Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, Felix Tafsart 1896, location unknown. 

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Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!  Mark 11:9-10.

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Thus begins the fateful last week of the Lord’s life here with us on earth. Firstly, Jesus had a triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem, lauded as the new David, the one who would restore Palestine to the new kingdom of David. The Hebrews had waited for this for over 500 years (since the Babylonians had conquered them in 597BC and destroyed the first Temple, followed by a string of other occupiers). At last they believed they were able to proclaim freedom, hence their wild enthusiasm and jubilant cries. Yet within only a few days they would be calling for his blood, and witnessing his barbaric death as a criminal physically nailed to a wooden cross and left to die. This can only be understood by looking at the events which began with what we now call Palm Sunday. What on earth precipitated this cataclysmic descent from glory to degradation? Strangely, Jesus himself was the only one to understand this, to prepare himself for it as best he could, and walk the inevitable steps to disaster. The week began with the popular Jewish idea of the liberating Messiah being welcomed into the holy city, as prophesied by the prophet Zechariah, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem. See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). As the week progressed, this image of the Messiah  switched slowly to God’s understanding of the Messiah, radically different from the popular expectation that the new David would expel the Romans, the latest in a long line of occupiers in the Holy Land, and then restore independence and right government. So, in the days following Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, they waited hour by hour for the call to arms. It never came. There is even a scene in the “Jesus of Nazareth” movie, not found in the gospels, with Barabbas approaching Jesus in the Temple (Find it at 4:08:03). There he tells Jesus that all is ready for the anti-Roman insurrection, and all they need is for Jesus to give the call. Jesus, on the contrary, tells him to forgive them all, not fight them all. Jesus says that those who take up the sword will perish by the sword (which is in the gospel, Matthew 26:52, when Jesus rebuked Peter for cutting off the high priest’s servant’s ear). Barabbas, of course, is astounded, and leaves him. That was not what he wanted to hear! But this is the explanation of why, in a matter of days, the worshipping crowd welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem was transformed into a mob screaming for his blood, so bitter was the disappointment. Jesus indeed was the Messiah, long promised, but he was God’s Messiah, not that mythic figure constructed in the popular mind. And that was Jesus’ undoing. To have called everyone to arms would have negated his entire mission and message. Jesus was the Messiah of love and peace, the exact opposite of what everyone was waiting for. Look at today’s second reading, the most beautiful and profound description of the Lord in all Scripture. Yes he had the power to do what they wanted, but that was not God’s will. Jesus came to serve, not to conquer. 

Passion week is captured in this hymn, My Song is Love Unknown, written by a Puritan minister in England in 1664:

My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I,
That for my sake
My Lord should take
Frail flesh and die?

He came from His blest throne
Salvation to bestow;
But men made strange, and none
The longed-for Christ would know:
But O! my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need
His life did spend.

Sometimes they strew His way,
And His sweet praises sing;
Resounding all the day
Hosannas to their King:
Then “Crucify!”
is all their breath,
And for His death
they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done?
What makes this rage and spite?
He made the lame to run,
He gave the blind their sight,
Sweet injuries!
Yet they at these
Themselves displease,
and ’gainst Him rise.

They rise and needs will have
My dear Lord made away;
A murderer they save,
The Prince of life they slay,
Yet cheerful He
to suffering goes,
That He His foes
from thence might free.

In life no house, no home,
My Lord on earth might have;
In death no friendly tomb,
But what a stranger gave.
What may I say?
Heav’n was his home;
But mine the tomb
Wherein he lay.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
in Whose sweet praise
I all my days
could gladly spend.

Set to music by John Ireland.


Christ Teaches, Catacomb of St. Domitilla, 2nd Century, Rome, Italy.

Reflections on the Holy Triduum Mass Readings will be posted on Tuesday.

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