Luke 22:14 - 23:56
The Contrasts in Palm Sunday
by Rev. Richard A. Miserendino
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
To Sunday Gospel Reflections Index
Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem. As he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples. He said, "Go into the village opposite you, and as you enter it you will find a cold tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone should ask you, 'Why are you untying it?' you will answer, 'The Master has need of it.'" So those who had been sent went off and found everything just as he had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, '"Why are you untying this colt?" They answered, "The Master has need of it." So they brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks over the colt, and helped Jesus to mount. As he rode along, the people were spreading their cloaks on the road; and now as he was approaching the side of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of his disciples began to praise God aloud with joy for all the might deed they had seen. They proclaimed: "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest."
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." He said in reply, "I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!"
Palm Sunday is a study in contrasts. For example: The meekness and innocence of Christ and the kingdom of God is set against the cold-heartedness of Pilate and the Roman Empire. The mercy of God is set against the injustice of the world.
Reflecting on Luke's account of the Passion this year (Lk 19:28-40 and Lk 22:14-23:56), one particular striking contrast sticks out: the difference in how Christ the King is treated outside versus inside the city of Jerusalem. We begin Palm Sunday Mass recounting the triumphant procession into the city. People are literally falling over themselves to welcome Jesus, laying their garments and palm branches in the dirt to "prepare the way of the Lord" a celebration fitting for a king. Jesus himself shows his royal authority by requisitioning a donkey (a right reserved to kings in the Old Testament). Perhaps more surprisingly, his request is granted without any objection.
Yet the Passion narrative mid-Mass provides the stark contrast. Once we're inside the city with Jesus, we experience it full of warring factions opposed to each other and God. The spirit of triumph dies away until we come to the heart of the matter: the king is not welcome in his own palace. By the end of the week, Jesus is back outside the city, crucified, looking to all the world defeated and cast out. Yet, we know by faith that this is his true throne, and that from this throne itself, Jesus truly reigns and saves the world. Stil,, it's a point of contrast.
Within these verses, we also find a bit of song from the Mass itself: the Sanctus or Holy, Holy, Holy. As Jesus approaches the city, the people cry out "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." At each and every Mass, we are right there with that crowd outside the city, singing to welcome the Lord. As we come to approach Jesus in holy Communion, Jesus too approaches the gates of each of our hearts, out own personal Jerusalem.
Yet, we can ask: if our minds and hearts are little Jerusalems, and Jesus approaches those city gates in Communion, what will he find inside? Unsurprisingly, the Jerusalem of our minds and hearts is just as full of warring factions and division as the original city was 2,000 years ago. Each of us has a heart and mind divided, a part that welcomes Christ and a part that wants to cast him out. It's quite the contrast.
At first, this might be discouraging, but then we remember a salient fact: Many of the people within the original Jerusalem, some of whom even rejected Jesus and demanded him crucified, would later become the first Christians. The cross is not the end of the story, and conversion is possible;
The same is true in our hearts and minds as well. The power of the throne of the cross, the power of the resurrection extends to those divided parts and works a slow but powerful conversion. We just have to give it space to grow. How? Through continued prayer, fasting, and works of mercy and charity. Often when Easter begins, we quickly give up our penances and fasting to celebrate. While we should certainly party and take a break, perhaps we should also think about continuing some of our Lenten traditions throughout the year. Consider no meat on Fridays, perhaps, or continuing to set aside time for prayer. Those small things extend the power of the cross and resurrection into our personal Jerusalem. If we keep it up, that power will convert us, little by little, just as it did that first city. And when we look at what God's grace has slowly done in ur minds and hearts over the course of our lifes, it too will be quite the contrast.