Palm Sunday is a day of contradictions – commemorating the triumphal entry of a king to his city, but who ends up being crucified only days later. Palm Sunday is also Passion Sunday: The day of “Hosanna in the highest” is also the day of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” The day of “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is also the day of “I do not know him!” And in the unfolding drama we see different characters at play: First is Jesus, the King who enters Jerusalem on the back of a colt. The colt makes him the King of peace or else he would arrive on a war horse. The colt is also a sign of the humility and obedience by which he reverses the disobedience of Adam. Our Second Reading today extols Jesus’ kenotic (self-emptying) humility and perfect obedience unto death, for which the Father greatly honoured and gave him the greatest name ever known.
Next, we have the crowds who cheered him into Jerusalem, only to turn against him a few days later. There are also his disciples who all abandon him when the going gets tough. Even Peter who vowed to protect Jesus with his own life ends up denying him. There is Judas Iscariot who betrayed his Master in exchange for money. And next is Pontius Pilate who condemned an innocent man to protect his political career. We also have the chief priests and the scribes whose hearts were completely closed to Jesus’ message and would stop at nothing to destroy him. Equally on stage is Simon of Cyrene, the stranger who was forced to carry someone else’s cross. And lastly, we have Joseph of Arimathaea who took the courage to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body for burial.
Dear friends, we all can easily fit into any of these characters, depending on our moral conduct. Every moral decision is a choice for or against Christ and his message. Accordingly, we play the crowds when our Christian life is of mediocre standards and we are blown about like reeds by all kinds of theological concepts or religious experiences. This is mainly caused by lapses in the sacramental life and easily leads to moral relativism. Also, we are like the fickle crowds when we have a shaky commitment to the Catholic faith – Mass in the morning and some other “miracle centre” in the afternoon. Next, we play the part of the fleeing disciples when we fail to defend the faith out of fear or political correctness – when we fail to live up to our calling for fear of criticism.
We are like Peter when we neglect our prayers and get self-assured of our own spiritual strength. This self-confidence is always bound to crack under intense pressure. Next, we are like Judas when we live a life of hypocrisy – saying one thing and doing the other. We play Judas when we exploit the things of God for personal aggrandizement or take advantage of those under our care. Also, we are like Judas when we make unfounded attacks on the Church and its leadership just because we have issues with certain teachings. Next, we are like the chief priests and scribes when we persist in our sins and refuse to utilize God’s offer of forgiveness. This is what happens when people lose a sense of sin and become presumptuous and self-righteous.
We are like Pontius Pilate when we turn a blind eye to injustice or neglect to defend the most vulnerable among us. This also happens when we cheat or lie in our dealings with other people. However, we play Simon of Cyrene when we do the right thing in unfavourable circumstances, when we willingly bend over backwards to lend a helping hand. Then, we are like Joseph of Arimathaea when we summon the courage to fight injustice or to give redress to its victims; or when we make reparation for our sins through charitable works. Let everyone judge for themselves the part they are playing at this point.
But the best character of all is that of Jesus in his humility. The infinite God taking flesh in finite humanity is humility par excellence. As Jesus rides the colt of humility into Jerusalem, so he rides on the wave of humility through this sinful world and opens for us the path to heaven. We become more like Jesus when we love and pray for those who do not treat us well – he reconciled Pilate and Herod, two men who had a mutual interest in his downfall. We become like Jesus when we wholeheartedly forgive those who have hurt us – he forgave the dying thief on the cross. We become more like Jesus when we make a total surrender to God’s will, like he did at Gethsemane. And we become like Jesus through an abiding trust in God in all situations.
Surely, trusting can be very difficult sometimes, especially where it has been violated by people close to us. As a result, many have raise protective walls around their hearts. Unfortunately, those walls also keep God out and unless we let him into our hearts, we could never experience the lasting joy that we long after. The Lord himself know this and has come up with a way to win our trust: The Passion of Christ. The Passion is a most eloquent testimony of God’s love and commitment never to let us down. Whether we reject Jesus, scourge him, crown him with thorns, betray him, or even crucify him, his response is: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Today, therefore, let us pray for the grace to become more like Jesus. And may we carry our palm branches not only in Church but at home and everywhere, as we ride our own colt of humility and obedience– the path to true greatness and lasting happiness! Amen!