HOMILY FOR PALMS SUNDAY OF THE HOLY WEEK
Theme: The Procession of Jesus
By: Fr. Mike Lagrimas
This Sunday we commemorate the solemn entrance of Jesus to the Holy City of Jerusalem. This is not the first time He comes to this city. Every year it has been His custom to come here to celebrate Passover, even in His young age. But this time, He comes not just as a regular pilgrim or worshipper, but as the long-awaited Messiah. Waving their palm branches, the people enthusiastically welcomed Him, shouting, “Hossana to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hossana in the highest!” (Mt 21:9). The title “Son of David” is a messianic title. Riding on a borrowed donkey, Jesus openly acknowledges this act of homage and adulation. Definitely, the atmosphere is festive.
But this is not the whole picture of the whole event. It must be noted that the Jews in Jerusalem have come for the Passover feast. This is the most important feast that recalls their freedom from slavery in Egypt. But now, they are once again burdened by the oppressive rule of a foreign power, the Roman Empire. They are aching for the coming of someone who will lead them to regain their freedom and dignity as a nation. Needless to say, they hate the Romans. That is why the festive atmosphere is also restive. In other words, given the right stimulus, this religious event could turn into an explosive patriotic event in a blink of an eye.
The Roman authorities are well aware of this. That is why, it has been the standard practice for the Roman governor to move from his imperial palace in Caesarea Maritima to Jerusalem for all major Jewish festivals, especially Passover. He is accompanied by a big military contingent to reinforce the Roman soldiers stationed at the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem, obviously to effectively quell any uprising that may erupt.
This, then, is the whole picture: there are two processions taking place at this time. From the East, the procession of Jesus, the Messiah, and from the West, the procession of Pontius Pilate, the governor. The procession of Jesus symbolizes the Kingdom of God, and the procession of Pilate symbolizes the kingdom of this world. In short, the picture is a graphic juxtaposition of two kingdoms diametrically opposed to each other.
The procession of Pilate is a display of Roman imperial power and arrogance meant to remind the people of their subjugation: the governor riding a war horse, accompanied by a cavalry of horses, foot soldiers in their leather armor and shining helmets and weapons, marching to the beat of drums.
This is also a display of Roman imperial theology. The Romans consider the emperor as divine, the Son of God. They can tolerate other religions that are polytheistic, but not the religion that claim there is only one God – and definitely not the Roman emperor. And this is the religion of the Jews. Their claim that Caesar is not God is an open defiance and a serious threat to the entire Roman system.
And on that day, while Pilate is marching towards Jerusalem, displaying the Roman imperial power and theology, the procession of Jesus is also taking place. Accompanied by a large and excited crowd proclaiming Him as king and Messiah, He enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The Jews are reminded of the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he; Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech 9:9). Though without soldiers, or horses and weapons, this procession is also a display of power and theology that directly challenges the Roman authority and power.
In the eyes of the Romans, therefore, the entrance of Jesus is a cause for serious alarm. The whole situation has turned volatile: “And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Mt 21:10-11). The Jewish authorities are also troubled: “So the Pharisees said to one another, ‘You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.’” (Jn 12:19).
Jesus, then, proceeds to the Temple. “And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve” (Mk 11:11). He left. He does not take advantage of the whole situation and the people’s patriotic fervor to organize a rebellion. He is, after all, not a rebel or an insurrectionist. He is a revolutionary, not in a bloody and violent way. His revolution is that of love, service and humility. The blood that is going to be shed will be His own blood on the cross of self-sacrifice.
On Palm Sunday, two processions take place. Which one are we going to join? May our choice be clear, definite and steadfast: we will join the procession of Jesus. It is a procession that leads to Calvary and Good Friday. But it also ensures us of our victory and glory with Jesus on Easter Sunday.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Michael the Archangel Parish
Diocese of Novaliches
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