Year A: Palm Sunday

The Entry to Jerusalem

Matthew 21:1-11

When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me. And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, “ The master has need of them. Then he will send them at once.” This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: “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 disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.

They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them. The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna* to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”

And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. As a gesture of solidarity with Jesus. In what ways could you “die to self”, or embody the humility of Jesus in these final days of Lent?
  2. When you look back on your life where have grown most from times of suffering? Do you see God’s presence there?
  3. How has this Lent been spiritually meaningful for you? Have you had any new awareness’ or any “cross of your own” to bear, that may have helped you walk with Jesus on his way to the cross?

Biblical Context

Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

Today we listen to Matthew’s passion account from the entry into Jerusalem through Jesus’ death on the cross. We begin with the first of the two solemn liturgical processions of our week and the Gospel account of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

There is a strange correlation between the entrance into Jerusalem and the preparations for the sharing of the Passover supper. In both cases, Jesus seems to know who in the area is ready to provide him with what he needs. The uncanny availability of just what was needed, a unique pair of circumstances in the Gospel accounts, underlines the sense of divine providence in all that is about to take place. As always, it is divine providence with human collaboration.

According to Matthew, the procession with Jesus was reminiscent of Solomon’s entry into Jerusalem to receive the crown of his father, David. Matthew refers specifically to two other passages: Zechariah 9:9 and Isaiah 62:11, both of which announce the triumphal arrival of the savior. More importantly, the people around join in the celebration, doing Jesus honor by spreading their cloaks and waving palms while they sang psalms and called out “Hosanna” or “Son of David! Save us!”

In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear the narrative at the heart of Christian faith, the shocking story of Jesus’ purposeful and fully conscious entry into the drama that would end with his crucifixion and resurrection. It begins with the account of Judas’ preparation for betrayal contrasted with Jesus’ preparation for the supper at which he would ritualize the total self-gift he was about to act out with his passion and death.

Western art has fixed interpretations of the Last Supper more definitively in the Christian imagination than thousands of theological tomes or even the Gospels themselves. A prime example of our stereotypically fixed, non-scripturally based understanding has to do with the participants at the supper. Matthew specifies that the “disciples” asked Jesus about the meal and prepared it. It is only when Jesus reclines that the “twelve” are mentioned, indicating that while they were at that table with him there remains the probability that other disciples were there as well — perhaps at the same table, perhaps at others. Obviously, considering that possibility, it would be clear that women could have been among them, most especially those women whom Matthew named as the only disciples present at the crucifixion, those who witnessed the burial and discovered the empty tomb on the third day.

It is worth being alert to how our images of Jesus’ last days have been conditioned by non-scriptural art, hymns and prayers because those depictions have a strong, often culturally biased and potentially destructive, influence on our spirituality. Today’s liturgy offers an effective antidote to that influence if only we take all of our readings seriously and remember that God’s servant suffers not to pay for sin, but because God’s love never fails in spite of human rejection. Jesus came to transform our image of God, revealing the merciful, unrelenting lover of humanity. Now is the time to allow that to happen.

Who is Our God?

Reflection
By: Dr. Ted Wolgamot

Many years ago, when I was in college, I had a classmate named Jim who distinguished himself as one of the most intellectually gifted persons I ever knew. After graduation, he went on to graduate school to study philosophy in Washington, D.C. I lost track of him until I heard the news of his unexpected and untimely death.

A mutual friend told me that, in cleaning out his room he kept finding notes written in Jim’s handwriting with the same two questions: “Who is God? What is it that he wants?”

These questions seem particularly appropriate as we begin Holy Week.

Passion (Palm) Sunday presents us with a very unusual version of a deity. In the words of St. Paul in our second reading, he’s a God who “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” — the form of the lowest element of society.

Palm Sunday attempts to answer this question of who our God is by establishing from the beginning that the God of Jesus is like no other. He is unique in all human history.

Notice, for example, that as Jesus enters Jerusalem there are no trumpets blaring, no resplendent carriages proudly acclaiming royalty, no horses bedecked with finery of any kind — nothing that demonstrates power or majesty.

Then remember what Paul told us in today’s second reading: He is a God who emptied himself.

God sits on a donkey. This same God who marches into Jerusalem will encounter a “coronation” ceremony of whips and lashes. His royal “throne” will be a cross. His “glory” will be death.

Why does Jesus do this? Because that is the kind of God Jesus preaches and imitates.

The reason Jesus willingly embraces all of this is for one purpose: to demonstrate visibly that God is the one who identifies with and enters the experience of the people with whom he is madly in love.

Our God is sending a message through Jesus in this Palm Sunday celebration that he wants everyone to hear with utter clarity: “Nothing human is abhorrent to me.” All of life — even the most horrible kind of suffering, even death — is something so precious that God wants to be in solidarity with it. God wants to embrace it and transform it.

That’s who our God is.

So, what is it that this same God wants from us? Jesus wants us to die with him. Only the death he’s talking about is not the one when our earthly time is over. The death in which our God is interested is the death of our egos. He wants us to die to that part of us that wishes to enthrone our own selves, that part of us that dreams of being adored, worshiped, acclaimed, glorified.

God wants us to “die before we die,” as theologian Richard Rohr so aptly puts it in many of his writings.

So, again: Who is our God? What is it that he wants? These two questions that haunted my friend Jim are the same ones that have mystified modern-day and ancient philosophers alike. In the end, the lessons of Palm Sunday give us the answers to both questions.

Perhaps the apostle Paul sums it up as well as anyone could: “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”

Our God wants us to embody the humble actions of Jesus: the God who “emptied himself” — the God who sat on a donkey.