FOLLOWING THE HUMILITY OF CHRIST
Today we begin the week of weeks in the liturgical calendar: the Holy Week. Today we begin the commemoration of the high points in the history of salvation: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus – the Paschal Mystery. Today we accompany Jesus on his solemn entry into Jerusalem where he will suffer, die and rise again.
Palm Sunday is the great doorway leading into Holy Week, the week when the Lord Jesus makes his way towards the culmination of his earthly existence. He goes up to Jerusalem in order to fulfill the Scriptures and to be nailed to the wood of the Cross, the throne from which he will reign forever, drawing to himself humanity of every age and offering to all the gift of redemption. On this Sunday, the Church celebrates the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem in order to accomplish his Paschal Mystery.
The first reading is one of the “ebed Yahweh” (Servant of God) songs. The core message of this song is, the humility of Christ. In spite of his sufferings, He did not avoid his ordeal: “For my part I made no resistance, neither did I cover my face against insults and spittle.” Indeed, he faced it bravely, while looking forward to his justification by his Father. While we recognize that most of us are like Judas, betraying Christ through their actions, we cannot fail to also recognize the fact that most of us are also suffering betrayal from our friends. Some have been betrayed by their spouses, lovers, friends, relatives and those dear to them. Some have had to suffer betrayal on account of their openness or charity or trust reposed on people. Today’s first reading (Is. 50:4-7) is a message of hope for you. Do not feel disappointed in God for allowing you pass through such terrible experiences. St. Peter advises us to rejoice when we share in Christ’s suffering because we shall shout for joy when his glory is revealed (cf. 1 Pet 4:13).
In the second reading, Paul also highlighted the greatness and depth of Jesus’ humility. He recalled the kenosis (self-emptying) of Jesus: “though he was in the form of God he did not count equality with God…He humbled himself till death.” Hence, Paul admonishes us to be like Jesus, by living a simple, humble and gentle life. Unfortunately, we live in a world of pride and vainglory. Humility and simplicity attract both God and humans. On the contrary, pride makes one repulsive. Pride simply leads to humiliation and shame. Christ is the epitome of humility and obedience. He was humble and obedient even unto death. Let us try to imitate him and so, instead of betraying Jesus, let us obey and solidify our friendship with him.
This day is a day of contradictions and paradoxes. These are lessons we can learn from today’s feast. The Lord rides on a donkey, and not on a horse. The horse could indicate a military, violent entry. So he has purposefully chosen a donkey, he makes a humble entry. As the prophet Zechariah once again reminds us, “Rejoice 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” (Zechariah 9:9).
It is important to state that two processions into Jerusalem must have been witnessed by the crowds. The governor of Judea, Pontus Pilate, led a procession of Roman cavalry and centurions into the city of Jerusalem. The spectacle was awesome, with a lot of pomp and pageantry. If Pilate’s procession was meant as a show of military might and strength, Jesus’ procession meant quite the opposite. Pilate asserts the power and might of the Roman Empire, which crushes all who oppose it. Jesus, riding on a donkey, embodies the peace and tranquility that the Prince of Peace brings to His people.
Today’s Gospel passage spurs us to ask ourselves: what is really happening in the hearts of those who acclaim Christ as King of Israel? Clearly, they had their own idea of the Messiah, an idea of how the long-awaited King promised by the prophets should act. Not by chance, a few days later, instead of acclaiming Jesus, the Jerusalem crowd will cry out to Pilate: "Crucify him!", while the disciples, together with others who had seen him and listened to him, will be struck dumb and will disperse. The majority, in fact, were disappointed by the way Jesus chose to present himself as Messiah and King of Israel. This is the heart of today’s feast, for us too. Who is Jesus of Nazareth for us? What idea do we have of the Messiah, what idea do we have of God? It is a crucial question, one we cannot avoid, not least because during this very week we are called to follow our King who chooses the Cross as his throne. We are called to follow a Messiah who promises us, not a facile earthly happiness, but the happiness of heaven, divine beatitude. So we must ask ourselves: what are our true expectations? What are our deepest desires, with which we have come here today to celebrate Palm Sunday and to begin our celebration of Holy Week?
Today’s celebration is also full of symbols. The green palm is a symbol of peace: “He shall be the prince, and king of peace” (Is 11: 1-9; 9:6). It also represents royalty and restoration. The crowd symbolizes both praise and denial. This is because, the same crowd singing “hosanna” today, soon will shout, “crucify him!” Finally, the donkey is symbolic of Christ’s humility: “…He is humble. He rides on a donkey, the foal of a beast of burden” (Zac 9: 9).
Another symbolic representation is the fact that nearly 25,000 lambs were sacrificed during the feast of the "Pass Over," but the lamb which was to be sacrificed by the High Priest was taken to the Temple in a procession four days before the main feast day. On Palm Sunday, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, was also taken to the Temple in a large procession.
We have another symbolic representation in the gesture of spreading out palm branches on which Jesus rode. This gesture of spreading their coats before the Lord symbolizes how we must spread out our lives, ourselves, in an attitude of gratitude and adoration. Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete says, “So it is ourselves that we must spread under Christ’s feet, not coats or lifeless branches or shoots of trees, matter which wastes away and delights the eye only for a few brief hours. But we have clothed ourselves with Christ’s grace, or with the whole Christ ... so let us spread ourselves like coats under his feet ... let us offer not palm branches but the prizes of victory to the conqueror of death…”
The humility that Christ demonstrated today is contrary to the arrogant display of wealth and firm by today’s rulers and leaders. In spite of being God, Christ humbly rode on the lowliest of beasts. He did not violate traffic rules because he is the Lord. He needed no armed and paid security officers. Instead, he simply mounted a colt and made his way into Jerusalem. As a humble and brave leader, he was not afraid of his mission.
Are we ready to become like the humble donkey that carried Jesus? As we "carry Jesus" to the world, we can expect to receive the same welcome that Jesus received on Palm Sunday, but we must also expect to meet the same opposition, crosses and trials later. Like the donkey, we are called upon to carry Christ to a world that does not know Him. Let us always remember that a Christian without the Cross is a contradiction in terms.
Do I welcome Jesus into my heart? Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna”? Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families, that Christ is the King of our hearts and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives. Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives.
Dear brothers and sisters, these days call forth two sentiments in particular: praise, after the example of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with their "Hosanna!", and thanksgiving, because in this Holy Week the Lord Jesus will renew the greatest gift we could possibly imagine: he will give us his life, his body and his blood, his love. We must respond worthily to so great a gift, with the gift of ourselves, our time, our prayer, our entering into a profound communion of love with Christ who suffered, died and rose for us.
Beloved friends, today, we are equally encouraged to look inwards and see how much of Judas we have in us. Like Judas, is there anything we value more than our union with Christ? Like the crowd, are we always sincere in our chants of “alleluia”? Do we truly recognize Christ as the Son of David especially when there are forces pushing us to deny him? Like Peter, have we denied Jesus when we should have proclaimed him? If we find ourselves wanting, let us not be discouraged because it is for our sake that Christ died. Like Peter, let us weep sorrowfully for our sins and repent of them. Therefore, as we begin the Holy Week, let us strive to join in the activities and also try to reconcile our broken relationship with God.
Dear friends, let us live through the paradoxes during the coming week, together with Jesus. It is in living through the paradoxes of our life is our own salvation. Let us feel as he felt. Let us think as he thought. Let us pray as he prayed. It is in being united with him in his suffering, death, and resurrection is our own victory.
Prayer - Lord Jesus, be the King and Ruler of my heart, mind, life, and home. May my life reflect your meekness and humility that you may be honored as the King of glory!