Palm Sunday (Year A)
Our celebration today is not one of the stories that end with… ‘and they all lived happily ever after’. It begins on a triumphant note but ends quite tragically. Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, ends with Him being handed over to the Jewish and Roman authorities to be put to death by means of crucifixion. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem is one of the few events that is recorded in all four gospels (Matthew 21:1-17; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:29-40; John 12:12-19). For this event to be included in all the gospels does indicate that it was a significant event.
In contrast to earlier events during Jesus’ public ministry, where He gave strict orders to His disciples and the many others who had been healed in one way or another not to tell anyone about what they had seen or happened, now with this triumphant entry, Jesus openly declares that He is their King and Messiah. In other words, the time has come for Him to be exalted and glorified. The evangelist Matthew in recording this event, quotes the Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9).
However, one may wonder how is it possible for the crowd to change their allegiance from waving branches and crying out ‘Hosanna in the highest! Blessed are you, who come in your abundant mercy!’ to then saying, ‘Crucify him, crucify him!’ It is quite a drastic change. When the crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, their hope was that Jesus is going to lead them on a revolt against the Roman authorities; but when they realised that the kingdom that Jesus had been talking about all this while is not as what they envisaged, they rejected Jesus and said, ‘give us Barabbas’. Jesus failed their expectation and now they had more hope in Barabbas than in Jesus to be the leader of a revolt. Unknown to the crowd, Jesus was going to be the leader of a revolt but not in the way they thought He would be. He was going to lead the revolution of love by emptying Himself and allowing Himself to be crucified on the cross for something much greater than a kingdom that was characterised by power, glory and territory.
In the events leading up to Jesus’ passion and death, the evangelist John records Jesus speaking to His disciples about loving one another as He has loved them (cf. Jn 15:12) and then goes on to say, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). How is it even possible for any man/woman to make such a sacrifice? Knowing how it was all going to end, why would anyone choose the road that leads to death? It must surely be motivated by love – a love that the human mind cannot comprehend. So great was His love that He was willing to die for our sake and there will be no other sacrifice anywhere close to this for all of humanity.
The mystery that we are entering this week is the mystery of God – revealed in a revolution of love. We live in a world where many of our actions are utilitarian. Jeremy Bentham (1748 – 1832), the English philosopher cum social reformer and considered the founder of modern utilitarianism, described utility as ‘the sum of all pleasure that results from an action, minus the suffering of anyone involved in the action’. What Jesus chooses to do does not make sense to the modern mind. He chooses suffering for the greater good of us all and it has to do with relationships.
Human actions are often based on reciprocity: if you are good to me, I am good to you and if you are not good to me, the chances are I am not good to you. It would seem like human relationships are based on barter trade – mutual benefit. We only need people as long as they are “beneficial” to us – perhaps a tinge of utilitarianism. However, Jesus shows us today that people are not objects for personal gratification but rather subjects to be loved. When we objectify persons and relationships, we are inadvertently guided by expectations. That is why when people do not meet up to our expectations, we give up on them easily. The same can be said of the crowds that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem – when Jesus does not meet their expectation, they turned on Him for they had no use of Him.
It is not that we should not have expectations of one another, but the question is can we still love one another when they do not meet up to our expectations? Can we still show mercy, compassion and forgiveness when people make mistakes? We are often intolerant and impatient with failure and are driven by a punitive system of justice, but Christ by choosing the cross, demonstrates a reconciliatory system of justice. Not to punish us for our sins but to act as a “bridge” between humanity and God. Let us today look at our most meaningful relationships – are they guided by a utilitarian spirit or a spirit of genuine love? Can we love one another even when we are far from perfection? As we ponder on the love of Christ for us in this Holy Week, may our love for one another be transformed into being genuine just as Jesus genuinely loves us even though we often fail in His expectations of us.