Synopsis of Palm Sunday Homily on Mt: 21: 1-11 & 27:11-54 (L/17)
Introduction: The Church celebrates this sixth Sunday of Lent as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. This is the time of year we stop to remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation. What we commemorate and relive during this week is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our own dying and rising in Him, which will result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Attentive participation in the Holy Week liturgy will deepen our relationship with God, increase our Faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus. Today’s liturgy combines contrasting moments, one of glory, the other of suffering: the royal welcome of Jesus in Jerusalem and the drama of His trial, culminating in His crucifixion, death and burial.
Scripture lessons: Today’s first reading, the third of Isaiah’s four Servant Songs, like the other three, foreshadows Jesus’ own life and mission. The Second Reading, taken from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of Who Jesus is, and of how His mission saves us from sin and death. The first part of today’s Gospel describes the royal reception Jesus received from His admirers, who paraded with Him for a distance of two miles: from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Matthew. We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the Passion story – like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience as he condemned Jesus to death on the cross, and the leaders of the people who preserved their position by getting rid of Jesus.
Life messages: We need to answer 5 questions today: 1) Does Jesus weep over my sinful soul as He wept over Jerusalem at the beginning of His Palm Sunday procession? 2) Am I a barren fig tree? God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness. Am I a barren fig tree? Or worse, do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness? 3) Will Jesus need to cleanse my heart with his whip? Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my business mentality or calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God, my Heavenly Father. 4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart? Am I ready to surrender my life to him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior? Let the palms remind us that Christ is our King and the true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in life. 5) Are we like the humble donkey that carried Jesus, bringing Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service to our families, places of work and communities by the way we live our lives?
PALM SUNDAY Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt: 21: 1-11 (Procession); 27:11-  66 (Mass)
Anecdote: #1: Reminder of Maccabean victory celebration: A key element of understanding the connection between the Palm Sunday reception given to Jesus and Good Friday is to recognize that the actions, words and symbols of Palm Sunday indicated a religious and political Messiah who would save the Jews from foreign rule and regain for them religious and political freedom. The occasion of reception was carefully chosen by Jesus’ disciples to coincide with the Passover feast which celebrated the Jewish liberation from Egyptian rule and slavery. The palms used in the procession and the slogan used (Hosanna meaning save us, God) were those used in the 164 BC Maccabean victory parade to the Temple. That parade took place after the Maccabean army, led by Judas Maccabeus, had defeated the ruling Greek king and his army and liberated both the city of Jerusalem and the Temple which the Greeks had desecrated. In 1 Maccabees 13:51, we read: “On the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered it with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel.” It was natural, then, that the Romans saw the crowds of people carrying palm branches and giving a royal reception to a very popular, miracle-working rabbi, Jesus, as a potential threat to their power and a banner for revolution. Hence, the governor Pilate and his counselors were justified in their concern. They interpreted people’s slogan “Hosanna” as “save us” from Roman occupation. Besides, the Jewish rabbi had been teaching that the final redemption of the Jews would take place with the Messiah’s arrival. With 1½ to 2 million Jews in and around the city for the Passover, the situation was highly volatile, and Jesus’ ride on a donkey as prophesied by Zachariah seemed to have all the signs of producing great trouble and revolt. So the Romans informally made allies of some of the Temple priesthood (largely Sadducees) who were planning to arrest Jesus (the suspected center for the trouble), because these priests were the people most closely allied to Rome, and would lose their power and income in the case of a popular uprising. This collusion between Pilate and the High Priest Caiaphas and their supporters is exactly what we see in the Passion accounts describing the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Given the political, religious and social context, this is hardly surprising. Keeping that in the back of our minds helps us to make sense of certain parts of the action that will follow. (Fr. Murray from Jerusalem).
# 3: Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of the Holy Week: On Palm Sunday, April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant, General of the Union Army, at the McLean house in Appomattox, Virginia. This surrender ended the bloodiest war ever fought on American soil. State against state, brother against brother, it was a conflict that literally tore the nation apart. Five days later, on Good Friday, April 14, 1865, America’s most revered president, Abraham Lincoln, was shot and mortally wounded by John Wilkes Booth in Ford’s Theatre. It was Lincoln who wrote the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that ended slavery in the U.S. forever. It was Lincoln who wrote and gave The Gettysburg Address. Lincoln hated war, but he was drawn into this one because he believed it was the only way to save the nation. On Palm Sunday the war ended. Triumph. On Good Friday, Abraham Lincoln became the first U.S. president to be assassinated. Tragedy. Welcome to Holy Week. Welcome to the triumph and the tragedy of the six days preceding Easter. (Surrender location corrected by Fr. Richard W. Frank, firstname.lastname@example.org)
# 3: Are you a donkey with a Christian name or one carrying Christ? An interesting as well as challenging old fable tells of the colt that carried Jesus on Palm Sunday. The colt thought that the reception was organized to honor him. “I am a unique donkey!” this excited animal might have thought. When he asked his mother if he could walk down the same street alone the next day and be honored again, his mother said, “No, you are nothing without Him who was riding you.” Five days later, the colt saw a huge crowd of people in the street. It was Good Friday, and the soldiers were taking Jesus to Calvary. The colt could not resist the temptation of another royal reception. Ignoring the warning of his mother, he ran to the street, but he had to flee for his life as soldiers chased him and people stoned him. Thus, the colt finally learned the lesson that he was only a poor donkey without Jesus to ride on him. As we enter Holy Week, today’s readings challenge us to examine our lives to see whether we carry Jesus within us and bear witness to Him through our living or whether we are Christians in name only.
# 4: Zechariah foresaw it and Jesus fulfilled it: The Greek author Plutarch describes how Kings are supposed to enter a city. He tells about one Roman general, Aemilius Paulus, who won a decisive victory over the Macedonians. When Aemilius returned to Rome, his triumphal procession lasted three days. The first day was dedicated to displaying all the artwork that Aemilius and his army had plundered. The second day was devoted to all the weapons of the Macedonians they had captured. The third day began with the rest of the plunder borne by 250 oxen, whose horns were covered in gold. This included more than 17,000 pounds of gold coins. Then came the captured and humiliated king of Macedonia and his extended family. Finally, Aemilius himself entered Rome, riding in a magnificent chariot. Aemilius wore a purple robe, interwoven with gold. He carried his laurels in his right hand. He was accompanied by a large choir singing hymns, praising the military accomplishments of the great Aemilius. (http://www.sigurdgrindheim.com/sermons/king.html ) That, my friends, is how a King enters a city. But the King of Kings? He entered riding on a lowly donkey. Zechariah envisioned the King of Kings, the Messiah, coming not on a great stallion, but riding on a humble donkey. Zechariah foresaw it. Jesus fulfilled it. (http://www.tosapres.com/sermons.php?sermon=96)
Introduction: The Church celebrates this Sixth Sunday in Lent as both Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. It is on Palm Sunday that we enter Holy Week, welcoming Jesus into our lives and asking Him to allow us a share in His suffering, death and Resurrection. This is the time of the year when we stop to remember and relive the events which brought about our redemption and salvation. The Holy Week liturgies present us with the actual events of the dying and rising of Jesus. These liturgies enable us to experience in our lives here and now what Jesus went through then. In other words, what we commemorate and relive during this week is not just Jesus’ dying and rising, but our own dying and rising in Him, which result in our healing, reconciliation, and redemption. Just as Jesus did, we, too, must lay down our lives freely by actively participating in the Holy Week liturgies. In doing so, we are allowing Jesus to forgive us our sins, heal the wounds in us caused by our sins and the sins of others and transform us more completely into the image and likeness of God. In this way, we will be able to live more fully the Divine life we received at Baptism. Attentive participation in the Holy Week liturgies will also deepen our relationship with God, increase our Faith and strengthen our lives as disciples of Jesus. But let us remember that Holy Week can become “holy” for us only if we actively and consciously take part in the liturgies of this week. During this week of the Passion — passionate suffering, passionate grace, passionate love and passionate forgiving – each of us is called to remember the Christ of Calvary and then to embrace and lighten the burden of the Christ Whose passion continues to be experienced in the hungry, the poor, the sick, the homeless, the aged, the lonely and the outcast. Today’s liturgy combines two contrasting moments, one of glory, the other of suffering – the welcome of Jesus into Jerusalem and the drama of His trial which ends in His crucifixion and death. Let us rejoice and sing as Jesus comes into our life today. Let us also weep and mourn as His death confronts us with our sin. The African-American song asks the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed Him to a tree?” The answer is yes, a definite yes. Yes, we were there in the crowd on both days, shouting ‘Hosanna!’ and later ‘Crucify Him!’
First reading, Isaiah 50:4-7: In the middle section of the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapters 40-55, there are four short passages which scholars have called the Songs of the Suffering Servant. Today’s first reading is the third Servant Song. These four songs are about a mysterious figure whose suffering brings about a benefit for the people. In the original author’s mind, the servant was probably a figure for the people of Israel, or for a faithful remnant within the people. However, Jesus saw aspects of His own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs, and the Church refers to them in this time of solemn meditation on the climax of Jesus’ life. In today’s Psalm, the Psalmist puts his trust in Yahweh for deliverance and salvation. The context of this day’s worship also conveys Jesus’ confidence in God’s protection in the midst of His trial and crucifixion.
Second Reading, Philippians 2:6-11 is an ancient Christian hymn representing a very early Christian understanding of Who Jesus is and how His mission saves us from sin and death. It is a message that Paul received from those who had been converted to Christ. “Jesus was Divine from all eternity. But he didn’t cling to that. Rather He emptied Himself and became human. He accepted further humbling by obeying [the constraints of the] human condition even unto death by crucifixion. So, God highly exalted Him, giving Him the highest title in the universe.” Christians reading this passage today are joining the first people who ever pondered the meaning of Jesus’ life and mission. We’re singing their song and reciting their creed during this special time of the year when we remember the most important things Our Lord did.
The first part of today’s Gospel describes the royal reception which Jesus received from His admirers, who paraded with Him for a distance of two miles: from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. Two-and-a-half million people were normally present to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover. Jesus permitted such a royal procession for two reasons: 1) to reveal to the general public that He was the promised Messiah, and 2) to fulfill the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Zephaniah (3:16-19): “Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion…. see now your King comes to you; He is victorious, triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zech. 9:9). (The traditional “Palm Sunday Procession” at Jerusalem began in the fourth century AD when the Bishop of Jerusalem led the procession from the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Ascension). In the second part of today’s Gospel, we listen to the Passion of Christ according to Matthew. We are challenged to examine our own lives in the light of some of the characters in the story like Peter who denied Jesus, Judas who betrayed Jesus, Pilate who acted against his conscience, Herod who ridiculed Jesus, and the leaders of the people who preserved their position by getting rid of Jesus.
Exegetical notes on part I of today’s Gospel: 1) Jesus rides on a lowly donkey: In those days, kings used to travel in such processions on horseback during wartime, but preferred to ride a donkey in times of peace. I Kings 1:38-41 describes how Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation. Jesus entered the Holy City as a King of peace, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. The Gospel specifically mentions that the colt Jesus selected for the procession was one that had not been ridden before, reminding us of a stipulation given in I Samuel 6:7 concerning the animal that was to carry the Ark of the Covenant.
2) The mode of reception given: Jesus was given the royal reception usually reserved for a King or military commander. I Maccabees 13:51ff describes such a reception given to the Jewish military leader Simon Maccabaeus in 171 BC. II Maccabees 10:6-8 refers to a similar reception given to another military general, Judas Maccabaeus, who led the struggle against the Roman commander, Antiochus IV Epiphanes and liberated the Temple from the Romans in 163 BC.
3) The slogans used: The participants sang the “Hallel” Psalm (Psalm 118), and shouted the words of Psalms 25 and 26. The Greek word “hosiana” originally meant “save us now” (II Samuel 14:4). The people sang the entire Psalm 118 on the Feast of the Tabernacles when they marched seven times around the Altar of the Burnt Offering. On Palm Sunday, however, the people used the prayer “Hosanna” as a slogan of greeting. It meant “God save the King of Israel.”
4) The symbolic meaning of the Palm Sunday procession: Nearly 25,000 lambs were sacrificed during the feast of the “Pass Over,” but the lamb which was to be sacrificed by the High Priest was taken to the Temple in a procession four days before the main feast day. On Palm Sunday, Jesus, the true Paschal Lamb, was also taken to the Temple in a large procession.
5) Reaction of Jesus: Before the beginning of the procession, Jesus wept over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41-42), and when the procession was over, He cleansed the Temple (Lk 19:45-46). On the following day, He cursed a barren fig tree.
Life Messages: 1) Does Jesus weep over me? There is a Jewish saying, “Heaven rejoices over a repentant sinner and sheds tears over a non-repentant, hardhearted one.” Are we ready to imitate the prodigal son and return to God, our loving Father, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation during this last week of Lent and participate fully in the joy of Christ’s Resurrection?
2) Am I a barren fig tree? God expects me to produce fruits of holiness, purity, justice, humility, obedience, charity, and forgiveness. Am I a barren fig tree? Or, worse, do I continue to produce bitter fruits of impurity, injustice, pride, hatred, jealousy and selfishness?
3) Will Jesus need to cleanse my heart with His whip? Jesus cannot tolerate the desecration of the temple of the Holy Spirit in me by my addiction to uncharitable, unjust and impure thoughts words and deeds; neither does He approve of my calculation of loss and gain in my relationship with God.
4) Do I welcome Jesus into my heart? Am I ready to surrender my life to Him during this Holy Week and welcome Him into all areas of my life as my Lord and Savior, singing “Hosanna”? Today, we receive palm branches at the Divine Liturgy. Let us take them to our homes and put them some place where we can always see them. Let the palms remind us that Christ is the King of our families, that Christ is the King of our hearts and that Christ is the only true answer to our quest for happiness and meaning in our lives. And if we do proclaim Christ as our King, let us try to make time for Him in our daily life; let us be reminded that He is the One with Whom we will be spending eternity. Let us be reminded further that our careers, our education, our finances, our homes, all of the basic material needs in our lives are only temporary. Let us prioritize and place Christ the King as the primary concern in our lives. It is only when we have done this that we will find true peace and happiness in our confused and complex world.
5) Are we ready to become like the humble donkey that carried Jesus? As we “carry Jesus” to the world, we can expect to receive the same welcome that Jesus received on Palm Sunday, but we must also expect to meet the same opposition, crosses and trials later. Like the donkey, we are called upon to carry Christ to a world that does not know Him. Let us always remember that a Christian without Christ is a contradiction in terms. Such a one betrays the Christian message. Hence, let us become transparent Christians during this Holy Week, enabling others to see in us Jesus’ universal love, unconditional forgiveness and sacrificial service.
6) Can we face these questions on Palm Sunday? Are we willing to follow Jesus, not just to Church but in our daily life? Are we willing to entrust ourselves to Him even when the future is frightening or confusing, believing God has a plan? Are we willing to serve Him until that day when His plan on earth is fulfilled? These are the questions of Palm Sunday. Let us take a fresh look at this familiar event. We might be surprised at what we see. It could change us forever.
Jokes of the week: 1) Little Johnny was sick on Palm Sunday and stayed home from Church with his mother. His father returned from Church holding a palm branch. The little boy was curious and asked, “Why do you have that palm branch, dad?” His father explained, “You see, when Jesus came into town, everyone waved palm branches to honor Him; so we got palm branches today.” “Aw, shucks,” grumbled Little Johnny. “The one Sunday I can’t go to Church, and Jesus shows up!”
2) The king on a donkey! Some of you heard my story about the husband and the wife who had quarreled. It had been a pitched battle of wills, each digging heels in to preserve the position each had vehemently taken. Emotions had run high. As they were driving to attend a family wedding in a distant city, both were nursing hurt feelings in defensive silence. The angry tension between them was so thick you could cut it with a knife. But, then the silence was broken. Pointing to a donkey standing in a pasture out beside the road, the husband sarcastically asked, “Relative of yours?” The wife quickly replied, “By marriage!”