Homily: Palm Sunday

Sacred Heart Cathedral
9th April, 2017
Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11  Matt 26:14-27:66

It is a moving experience each year on Palm Sunday as we go to the mountain with Jesus, towards the temple, accompanying him on his ascent. On this day, throughout the world and across the centuries, people of every age acclaim him, crying out: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Who would have thought that the crowd which welcomed Jesus with such enthusiasm during his entry into Jerusalem would turn against him so quickly within days and demand his crucifixion? Their welcome and shouts for Jesus were superficial. Their support for him was only skin deep. It was easy to be part of a crowd that welcomed Jesus and it was easy to be part of a crowd that condemned him to death.

Throughout this week, we continue to focus on the mystery of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. The Passion of Jesus moves us. It moves us because Jesus suffered. Remember in the first reading today we heard what we could describe as a prophecy of Jesus’ passion:
‘For my part, I made no resistance,
Neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,

My cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
Against insult and spittle.’ (Isa 50:5-6)

Today also we have St Matthew’s version of the Gospel which presents all the details of Our Lord’s passion, his repudiation by the leaders of his own people, and his unjust condemnation by the Romans. In addition, we have the text from Philippians, which so eloquently speaks of the meaning of the Lord’s death. It is easy to be part of the crowd. But in the account of the Passion the crowd was not there for Jesus when he needed them most. So much for the crowd!

But what are we really doing when we join this procession as part of the throng which went up with Jesus to Jerusalem and hailed him as King of Israel? Is this anything more for us, than a ritual, a quaint custom? Does it have anything to do with the reality of our life and our world?

Jesus set out as a pilgrim journeying towards the Temple in the Holy City for the common feast of Passover, the memorial of Israel’s liberation from Egypt. The entry into Jerusalem sets the scene for what is to happen in Holy Week and interprets not just the events but their meaning.   The key is the word humble.  Jesus is recognised by the humble and rejected by the arrogant and self-certain.   Jesus himself most humbly enters into the Holy City.

He knew that what awaited him was a new Passover and that he himself would take the place of the sacrificial lambs by offering himself on the cross.

He knew that in the mysterious gifts of bread and wine he would give himself for ever to his own, and that he would open to them the door to a new path of liberation, to fellowship with the living God. Our procession today was meant then, to be an image of something deeper, to reflect the fact that, together with Jesus, we are setting out on pilgrimage along the high road that leads to the living God.

Having just listened to the Passion of Our Lord, we might well ask ourselves: Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd? Am I ready to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I stand back? Who am I, before the suffering Jesus?

Jesus follows this path with all the anguish and fear it entails, but he does not flinch or waver.  In this dramatic way he shows us how God is always faithful to his people.

His disciples react in a very different way.   Just look at that most intimate gathering of the last Supper when Jesus shares with his disciples what was to happen in the days to come.  How do his disciples react?  They give in to temptation.  One leaves the room and heads off to betray Jesus.   Others even at this most solemn moment are still concerned about prestige and who should be considered the most important among them.   Peter, the rock chosen on which to build the Church, promises in big words never to betray Jesus, but in that same evening Peter will betray Jesus three times.  In the face of temptation, the disciples flee and abandon Jesus.

We have also heard the name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver! Am I like Judas, who feigns love and then kisses the Master in order to hand him over, to betray him?  

We have heard other names too: the disciples who understand nothing, who fell asleep while the Lord was suffering. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who did not realize what it was to betray Jesus? Or like that other disciple, who wanted to settle everything with a sword? Am I like them? Am I like those people in power who hastily summon a tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them?

And finally the important questions for us all to ask ourselves: What effect will this Holy Week and Easter have on my life? Where is my heart? Which of these persons am I like? Perhaps we might all reflect on these questions and let them remain with us throughout Holy Week.