We have just had the very long reading from St Luke’s account of the Passion of Christ and on Good Friday we will hear the version to be found in St John’s Gospel. Both are very moving and give us an enormous amount of material for meditation. It would be good to pray and think about Christ’s Passion very often in the coming week.
However, today is Palm Sunday so perhaps we should take a look at the Gospel which was read at the beginning of mass as we started the procession. It is the story of how Our Lord entered the Holy City of Jerusalem in order to face his suffering and death.
You will see from the text that Jesus is completely in charge of the situation; he knows what he wants to achieve on that important day and although there is no hint that he has made any arrangements in advance he seems to know what will happen. This is evident from the account of the fetching of the donkey; he knows exactly what his disciples will find and who they will meet.
What is being brought about is the formal entry of the Messiah in to his Holy City. He cannot do this on foot as any other pilgrim would normally do. No, he has to enter the city riding on a donkey as would be proper for a king. But you will notice that Jesus is somehow also well aware that this is no ordinary donkey but specifically one on which no one has sat. That means this animal is undefiled which is appropriate for a Messiah. Actually, this is the only occasion on which Jesus is described as having ridden an animal; throughout his ministry he only ever went on foot.
One oddity, though, is that this donkey wouldn’t have been trained and they are notoriously stubborn animals; however, this particular beast seems to be docile enough since there is no mention of any difficulty. Perhaps, as with the other characters in the story, it is willingly playing its part in the great drama that is unfolding on that auspicious day.
It is not only the donkey which is docile on that extraordinary day, so are its owners who meekly give it up to the disciples simply because they say, as they have been instructed, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ After Jesus mounts the animal the disciples spread their cloaks on the road for him to ride over. This is the sort of thing that the people would do when one of the ancient kings entered the city so it is appropriate when this entry to the city is by the Messiah himself. The action of spreading a cloak on the ground for a king to ride over is an acknowledgement of submission to his rule. The clothes represent the person whom the king has dominion over.
The geography is also important. Bethany and Bethphage are to the east of Jerusalem and he approaches the city by way of Mount Olivet, a place that has been long associated with the coming of the Messiah.
We are told that there was a multitude of disciples present on that day. It must have been that Jesus had sent word for all his followers to turn up for the occasion. Also, there must have been many onlookers who came for the event and together with the disciples these wave palms and joyfully cry out ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ It must have been quite an occasion.
Inevitably though, there are some Pharisees there who feel that things are out of control and they instruct Jesus to rebuke his followers. You will notice that they do not refer to him as a king or as a Messiah or even with the title Lord which he has used of himself. They address him as teacher, a much lesser distinction. It appears that they are well aware of what Jesus is doing and what this solemn entry into Jerusalem might mean.
But Jesus has none of their protestations. He says, ‘If these were silent the very stones would cry out.’ Jesus knows precisely what he is doing, he alone understands the full significance of the occasion. He has alluded to himself as the Messiah on many previous occasions during his public ministry, if mostly in veiled terms; but this is the day when his identity is fully realised. Now there is no mistake, he enters Jerusalem as a king, as a Messiah, as a Saviour.
We join with those followers of his and we too cry out with joy in our hearts, ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket