HOMILY FOR PALM SUNDAY
Theme: Divine Authority
By: Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Mark 14:1- 15:47
On a day like this, I sometimes feel that the most eloquent response to the word of God we have proclaimed is silence. Even the best of homilies could be a distraction from the deep meditation in which many of us find ourselves at the end of the story of the Passion – suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. But then also, a homily might be useful to direct and focus our meditation in the right direction.
Today we celebrate the “Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion.” Our celebration started differently today with a gospel reading outside of church followed by our procession into the church to re-enact Jesus’ jubilant and triumphant entry into Jerusalem. By the time of the regular gospel reading (The Passion Narrative), jubilation disappeared as we recalled Jesus’ suffering and death. But wait, let us ask “what happed between these two gospel readings? Did the crowd do a complete turnaround? Because we have a crowd shouting “Hosanna! Hosanna!!!” as Jesus processed into Jerusalem. I don’t think there was a turn around. I think there was a group of crowd outside of the city of Jerusalem and another kind of crowd inside it.
The gospel outside the Church began with the words, “When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem….” So, it seems that all this jubilation occurred outside of the city. These outsiders were excited about Jesus as the long-expected saviour riding into the City of David on a colt as predicted by the prophet Zechariah. Jesus seems to know what he is doing and what lies ahead by the way he controls the situation by telling his disciples that he needs a colt. Jesus is going to Jerusalem and knows what is going to happen there, the same thing that had happened to prophets before him.
People spread cloaks and branches on the road as had been for kings before Jesus. The people were anticipating the arrival of David’s Kingdom; they see Jesus as linked to the glorious moment when the David-like messiah would come to deliver them from the Roman oppression. This all ends during the passion narrative when the crowds shouted to Pilate for Jesus’ death: “Crucify him! Crucify him!” These were a different kind of people, for this gospel reading begins with, “the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to arrest him by treachery and put him to death.” The crowd inside Jerusalem certainly isn’t the same crowd that was outside. It seems to be the outsiders who are the ones excited about Jesus. Think of their life-long desperation. They are the gospel “highway and by-way” people, those who never get special places at table, invitations to upper-crust banquets, or places of honor in the temple and synagogue. They have already experienced or heard about how welcome their lot is with Jesus.
The whole passion story reminds us that the type of authority of Jesus is different from that of a worldly power. Christ emptied himself and became the servant of all. We need this spirit if we are to be we are be “one people healed of all division” and bring an end to the war, violence, selfishness and injustice which divide us. We can treat the “passion of Jesus” in a way that we force a certain sense of grief upon ourselves, blaming our personal sin for Jesus’ death. However, more importantly, we are called to connect Jesus’ experience to our own experience today – an experience that includes life and death, injustice and courage, violence and peace. We cannot contemplate Jesus’ suffering without contemplating the suffering of our world and its people.
I feel this was why the crowd outside of Jerusalem were excited even though Jesus has no military, economic, or political power. He is a simple human being with no significant material assets. But for us, why is there a sense of excitement as we begin to enter the Holy Week experience? Shouldn’t we be ready to give up? [After all Jesus is about to be killed.] Shouldn’t we be discouraged by the human situation today – by war, violence of all sorts, selfishness, failure, injustice, discrimination, poverty, inequality, etc.? Do we really want to or need to remember the pain and the sorrow that we see in the passion of Christ? There was an excitement in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus and there is an excitement as we process with palms. Why? Is it a sense of excitement because God is among us and part of our human situation? Is it a sense that God is with us in the midst of all the suffering and injustice? Is it a sense that God is present in the midst of our deepest longings and dreams? Is it a sense that God is present in the midst of our deepest struggle for what is right? Is it a sense that God is here in the midst of the great story of liberation and freedom? Is it a sense that God is calling us to work for liberation and justice? Is it a sense that apparent defeat is not the final word?
Whatever our answers may be, there is someone from God to tell us that we are not forgotten; indeed, God loves us. Jesus, the one with authority, has recognized us, healed our afflictions, and forgiven our sins. The crowd outside of Jerusalem know too that Jesus is a Galilean, an outsider, one of their own, raised up by God. So we should ask ourselves “are we part of the outsiders who are seeking Jesus or are we with the insiders still trying to control him?” Although the gospel passion has an evil crowd, we must read the passion story to find out that God sent his only Son to die for everyone’s sins; yes, and even for the sins of the crowd that put him to death. And we will be assured of this when we come back for Easter Mass next Sunday to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, something that no one else ever did.
*Rev Fr Stephen ‘Dayo Osinkoya*
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