Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16
Mark 14:1-15:47 or 15:1-39
Today, Palm Sunday, the blessing of the palms followed by a procession into the church precedes the principal Mass. The gospel of Mark depicting the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is used at the blessing to help us enter the solemn mysteries of Holy Week: the Passion, Death, and Burial of Jesus, leading to his glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday. During the Mass itself we enter into that very passion and death in the gospel of John. In this opening gospel of Mark, however, Jesus asks us to contemplate his entry into the last week of his life. His very entry is a parable for us – to ponder and understand what he is doing, to see who he really is – the messiah – and what he is taking upon himself, and how he takes it.
When Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem, he sends two of them into the neighboring village to procure a colt that seems to be tied there just for him, waiting to be picked up and brought to him. Moreover he seems to have made his own arrangements ahead of time with the people who own this colt, without any of the disciples being aware of it. The disciples then put their cloaks over the colt, and Jesus sits on it – he clearly had planned to enter Jerusalem at the beginning of the holy season mounted on the foal of a donkey. He is quietly acting out what had been foretold by the prophets Isaiah and Zecharia. Though his disciples may not see this at the time, afterwards they would recall it and record it. Matthew, writing much later than Mark, makes it clear, quoting the prophets (Matt 21).
The people along the way, thinking of what he will do for them and the entire nation, throw their cloaks and palm branches before him, singing out his praises as their king to come. And how does he come? Quietly, riding a young donkey, not a glorious steed, with the common peoples’ cloaks to sit upon, not a fine leather saddle. A humble messiah, not an imperious king, but as one who teaches humility, kindness, compassionate care of the poor and the down trodden, as one who teaches justice for all, but especially for the powerless. A parable in action – and a sign of how he will live out his final week on this earth, a sign of how he will enter into his passion and death.
Jesus coming on this young donkey asks us, I think, to enter into this week in all humility and to contemplate each day his great love for us. He asks me to contemplate that his love brought him to this week. That his love puts him on the cross, not my sins – his love prompted him to do this for me and for all. That his love saves me and will save me from my sins if I but stay with him. I think of the line from the prayer of St. Francis Xavier: "Thou, thou, my Jesus, whilst on the tree, didst in thine arms encompass me." May he hold us tight to himself on the cross this week.
Br. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, CFX, a Xaverian Brother, is a Passionist Associate at Ryken House, St. Xavier High School, across the creek from Sacred Heart Passionist Monastery in Louisville,Kentucky.