WelCom April 2020:
Palm Sunday of The Lord’s Passion – Matthew 26:14-27:66
Jesus triumphal entry takes place in the days before the Last Supper, marking the beginning of his Passion. Crowds gather around Jesus and believe in him after he raised Lazarus from the dead, and the next day the multitudes that had gathered for the feast in Jerusalem welcome Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. The Gospel Reading for Palm Sunday, 5 April 2020, Matthew 26:14-27:66, records: The Betrayal by Judas, 14-16; Preparations for the Passover, 17-19; The Betrayer, 20-25; The Lord’s Supper, 26-30; Peter’s Denial Foretold, 31-46; The Agony in the Garden, 36-46; The Betrayal and Arrest of Jesus, 47-56; Jesus before the Sanhedrin, 57-68; Peter’s Denial of Jesus, 69-75.
Hosanna, Son of David, King and Prophet; Alleluia.
Passover is a most important period in a Catholic’s life. Palm Sunday, the first day of Passover, follows shortly after the miracle in Bethany in which John writes that Jesus raised His friend Lazarus, from the dead to life (Jn 11:1-45). As this was the ultimate miracle, mourners present at Lazarus’ home would have had no difficulty believing in Jesus and the news of the miracle would have spread quickly and widely. After the miracle, Jesus sent two of His disciples into the village to borrow a donkey.
Jesus now enters Jerusalem. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem. The city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!’ (Mt 23:37). Entering Jerusalem was a prophetic act. It was deliberate, planned and prearranged. Today the crowds cheered and sang ‘Hosanna to the son of David,’ tossing flowers and branches in His path.
In all four Palm Sunday accounts of the canonical Gospels, symbolism is captured prophetically. Five hundred years earlier, Zechariah had prophesised about the Messiah:
‘Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion!
Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem!
See now, your king comes to you.
He is victorious, he is triumphant,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey’ (Zech 9:9).
Local crowds understood the purpose of Jesus’ action; they knew a king riding a donkey was a sign of peace. They cried, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ (Mt 21:11)
During that Passover there was another procession. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who administered Judea and Samaria from his base Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, made his Passover show of force riding into Herod’s palace. Imagine these mounted horsemen with foot soldiers. Palm Sunday is the only time the gospel tells us that Jesus did not walk.
The scribes and the Pharisees also understood the symbolism of Jesus riding on a donkey but closed their minds to the Lord’s action. They sought His death but because of the crowds they were unable to arrest Him. Jesus’ teaching in parables this Passover were the strongest in the synoptic gospels.
By the fourth day of Passover week enemies of Jesus were becoming desperate. Their motives were spurred on because the first three days of the week saw Jesus’ numbers increasing in the Temple as prophetic indictments were directed against the rulers of His own people, the scribes and Pharisees. How relieved and excited they were when Judas Iscariot came and asked what price they would pay for Jesus’ betrayal? The chief priests and elders offered him 30 pieces of silver. Later that night, after prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane with Peter, James and John, Judas knowing where Jesus was, conspired with a cohort of soldiers who arrested Him.
Meanwhile Pilate, having heard rumours rife in Jerusalem about Jesus capturing the imagination of the Jewish people, and knowing the High Priest and elders were wanting Jesus killed, was worried. Pilate was the Roman administrator for the area and was more worried still when the Jewish leaders brought Jesus before him. His question to Jesus was, ‘Are you a king?’ To which Jesus replied, ‘It is you who say it’ (Mt 27:11).
As Jesus answered no more questions, Pilate’s worry became fear and he endeavoured to avoid liability by ‘passing him over to Herod’ (Lk 23:7). Jesus remained silent, so Herod returned Him to Pilate. In front of the chief priests Pilate lost his courage. He had Jesus scourged hoping that action would placate the crowd whom the chief priests had assembled for the occasion. No luck there. The final effort to have Jesus released was an offer to the crowd of a choice as to who he would release; a murderer, Barabbas – or Jesus. The crowd demanded the release of Barabbas and shouted to Crucify Jesus. Pilate, in an act of self-justification, ‘publicly washed his hands, claiming to be innocent of this man’s blood’ (Mt 27:25).
The introduction of the world’s Saviour came on the back of a donkey. As we consider the greatness of Our Lord and the enormous sacrifice He made for each and every one of us, let’s also think about how He likes the small and not so great things to work with. Could that include us?
And if the answer is yes to that question, what should we do about it?
Tom Gibson is a retired farmer and a parishioner at Immaculate Conception, Stratford, Taranaki.