Sunday Sermon for April 9, 2017, Palm Sunday, Year A
Readings: Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66
Everyone loves a winner, but very few people will remain loyal to someone who fails. It is an amazing thing to watch the ebbs and flows of popular opinion. In the readings today we hear about fidelity and infidelity, about loyalty and betrayal.
We begin with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. There were crowds of people spreading their cloaks on the road before our Lord as He comes down the Mount of Olives toward Jerusalem, others filling the road with palm branches and crying our “Hosanna to the son of David, Hosanna in the highest.” They were more than happy to join in the glory, even to announce proudly that this was Jesus the Prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.
In the Gospel reading we see the opposite scene: our Lord is being persecuted and prosecuted while popular opinion turns on Him like the wind. The people who less than a week prior were extolling Him are now jeering and calling for His crucifixion. As human beings we seem to like whatever is popular in the present and we are quick to discard what was popular in just the recent past. Even worse, we give in to popular opinion rather than hold firm to what we know to be the truth.
It is one thing for a crowd to turn on Jesus since they knew little or nothing about Him, with the exception that He had raised Lazarus from the dead a few days before they hailed Him as He rode into Jerusalem. They did not have the insight that He was the Messiah they had long awaited. They did not have the experience of His daily teaching and witnessing the many miracles He performed.
The Apostles, on the other hand, did have this kind of knowledge, insight and experience. One can almost see in the imagination the Apostles walking along with Jesus rather smugly as He was entering Jerusalem amid the shouts of glory. Riding His coattails, they were soaking up the accolades as if it were a justification of their decision to remain with Jesus over the previous three years. At the Last Supper they all hear our Lord tell them that one of the Twelve would betray Him.
This shakes all of them, but only Peter is brazen enough to assure our Lord that He would remain faithful, even if everyone else betrayed Him. Of course, not only did Judas betray our Lord, but so did the other eleven, Peter in the most profound manner among them. Beyond this, we see the Chief Priests betray their sacred office and we see Pilate betray justice for fear of what might happen to himself if news of a riot reached the ears of the Emperor.
Through it all, our Lord remained faithful to His Heavenly Father. He accepted the rejections, the beatings, the flogging, and the crucifixion because He was not interested in popular opinion. He had come to earth for a purpose and He remained faithful to that purpose to the end. As He said: “the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me.”
There are a few lessons for us to learn here. First of all, we can never rely on ourselves or on our own strength. Because we are so fickle, like the crowds, and even like the Apostles, if the circumstances were right, we too would betray our Lord. The martyrs teach us that we will only be loyal if we love our Lord rather than just believe in Him.
The second lesson is that God will test our fidelity to Him. I suspect that for Peter and the other ten, their infidelity in this situation was probably a profound lesson learned. It is the recognition of their own weakness and the realization that they could and would betray our Lord if they relied on their own strength rather than His. This lesson kept them faithful until their own deaths that they accepted for Jesus. Each of us will be tested as well. Like the Apostles it is very possible that we will waffle; like the Apostles, this might be the very thing that will provide what we need to remain faithful later on.
The third lesson is that God is faithful, even if it does not appear that way on the surface. Like our Lord, we might want to intone Psalm 22 (21) because we feel like we have been abandoned by God. Like Jesus, we need to pray the entire Psalm which ends on a note of hope. Most of all, We know that Jesus is faithful. He has proven His fidelity to His Father and to us. Now it is our turn to prove that we are faithful to Him.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.