Palm Sunday must be the most opportune day for us to assess how much of Jesus’ teachings we have come to live by. Or, from another angle, Palm Sunday is the best day to assess how much the world’s ways still rule us. No matter which passion narrative we happen to follow we are bound to wonder how quickly the people of Jerusalem went from welcoming Jesus enthusiastically into the Holy City of Jerusalem to crying: “Crucify him!”
We are bewildered as the frenzy that drove people to seek Jesus, the miracle worker, the powerful healer, at the prompting of the chief priests and elders of Judah, was replaced by the frenzy of a blood-thirsty mob demanding his demise in a most horrific fashion. Yet the explanation becomes obvious to those who have fully embraced the paradoxes of the Gospel.
Miracles can dazzle people and point them in the direction of elusive, easy solutions to the evils of humankind. Lourdes and Fatima, among other graced places, prove instead that real miracles, miracles of faith, happen often and wondrously in the hearts and minds of people; seldom in their bodies. If this is true, we might want to assess whether we can pass for disciples of Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee. Thus, we dare to see if we can be a notch or two above those fickle crowds.
We realize quickly that decent disciples of Jesus, gradually, begin to live by those teachings that the crowds find too radical, too impractical and too illogical to buttress their hope for the restoration of any worldly kingdom. Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem indicates, in a subtle way, that some of his words had changed his disciples’ outlook on life and that they had begun to accept the course that the Father had set for his divine Son to follow.
There are two significant departures made by Matthew in his quote from the prophet Zechariah.
NJB Zechariah 9:9 Rejoice [in] heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
NAB Matthew 21:5 “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The orders to ’rejoice greatly’ and ‘shout’ have been replaced by the order ‘say to.’ There is also a significant omission: the words ‘he is vindicated and victorious’ are missing.
Thus, we see that an invitation to exult as a warrior king had won one for Israel is replaced by the order to tell daughter Zion (Jerusalem) that her King is, by choice, the ruler who orders his subjects to love their enemies (including the occupying Roman forces) and to pray for their persecutors (including those who squeeze exorbitant taxes from them).
Jesus wants his disciples to think that they will inherit the land only if they are truly meek (Matthew 5:5) and they shall be considered children of God (Matthew 5:9) only if they work for peace at a high personal cost.
Matthew had not forgotten a painful lesson either:
NAB Matthew 20:25 But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. 26 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; 27 whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. 28 Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus stays the course set by his Father. Beyond the hosannas, beyond the display of nationalistic patriotism and convenient messianism, Jesus does not waver; he accepts a crown of thorns and the cross as his royal throne. He doesn’t hesitate even as, in the intensity of his agony, he perspires blood. He stays on the only course guaranteed to lead to victory and to glory.
On Palm Sunday, once again, we must ask ourselves if we can do the same and stay the course in the grace that his death and resurrection have won for us.