It is Palm Sunday this week. Growing up Catholic this was always the week I forgot about how long the readings were until I arrived at Mass. I then found myself groaning about having to sit through the whole Passion. Now I wonder what living it must have been like, as I sit in my ultra-comfortable position.
The Crowd with Jesus
The readings contain two texts. The opening text contains the joyous arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, Luke 19:28-40. The crowd is clearly with Jesus at this point, as they assume he is the expected Messiah. A Messiah that the crowd expected to lead them to freedom from Roman rule ala King David. Sort of a Make Israel Great Again movement.
It is easy to get why the crowd misunderstood Jesus. We humans often take a while to get the point, and to be fair they did not know how the story was going to end: the Resurrection, whereas we do.
On top of that Jesus was using clear Messianic imagery by arriving in Jerusalem atop a colt and receiving the crowds the way he did. All of this, in addition to Jesus’ teachings all along, posed a clear threat to the Temple power structure. This was of concern to Pilate who wanted a peaceable province above all.
Following the Will of God
The story continues with the much longer Palm Sunday text, Luke 22:14-23:56. There are likely a dozen sermons worth of material in this passage, so I will comment on only a small portion of it. What seems most notable is Jesus’ complete focus on serving. He, in response to the disciples jostling about who is greatest, points out that the leader must be like one who serves (Luke 22: 27). This is a clear call to all of us about how we are to orient ourselves in response to God’s gift of Grace upon Grace. What is most stunning is that this orientation is present in Jesus as well. In Luke 22:42, Jesus asks the Father if he can lift the awful burden that Jesus must carry. He specifically asks his father to “remove this cup from me; yet not my will but your will be done”. The submission to the Father is for all, even Jesus.
It is also clear that in addition to sacrifice, serving means healing. This is the moment when we should all realize what was so stunningly new about what God was doing through his son. Jesus will serve, by sacrificing, and thereby save, not by taking another life but by willingly laying down his own. Not only that but Jesus will see no violence done in his name or in defense of his safety in the face of what he must endure. The guard’s ear is cut off, but Jesus will have none of this and not only does he stop any additional violence Jesus heals the guard and makes him whole again (Luke 22:50-51).
The Crowd Against Jesus
At this point in the story the crowd has decidedly turned against Jesus. The fickleness of crowds should not surprise us, nothing has changed for humanity in 2000+ years. The crowd goes from Hosanna in the highest to crucify him! (Luke 23;23). The majority, then and now, only wants to follow a winner, and Jesus’s prospects at this point are looking dim. Jesus remains the sacrificial servant in the face of the hostility of the crowd and in his submission to all the humiliations heaped upon him. This should serve as a reminder that God knows what human suffering is through his son. Jesus goes peaceably to his fate, on our behalf.
Who Are We in this Drama?
The question for all of us from our vantage point in the 21st. century is, as followers of Jesus who are we in this drama? Are we Barabbas, guilty but set free or are we the crowd who demands vengeance upon Jesus? (Luke 23:20). Are we the mocking condemned criminal next to Jesus on the cross or are we the penitent one who asks Jesus to remember him when he comes into his kingdom? (Luke 23:39-43). Do we truly trust Jesus as Risen Lord? If so, what is our response to the sacrificial servant? Every day we get to answer this question and show who we are by our belief and our obedience. Be the Remnant not the Majority.
Praise Be to God