Homily for April 17, V Palm Sunday, cycle A
At first glance, today’s liturgy could seem contradictory. We start off with the Gospel account of how Jesus entered Jerusalem in a triumphant procession, acclaimed as a prophet and the Son of David coming in the name of the Lord, implicitly acknowledged as king. Then, we have the long reading of the Passion, where the crowds reject Him and call for His execution, and mock Him as He dies on the cross. It could seem as if Jesus has failed.
Yet, we know that this is not the case. Jesus is no less King while on the cross than He was when He entered Jerusalem fulfilling the prophecy quoted by the Evangelist, that the King would come riding on the colt of a donkey. The problem is in the way that humanity tends to understand kingship, power and authority.
We have dramatic examples of the corrupt extremes to which human authority tends in all the countries that have fallen under the power of abusive dictators. Even in democratic countries, politicians are tempted to the abuse of power for self-advancement and the benefit of their immediate friends and family. This is contrary to the purpose of authority, which is to protect the good of those under one’s care. As Jesus explained to His disciples earlier on in the Gospel, “you know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28)
This is exactly what we see Christ do today. He is the King who guides His people as a shepherd guides His flock. His willingly accepted sacrifice on the Cross is a supremely kingly act by which He conquers the greatest enemies of humankind – sin and death – and opens for us the door to His heavenly kingdom. The reading of the Passion is the fulfillment and necessary follow-up to His triumphant, kingly entrance into Jerusalem. Not only is it not a failure; it is a victory. As the second reading says, it was because of this that “God greatly exalted Him” so that every person “in heaven, on earth and under the earth” should “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
But there is a failure here – a failure of humanity. The terrible suffering of Our Lord would not be necessary if not for the sins of humanity. Every time we sin, we join the crowds who mocked and rejected Jesus, and the soldiers who crucified Him. May this Holy Week strengthen our resolve to strive to live a life free from sin. And may we be more thankful than ever for the boundless love of our Creator who loves us so much, that He takes our sins upon Himself, and dies that we may live.