HOMILY FOR PALM/PASSION SUNDAY; TRIUMPHANT ENTRY OF JESUS TO JERUSALEM
HOMILY THEME: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE.
BY: Fr. Callistus Emenyonu
BEFORE PROCESSION: Mark 11: 1-10
Readings: Is. 50:4-7; Ps. 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24(Rsp.V.2); Phil.2:6-11; Passion Mark 14: 1-15:47
Today’s celebration is variously called Palm Sunday- because of the use of palm and Olive branches. Passion Sunday- because of the launching of the Holy week of Christ’s passion which is normally read during mass; and Triumphant Entrance to Jerusalem- because Jesus entered Jerusalem like a triumphant/ victorious King even though the Jews sought to kill him.
One would ask a lot of questions about the events of today: Why did Jesus decide to enter Jerusalem with a colt (donkey)? Why did the people follow and hail him as a King? What is the significance of the Palm and Olive branches to his entrance to Jerusalem? Why must Jesus enter Jerusalem in such a noticeable and attractive manner prior his death? Who informed the people and moved their interest to follow Jesus and shout Hosanna to the Son of David? Why did Jesus go for someone’s colt and asked them to say that the master needs it should he ask? Why is it that the owner did not refuse the disciples the request to take the donkey and her young colt? Why did the people who just finished shouting Hosanna changed their mind to shout crucify him? Etc.
The event of Palm Sunday has same connotation with that of the Transfiguration. These events work against what can be seen to be scandalous in the impending death of Jesus Christ. They go to play on the willingness and self-giving of Christ to such a humiliating death who though is God, chose the path of suffering and humility as to die as a servant. (Phil. 2:6-11). It is very symbolic an event to bring another side of the lesson and the real meaning of the mission of Christ. This man, the suffering servant is truly God but hid his Godliness to look like man. He is not an ordinary man but a King, not just a king in the understanding of the Jews (a political liberator only for the Jewish nation) but a King in the mind of God who is not limited to a particular people but to the whole world. He is not as they have written: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews” rather “This is Jesus, the King of the Universe”. Little wonder then He refused to answer Pilate who asked “Are you the king of the Jews?”. The kings of the world are afraid of challenge and wish to reign eternally which is not possible. No wonder then Herod was afraid that a King has been born and fought to eliminate him; Pilate was also troubled in case this man wants to contest his kingship with him. The worldly powers are afraid of his type of Kingship up till today. The world tries to resist him in every way yet his kingship is as well acknowledged intrinsically and by the natural events of this world. Why not? After all, he owns everything and can make demands on any at any given time and none has the power to resist it. The answer remains what Jesus responded “You have said so”. Yes, the people said so as he quietly went to Jerusalem, uninvited, the people rushed out and accompanied him as their King singing Hosanna. The world knows and recognizes their King yet try to resist his rulership. They want him to go their own way, but God cannot go the human way.
Jesus’ entrance with a young cult was significant of the humility and peacefulness that are associated with his Kingship. The palm carried by the people speaks a lot culturally and spiritually. In many places in Africa especially among the Igbos of Nigeria, Palm signifies peace, tranquillity, victory, sacredness and a call for reconciliation. It also symbolizes holiness and a place to be revered as a sanctuary. In the light of these, Jesus shows the victory of God in and through Him, meaning that even though He will die naturally in human form in few days to come, yet He has achieved the Father’s aim which is victory over sin and death which hung around God’s people. His self giving in this sacrifice is not a loss or defeat on his side but a triumph for God. So the shout for Him to be crucified is not victory on the part of the Jews but for God. No wonder then the high priest Caiaphas prophesied that it is better for one man to die for many than for many to perish. He is a sacred and Holy King, the sanctuary of God to be revered, God who rules with humility and accomplishes his mission of Peace (Melchi-zedech King of peace and righteousness). Jesus is the one who has ear to listen to His Father and do His will; he was never rebellious to the demands of His Father which is to die for all men so that they may be saved. This is why he willingly gave his back to those who struck Him and His cheek to those who pulled out His beard; He did not hide his face from spittle and raining of shame and insult on Him (second reading). As his followers, this is what we are called to do and to be.
The type of King that Jesus portrays is kingship par excellence. His kingdom is a kingdom of peace, truth and life, a kingdom of justice and of grace and a kingdom of love and supreme sacrifice. This week, Jesus inaugurates his passion to lead us to eternal salvation which is the culmination of his earthly ministry. What should be our attitude this week and particularly in this celebration? If we are the Jews or the crowd, let us willingly and convincingly remain resolute to follow Him with no change of heart. From our life, let there not be Hosanna to the Son of David as well as crucify Him. We cannot allow circumstances and other’s opinion change our followership of Christ to his final and our final destination. We should not just cover his path with Palm branches, singing and dancing to the external events and momentary ecstasy to herald the melody of the day. Let us rather wave the stainless garment of our souls, sing praise and worship of Him. We must let our lives and aspirations prostrate before him to walk through and sanctify. Let us humbly try to live as He would wish in all circumstances. Let us present the conqueror of death not with mere branches of Olive and palm but the rewards of his victory over our lives. Let our souls take the real place of the welcoming branches as we join today in the great song of joy: Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest heavens to the universal king of glory and Peace.
May the Lord himself inaugurate us into the passion week and lead us to a spirit-filled celebration of the Holy week; may our life correspond truly to the liturgical significance of this week and in actual be holy indeed, Amen. Fr Callistus Emenyonu,cmf