This Sunday, the Church enters the holiest week of the year. It is the week that liturgically celebrates the saving events of our redemption. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday initiates Holy Week with praise and rejoicing, as believers recount the triumphal entry of the Lord Jesus into Jerusalem.
The Palm Sunday Masses always attract large crowds. People who are distant from the Church find an attraction to Palm Sunday.
What is it about this peculiar Mass of the palms that summons people back to church? What lessons does Palm Sunday have for humanity today?
After the Lord Jesus concluded his three-year public ministry, he entered the Holy City of David with a procession of palms and marked by declarations of “Hosanna.”
The different gospel books give us different details of the event.
For Saint Luke, whom the Sunday Mass readings are following this liturgical year, the Lord’s journey to Jerusalem was extensively recounted in ten chapters of his gospel. The long-awaited arrival in Jerusalem was given as the crowning of the Lord’s mission in Galilee. It was presented as the highlight of the Lord’s teachings on discipleship.
In the Lord’s procession, Saint Luke tells us that the people threw down their garments. King Jehu, one of the great religious reformers of ancient Israel, was greeted in a similar way. Interestingly, Saint Luke doesn’t mention anything about branches or palms.
Meanwhile, Saints Matthew and Mark do not mention garments, but only speak about branches, without specifying which kind of branch. It is only Saint John that tells us that the Lord Jesus was specifically praised and revered with palm branches.
Either way, the use of garments or branches were customs used to show reverence to a person of great esteem. Each custom showed the crowd’s devotion to the Lord.
Saint Luke tells us about Jesus entering Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey, as do Mark and John. The use of a colt would have brought to mind to many people the historical memory of the great King Solomon, who rode a colt to his regal anointing. In addition, the minds of believers would have been flooded with the prophecy of Zachariah (which was given some time after Solomon) about the anointed savior entering the Holy City in such a way.
Saint Matthew, however, tells us that Jesus had both an adult donkey and a colt, since he wanted to show Jesus was also fulfilling a similar prophecy from Isaiah.
In each case, however, the imagery of a colt symbolized humility. Even as the crowds wanted the Lord Jesus to be an earthly king that would rid them of the oppression of Rome, the Lord entered riding on a colt. He was giving a different message. The Lord’s work was not against Rome, but against sin and the pride that comes with it.
It was for this reason that, when one crowd cried “Hosanna,” and some days later another crowd would cry “Crucify him,” the Lord’s witness was consistent.
The Lord’s humility allowed him and his mission to be untouched by the acceptance, or rejection by the crowd. He stood before God the Father. He knew who he was and he knew what needed to be accomplished.
No situation, or state of affairs, robs the Lord of his peace. Nothing distracts him from his identity and mission.
In this way, we can learn many lessons from the Lord Jesus in Jerusalem. We can look at the multiple situations, social encounters, and possible acts of acceptance or rejection in our lives and attempt to imitate the Lord Jesus and be consistently ourselves through them all.
Without fear or favor, we can seek to live as God has called us, seeking to be faithful to our own mission in life, and not succumbing to the pressure and anxiety of our fallen world.
Pride, vainglory, and human respectability are powerful foes as we seek to be truly ourselves and to live in the grace and under the mission of God. The fallen world rewards those who compromise and who are willing to sell out.
On this Palm Sunday, however, we see a different witness and are offered a separate reward. With palm branches and hosannas being offered, the Lord Jesus is unswayed by them. He knows that such things come and such things go. He is a man on a mission. He is humble and ready, and he calls us to be like him.