Sunday, March 29, 2015

Holy Week Reflections, Part I: Palm Sunday

There will be no Ten (or Observations) at all this week. Instead, I'll be doing a reflection on an event that corresponds to each day of Holy Week, all the way through Easter Sunday itself. It is a purification of sorts; to remind oneself that it isn't always about this world and this life. Politics, sports, and culture are all important, but in the end, we aren't taking any of those things beyond. The Ten will resume on Monday, April 6. -- J.L.

In ancient times, a conquering king would enter a new acquisition through the gate with the people rushing out to meet him.  Usually, the king would be riding some magnificent horse while his army would be surrounding him in the meantime.  The people would throw down their cloaks to signify that the king was "too good" for the dirt of their "fair" city.

When Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem on that Sunday nearly two thousand years ago, there were a lot of superficial similarities to conquering kings. The people running out to greet him along with throwing down their cloaks  to cover the ground come to mind.  But that is where the similarities end. Instead of a horse, Jesus rode a jackass into Jerusalem, and instead of an army to surround him, he had his twelve disciples escorting him as they shouted "Hosanna!" and "Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!"

The Gospel of Matthew notes that these greetings caused a great disturbance in Jerusalem.  No wonder! This carpenter from Nazareth was being given greetings that were supposed to only be for the Messiah, and considering that the Jews of those days expected a radically different Messiah, it makes sense that there would be a lot of confusion among the people of Jerusalem.

The Messiah expected at that point was supposed to be the conquering warrior who would raise an army to take on the evil Roman oppressors. Yet, the guy who was riding on an ass (an animal of peace) with his followers waving palm branches (a traditional symbol of peace as well) was being given the Messianic greetings.  It was a fitting entrance for the One who is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  Many were joining in with the greetings and the shouts of joy, but it would be revealed just five days later how fickle the crowds could be.

In a way, this is a challenge to us - as human beings we can be very fickle, but our faith in the Lord demands a particular loyalty that can't just be cast aside whenever it is convenient.  The other challenge is to look for things in places where they may not be expected.  The Messiah was expected to be A, but ended up being B; so it is with many things in our lives and our faith journey. Are we open to the possibility that we may bark up the wrong tree in certain aspects of our lives, or do we allow ourselves to be blinded by our own pride?

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:1-2).

Kyrie Eleison.

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