Sunday Sermon for April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday, Year A
Readings: Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66
Today we remember the remarkable change of perspective that took place among the people between the time Jesus came into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and the attitude of the people only five days later as they called for our Lord’s crucifixion. However, in the midst of that changing winds of opinion, what we find is that our Lord’s disposition remained the same.
In the first Gospel today, we hear the people crying out “Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest.” We often hear this referred to as the “Triumphal entry into Jerusalem.” However, when we look at what St. Matthew tells us about our Lord’s disposition, the only thing we are told is that He fulfilled what was spoken by the Prophet Zechariah: “Behold, your King comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
The fact that Jesus was riding on a donkey would not have raised too many eyebrows in ancient Israel because it was normal for the Israelites to ride donkeys. Horses were forbidden to the Israelites. However, the fact that this is a point of prophecy also tells us that many in Israel did not obey the Law in this regard and, instead, owned and rode horses. Jesus is one Who followed the Law, and He did as was commanded of the Israelites.
But the point is not just the obedience of riding the donkey; the statement made by Zechariah is that He was meek. If riding a horse could insinuate pride and power, then riding a donkey would suggest humility. So, even though the people were proclaiming as a great one, the disposition of our Lord was meekness and humility.
We see this same truth in the first reading where it is prophesied that the Messiah would give His back to beating and His cheeks to those who pluck His beard, yet He would neither rebel nor turn back. In the face of the degrading mistreatment of our Lord, He did not open His mouth to speak any words of anger or rebuke, He did not shield His face from buffets and spitting, and He kept His focus on His Father in Heaven. Therefore, even though what was done to Him was shameful and disgraceful, because of His meekness and humility, He was neither disgraced nor put to shame.
In the second reading we hear, once again, about the glorification of Jesus. However, the exaltation St. Paul talks about comes from our Lord’s obedience, even to the point of death on a Cross. St. Paul speaks specifically about the humility of our Lord in taking on our human nature and in His obedience. So, unlike what happened on Palm Sunday, the exaltation of our Lord by His Heavenly Father took place only after the humiliation of the Cross. Of course, Jesus is God, so when se say our Lord’s disposition did not change, then neither did the disposition of His Father change. God exalted Jesus (while on earth) on the Cross; and He exalted Him after His life on earth in the resurrection, ascension, and glorification in Heaven. God’s disposition was one of love, demonstrated by humility and service.
In the Gospel we are presented with the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. We hear about Judas betraying our Lord, we hear about Peter insisting that he would never deny the Lord, we hear about the Apostles falling asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. When Judas arrives with the soldiers, we hear about Peter cutting of the ear of the High Priest’s slave and the abandonment of our Lord by His Apostles. We then hear about the “trial” that took place at the home of Caiaphas and the injustice and disrespect with which our Lord was treated. Then, after Peter’s threefold denial, we are brought into the Praetorium to witness the mockery of justice that happened and the calling for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus. Finally, we are brought to Calvary where our Lord was crucified and died. Through all this the meekness and humility of our Lord were on full display. He was meek and humble in His dealings with Judas, the High Priest, Peter, Pilate, the soldiers who mocked and scourged Him, the crowd who called for His crucifixion, and the repentant thief on the cross. For many of us, our tendency is to take our eyes off God, focus only on ourselves or on the injustice, and lash out in anger and in pride. But we know our Lord’s gift must be received with the same disposition as it was given: meekness and humility. Giving us this opportunity, God is conforming us to Christ, glorifying us on earth, and preparing us to share in our Lord’s exaltation in Heaven.
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.