Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, the citadel of Jewish religion, and the headquarters of his enemies. He goes there deliberately, though knows that more likely than not only trouble awaits. He’s also aware of the dictum or the axiom: it cannot be that prophets die anywhere but in Jerusalem. The entry thus includes inevitably a sense of foreboding. The passion doesn’t begin with his arrest. It begins more properly here.
Three intersecting groups are involved in what follows. First, the crowd. The irony of the moment could hardly have been lost on Jesus. As he enters, he’s in one place and they in another. He gets a rousing reception, but before the week is over, the air will ring with a different shout. But Jesus had experienced the volatility of crowds before. His own townspeople wanted once to throw him from a cliff when his words challenged them; another crowd on another occasion wanted to take hold of him and make him king. That’s how crowds behave – corporate passion, corporate reversal.
The second group are the authorities, the Romans first, and then the Jews. As far as the Romans are concerned, the religious question, the burning issue for the Jewish leaders, is completely irrelevant. Rome was principally concerned about social order. Different groups could worship whomever or whatever they chose, as long as they didn’t imperil the conditions of civic peace. Even the hint of sedition (a rival to Caesar, being an obvious instance) would be brutally dealt with. Pilate will sanction the Jewish leaders’ call for execution for this reason, not for theirs.
Finally, the Jewish leaders. They will condemn Jesus for blasphemy, but envy also has a lot to do with it. He’s a nobody from Nazareth, but he has a greater following than they, and he makes them look hollow. He has to go. It’s how envy operates. What I cannot have or cannot be, I will besmirch or bring low.
Which brings us back to Jesus. He’s here because that’s where doing the will of the Father has led him; and it’s where he will remain until the end. He’s here, in other words, because he has always been faithful.
Faithfulness is not a virtue that should be reserved only for spouses. We should all be faithful – to our loved ones, to our commitments, to our faith, to God.
To be faithful is to keep faith, i.e. to be true to one’s word, whether explicit or implied. This means that we exhibit behavior and motivation in line with the nature of our commitment. I can be faithful to my gym practice, for instance, because looking good is important to me, or again because my doctor tells me that unless I exercise, my eating habits will kill me. Being faithful to such a commitment is hardly trivial, but it would not count, on the other hand, as plumbing the depths of faithfulness.
Put faithfulness in another context, the context of another life, Nelson Mandela’s, say, or Mother Theresa’s, and at once you see something different. They were both faithful in a much more total and all-embracing sense, not only to themselves but to a vision that animated them.
Faithfulness here does not mean being true to something pledged with trumpets and fanfare, but to a call in the deep recesses of your being. It means that you hand yourself over to that. Another word for it is self-surrender. That is why such persons give off the sense of something enshrined in them. What they give off is the animating ideal itself.
You can say the very same thing about Jesus. His heart was always ruled by God. “I do always the things that please him,” he said on one occasion, or again, “My meat and drink is to do the will of his who sent me.” Meat and drink, in other words, my total sustenance. From quite early, we are told, he had this disposition. When his parents found him in the temple, the child they lost is not the young man they meet. Allowing for re-interpretation or embellishment after the Resurrection, what the episode establishes is that sense of self-disposal to God that would mark his entire life.
So he is here in Jerusalem because faithfulness had led him here, and here, as the sequel showed, is where he will be vindicated, he and his way of life. That is the life to which we are all called, in our different individualities and vocations .
Let us pray then as we begin this final week of the Lenten journey, for the grace to be true to our commitments, to our spouses, families, friends, and above all to the call we receive from God, that we may always strive to model our obedience and our lives on the example of Jesus Our Lord.
Father Henry Charles Ph. d