Today is Palm Sunday and let us first very briefly try to understand the meaning and context of the waving of the palms and the welcoming of Jesus when He entered Jerusalem. If we were to read the earlier chapters of St Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 21:6-9) we would find Jesus riding on a donkey and entering Jerusalem. And as he does so, the Jews were all cheering Him and chanting “Hosanna,” spreading their cloaks in front of Him and cutting branches from palm trees and waiving at Him with great excitement and acclaiming Him as their Saviour and King; who has come to save them from their pain and misery of oppression.
The word “Hosanna” means “save now” and it was the cry for help to their king or their god. Note also that Jesus did not enter Jerusalem on a horse, but a donkey. In the West, the donkey is a despised animal, but in the East it is a noble animal. When a king rides on a horse, he is riding for war, but when he rides on a donkey he rides and comes in peace. On this occasion, Jesus chose a donkey that was never ridden before; this was to signify the special and sacredness of the occasion. So, when Jesus claims to be a King, He is claiming to be a King that does not destroy, but a King that brings Peace and Love; a king that does not to condemn, but to help; a king that will not to use the might of arms, but the strength of His Love.
However, if a non-believer who did not know anything about Jesus, were to listen to today’s Gospel Passion account, he would likely conclude it to be a tragic story of failure.
He would simply hear of how Jesus is being betrayed by one of His chosen apostle, Judas Iscariot; how He suffered His agony in the Garden alone as His apostles gave Him no support in their sleep; how when He was arrested, they all fled for their lives in fear. And how when Jesus affirmed that He was indeed the “Son of God” the chief priests, Sadducees and Pharisees condemned Him to death; and no one was there to defend His innocence. His enemies then mocked Him, spat at His face, crowned Him and finally crucified Him as a criminal.
It is understandable that a non-believer who does not know anything about Jesus would never be attracted to Jesus because rarely do people support and follow the failures of lives. We all want to support heroes, we all clamour for success stories because we tend to equate heroes and success with happiness in life. To illustrate this point, last night, I looked up the newspaper on what films were showing. Films that are being screened do give us good indications of what interests the public. This is how some of these films are advertised.
There is the movie entitled, “Drive Angry” by Nicholas Cage and it is advertised as, “The exhilaration is infectious.” I am just wondering how can we get exhilaration by being an angry driver? Then there is the movie, “The Ultimate Winner,” and the advert say, “Catch the high stakes gambling thriller; everyone is after something.” Then we have “B.K.O., Bangkok Knockout, that says, “the ultimate fight of their lives . . . only the strongest will survive. We also have, the movie entitled, “Limitless” that is advertised as, “What if a pill could make you rich and powerful? A brilliant, intoxicating, contagiously thrilling movie; we also have “Let the Bullets fly,” by Chow Yun Fat; obviously a violent movie.
Media is constantly bombarding us with such thrillers and fantasies, and filling our minds with heroes that are mercilessly violent, and the fantasies of getting rich and powerful advertised as, “brilliant, intoxicating and contagiously thrilling.” Thus, it would be quite impossible to churn up excitement for non-believers and even for some of us about a king who in today’s Passion account sits on a donkey and portrays a tragic story of failure that ends in being condemned to death as a criminal?
These movies that I mentioned, that sell and attract the general public distort and destroywhat life is truly about. Movie producers spend hundreds of millions of dollars to feed viewers with images of false hopes, and provide temporary gratification to unfulfilled dreams of success and sub-consciously create an avenue of escapism from the real harsh world that demands responsible living, sacrificial love and commitment in relationships and vocations.
And it is in such reality of the harshness of life that today’s Passion story of Jesus giving up His life for our eternal salvation addresses. As believers, we all know that today’s story of Jesus’ death is a success story that ends in the Resurrection of Jesus, and in His offering of eternal life to all of us. However, before this can happen, we are each challenged to accept Jesus as our model, the saints of the Church as our heroes, and the many good people we know who live an exemplary faith to be our inspiration to change our lives for the better.
In great contrasts to the destructive effects of the movies that I mentioned earlier, the lifestyle that Jesus offers is one that is rooted in a reality a sacrificial love that makes us live responsible lives that builds families, reaffirms commitment in relationships and brings peace and unity to this world. The mindless violence in movies and in the world we live in can only destroy and they can never bring peace regardless of our justification; the fantasies that feed our dreams can only make us superficial and the false hopes of lives to get rich as quickly and as painlessly as we can, can only create immaturity and often insanity; never reality.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, today’s Passion story of Jesus is about sacrificial love; we cannot get more real than Jesus, the Son of God sacrificing His life because He loves us and wants us all to be saved. God Himself, in the person of Jesus is showing us through His life and death that if we want true happiness and fulfillment in life, then we must be willing to make sacrifices out for the sake and good of others; more importantly and most ideally, our sacrificial love comes from our love for God.
And so, let me conclude by saying that when the crowds were clamouring and cheering Jesus as their King, as “Hosanna, in the Highest,” He did not wave back in response. Jesus was able to see beyond the superficial glamour and glory that the crowd was according Him. His attention and focus was on the reality of fulfilling His Father’s Will. And that demands a sacrificial love that spelt His intense suffering and death. And Jesus accepted all these with great courage, peace and obedience to His Father’s Will.
The question then for all of us here is, “How willing are we to make sacrifices for the people we love, people in need, and most importantly for the sake and salvation of every human person in the world regardless of who they are? These are our daily challenges and let us allow the abundant graces of this Holy Week to turn God’s desires for us into a reality, by our Christ-like lifestyle of our selfless sacrificial love
Fr Philip Heng,S.J.
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