SUNDAY 5 APRIL 2020: PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION.

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Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, Lorenzetti, 1320, Lower Church of the Basilica of St. Francis, Assisi, Italy.

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings. 

The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David…”     Matthew 21:9.

You will recall last Sunday’s gospel, where Jesus revealed clearly the power of God that he had in calling Lazarus from death back to life. John places that greatest of all miracles in Bethany, close to Jerusalem, with Jesus giving no prohibition that this should be kept secret. Word must have spread like wildfire, and it’s pretty clear that all of Jerusalem knew of it, which explains today’s introductory gospel, only a few days later, with multitudes greeting him as the messianic “Son of David”. Only God has the power to raise from the dead. Jesus clearly had that power. Jesus was, therefore the long-awaited Messiah. The beautiful paean of praise which St. Paul writes in today’s second reading from Philippians encapsulates all that, a humble, generous man with the power of God almighty. Clearly the crowd thought of him as the savior for whom they had been waiting for centuries. Their idea of such was a stereotype, however. Their idea was that the Messiah would indeed have the power of God, which Jesus clearly had, who would bring everlasting peace, independence and freedom to the downtrodden Jewish state, crushed by the power of Rome. In other words, he would lead them into a battle for total freedom from political oppression. Well, the first clue that this was not going to happen was the method Jesus chose to enter the city, on a donkey! This was to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah centuries before. Also, it should have been the first clue, that this was not a Messiah of war! Alexander and Caesar did not ride donkeys! The Pharisees saw that, hence the plot to destroy him mentioned last week. Clearly they accepted the political Messiah image, and taking one look at the Lord they knew at once that this was not he, no matter what powers were claimed for him. However, he was a star that first Palm Sunday, Pharisees notwithstanding. But it set the stage for what was to follow, hence today’s reading of the Passion.

Betrayal is a terrible thing. It is often the inspiration of great art, plays, movies; the movie Ghost has a jolting moment of total betrayal, bringing gasps from the audience. Hamlet considers himself, and indeed his whole country, betrayed. Caesar’s last gasp was “et tu, Brute?” If ever one of us has been betrayed, it is a moment never forgotten (though it must be forgiven). In a way it brings down our trust and belief in the goodness of humanity. It occurs in Scripture also; consider Joseph, betrayed by his jealous brothers and sold into slavery. And then there is Passion Week. Within a few days, Jesus went from being lionized on entering Jerusalem, recognized by all as the Messiah at long last come to restore the glory of David’s kingdom, to that same crowd baying for his blood less than a week later. In the meantime, there had been no rallying cry to arms from him (especially at that time of Passover, celebrating the release of the ancient Hebrews enslaved in Egypt led by Moses); Jesus did not stand in a high place and exhort them to battle. Instead he padded around the temple, teaching and healing, a picture of total peace. And this with the city on edge, just waiting for the word! In their eyes this was the ultimate betrayal. Their highest of high hopes slowly crumbled away and it soon became obvious that this was not their liberating general, not their highest hope, not their Messiah. They had been betrayed! And they wanted revenge for this bitter disappointment.

So this is also an example of the destructive power of the stereotype. The messianic image of the new David leading the Jews into conquest, victory and, at long last, glory, had taken hold over the 500 years or so of Jewish servitude under Gentile, impure, rule. Jesus did not live up to that stereotype, and as a consequence he was submitted to a terrible fate, horrible even by the standards of the day, a deliberately humiliating and agonizing public torture and death. And strong stereotypes remain with us to this day. For example, if you are Irish, you must be a ****; if Muslim, a *********; if Polish or blond-haired, you must be  ****. Remember the fate of many Sikh men after 9/11? Out of pure ignorance, they were thought to be Muslim, hence many were hounded and beaten up. Innocent Muslims suffered the same fate. They were all stereotyped, and the consequence was the same: suffering and pain for no good reason whatsoever. Asian students are often stereotyped as highly intelligent. Well, many are, but there are average and lower than average Asian students too, and that stereotype applied to them is going to be an agony to endure – and there is nothing they can do about it. So one little thought for this Passiontide is to examine oneself to see if there are any destructive stereotypes lurking inside. The latest example appears to be the hounding, even physical abuse, of local people of Chinese descent, accusing them of bringing in the corona virus! Stereotypes are wrong, evil and cause nothing but pain and injustice. Put yourself in the shoes of those people in ancient Jerusalem, thinking themselves betrayed, baying for the blood of a completely innocent man, and then into his shoes…. He who had seen two of his own betray him (Judas and Peter), only to be abandoned by all the others when he needed support more than ever before.

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Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, Giltner, n.d., Free Bible Images.

The first reflection on the approaching Sacred Triduum will be posted on Tuesday.

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In these troubled times, here is some practical advice.

Roger

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