by Rev. Joseph Nangle, ofm
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?'” ~Matthew 21:10
The final entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, which we celebrate today, Palm Sunday, was a profile in courage. It was also an example for all of us in the midst of this pandemic.
From the moment Jesus appeared publicly in Galilee and then in Judea, he was seen as a threat to the status quo of his country. Early on after his challenging words to his neighbors in the synagogue of Nazareth they wanted to hurl him from the top of the hill on which their village was built. As his public ministry unfolded, he was frequently in conflict with the religious-political authorities of his country, condemning them for their “pious” duplicity – holding the people to a lengthy set of rigid rules while ignoring God’s basic mandates themselves.
Later on we hear Jesus advising his disciples that he would ultimately go to Jerusalem and there be mistreated, beaten and killed by those same authorities. Then shortly before that final entry into the city, his disciples warned him against going near there, even when the sisters of his friend Lazarus had sent word from a town near the city that their brother was dying.
Jesus surely must have known as well that shortly after he had miraculously called Lazarus from the tomb, the chief priests and the Pharisees held an emergency meeting where their leader told them that it would be better for one man to die than for the whole nation to perish. Such was their mortal fear of Jesus’s growing influence among ordinary people.
And yet as we read in the Gospel of St. Luke (Chapter 9:51), Jesus resolutely set his face toward Jerusalem. Nothing and no one could turn him back.
Did he know as he entered the city that day just what awaited him? Perhaps not in detail. But he did know that “his hour had come” and that the powers of darkness would have their dreadful way with him. Did he experience fear? Without doubt – he was human after all. Still he proceeded inexorably toward what we now know as the fulfillment of the Pascal mystery: Jesus’ death, burial and ultimate triumph, Resurrection.
This is what we call to mind on this Palm Sunday. The cheering of the crowds as he rode triumphantly into the city could not have blinded Jesus to the powers of evil lying in wait for him. In fact we will get a sense of Jesus’s emotional state on next Thursday night when we read in the Gospel of his mental anguish just before his capture and hours of horror. Still, he refused to let fear dominate his actions. Throughout all of this his was a profile in courage.
There is no need to detail the parallels between that dramatic and courageous mindset of Jesus and the moment of testing we experience today. They are crystal clear. As Pope Francis said last Friday in his homily to the world: “Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities. It has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by … We find ourselves afraid and lost.”
But what we witness this Palm Sunday in Jesus’ steadfast journey into the depths of darkness is also an invitation. Again, it is Pope Francis who verbalized this invitation in his call to the world on that same occasion last Friday. He said, “The Lord asks us… invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering.”