Palm Sunday of The Lord's Passion, March 16, 2008

Isaiah 50: 4 - 7

Philippians 2: 6 - 11

Matthew 26: 14 - 27:66

Word of Explanation:
On this Palm Sunday, we celebrate the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. He is acclaimed by the same crowd that will condemn him. Who is this Man, then, in whom God is revealed, acclaimed as the Messiah and reproved as a criminal? The Liturgy proposes a contemplation of the figure of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah.

The Hebrew term 'ebed,' servant/slave, is generally a term of relationship. It does not express a particular state of life in society. It shows that someone is in a situation of subordination to a superior. It is also without any connotation of humiliation. We also find a religious meaning in the term, as in the Psalms, to designate the believer. In the Book of Isaiah, the figure of the Suffering Servant is not a specific person and this allows for different interpretations. It is not the identity of the servant that interests us but his function with regard to the People. He is an image of hope for the People of God.

Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, the city where, as he has told his disciples several times, his Passion and death will take place. There is an atmosphere of joy, as is customary in Jerusalem at Passover time. For Jesus, however, the hour is grave. For him, it is the final stage on the route he embarked on in Galilee several years ago

His public life had begun with the trials and temptations of the desert. At his Baptism, the Father had revealed Jesus' identity and mission. Jesus decided to live them under the guidance of the Spirit of God received at Baptism. He had been led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted and tried by the devil. The tempter had tried Jesus in his quality as Son of God. According to the reasoning suggested by the devil, it was normal that Jesus work miracles for his own benefit. But Jesus had refused that his divine state serve to shelter him from the human condition. Because no man can avoid trials and difficulties or confront the force of evil by working miracles, Jesus had excluded doing so in his own interest. The temptations were real human temptations following the world's criteria for living and bringing about the Kingdom of God.

And, now, Jesus accomplishes a symbolic act in face of another temptation of his time: the expectation of a warrior Messiah, strong and victorious, who would bring about the reign of God by a show of force. He presents himself, on the contrary, as a humble Messiah, the friend of the poor and little people, close to sinners to whom he proclaims the tenderness and forgiveness of God. To do this, he chooses to enter Jerusalem seated on a donkey. In the hierarchy of animals, the donkey is opposed to the horse used by soldiers and the charriot used by the king. His strategy is not that of a general, nor that of a king -- it is a reversal of the Zealots' expectation, the clear manifestation of his desire to be a Messiah who is meek and humble of heart, according to the prophesy of Zechariah: "Exult greatly, daughter of Sion! Cry out with joy, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you: he is just and victorious, humble, seated on an ass, a young ass." (Zach. 9, 9)

Jesus heads toward the Temple. People lay their coats before him, cut branches from the palms, which recalls the feast of the Dedication of the Temple. It is the scenario of another important feast too, Sukkot or the Feast of Tents, recalling the nomadic time in the desert when God watched over his People. In the same scenario, Ps 117 (118) is sung: fronds in hand, the People go up to the Temple. They raise their branches at certain set moments and cry out Hosanna, which means: "Save us!" This cry expresses the eschatalogical expectation of the definitive coming of the Messiah at the end of time. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

But this same humble Messiah that certain people recognize and acclaim, will be rejected by the city which trembles with all its being at his arrival. He will be dishonored, mocked, put to death as a common criminal. Jesus does not seek to avoid that because to do so would require that he abandon his atttitude of total consent to the way he follows, in intimate communion with his Father.

Lord, give us the grace to be taught, to let our ears be open to your Word and not try to avoid it, whatever the cost. To do this out of love for you and your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who died for our salavation.

—Sophie Ramond, R.A.