these people, the end of this campaign would be disappointing and devastating.
The Roman soldiers were already on the alert even before the triumphant entry of Jesus because customarily, they do experience the Judaean’s insurrection during the Passover feast which was imminent. Not long after Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was arrested for rebellion and blasphemy; an arrest orchestrated by the chief priests and Pharisees. The crowd was devastated to see this. The man in whom all their hope resides was suddenly seen arrested and chained like a criminal. This explains their sudden intense hatred towards Jesus. For them, this coward cannot be the Messiah. He cannot even defend himself. He has failed them and so deserves to die. Little wonder they didn’t relent in shouting “Crucify, crucify him!”
Aside the frustration and anger of this crowd, supporting Jesus who at this point was arrested for rebellion would be a dangerous thing to do. And so ends the followership of these shallow-minded disciples of Jesus.
Following these whole proceedings, we may be quick to criticise and condemn this crowd who showed lack of faith and commitment towards Jesus. But perhaps we are guilty of the same crime of betrayal. Maybe they’ve been times our faith faltered because God did not deliver the expected to us. It could be that time that God failed to save our loved one from death or failed to give us that dream job. Some of us have abandoned our faith because we felt God disappointed us when we needed him most and so see no reason why we should still hang in there. It is as though our faith was based on God doing our wish. This shouldn’t be so.
What about those moments we renounced Jesus in the face of persecution just like the crowd and Peter did? When suddenly for the fear of bodily pain, alienation, and the tension of rejection we are compelled to compromise our faith. When for the fear of peoples’ criticisms we follow the conventional way of doing things not minding if they tally with our faith life or not. Survival instinct has gotten the better part of us on many occasions. We know this is true if we retrospectively reflect on our numerous past experiences.
It is time we ask God’s forgiveness for the numerous occasions we trusted in our selfish desires and aspirations than believing in him. It is time we re-evaluate our faith and commitment to Jesus to ascertain how deep or shallow it is. If we have not, then it’s time to accept that following Jesus entails complying with his will and not our selfish desires. This would not be easy to do as our faith and patience would be tried in the process. What we ask of God may not be his wish for us. When we are too desperate to get what we want, we can slow down a bit and listen to Jesus again. He may be showing us a different way that may be tough but would lead to greatness and victory. We should learn from Jesus today that the principles of this world do not align with the principles of our faith. When we accept this, we would not see our lot as weakness or foolishness but as our way to victory and salvation.
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord Jesus, grant us the grace of perseverance and the faith to trust in your designs. Amen.
Happy Palm Sunday