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Palm Sunday (25.03.18)
People’s attitudes are fickle. Palm Sunday is the gateway into a week of profoundly altering attitudes. The cries of “Hosanna”, voiced by the crowds that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, lasted just five days. They were replaced by shouts of “Crucify him! His blood be upon us and upon our children”.
The regular citizenry of Jerusalem would have been greatly increased with incomers who had arrived for the celebration of the major Jewish festival of Passover. The Roman Army would have increased their garrison strength well aware that among the incomers would have been dissenting Jews eager to seize the opportunity to foment a revolt. Jesus and his out-of-town assorted companions would have known they were stepping into a political cauldron, always fermenting, but seriously on edge at festival times. No Jew would have been unaware of the troubled history of Jerusalem from both aspects, religion and politics. It was then, as it remains now, an unholy mix.
People, generally, find correction more difficult to accept than congratulations because an acknowledgement of culpability is often a pre-requirement for the acceptance of correction. People, at that time, were willing to listen to Jesus and make him welcome for the signs and wonders he worked. But Jesus also experienced how popular opinion could turn against him when his teaching brought chastisement and challenge. Even the people of Nazareth, where he had been brought up, turned against Jesus when he challenged them (Luke 4: 14-30)
Palm Sunday is the threshold of the holiest week in the Christian calendar. As the week unfolds, Christians will be led through the full gamut of human emotions from the “Hosannas” of Palm-Passion Sunday to the shouts of “Crucify him!” on Good Friday.
The noise of our cities and towns, the interminable barrage of broadcast media, can simulate the general hubbub of a crowded Jerusalem two thousand years ago. What differentiates people then and now is that, today, Europeans are less religiously involved and alert. Then, there was a five-day lapse between ‘Hosanna’ and ‘Crucify’. That same volatility from acceptance to rejection happens much faster in our time. How long is it after Sunday Mass before family in-fighting resumes; how long before language and behaviour return to ‘secular street’?
What accounts for the shifting mood from acceptance to rejection, for a holy name used in prayer to become, once again, an expletive? It would appear that the answer lies within the human heart. Though created for greatness, yet, gifted with freedom of choice, it is also capable of grievous words and works. We might readily see ourselves among those who lined the road to Jerusalem acclaiming and welcoming Jesus. But who among us could be certain that we would not have been a voice among that Good Friday crowd calling for Jesus’ death? There is no scriptural proof, but isn’t it possible that Jesus may have recognised faces among those who welcomed him and, five days, later condemned and spat at him? It is hard to imagine that people who, earlier, had come to Jesus seeking help and healing could have allowed themselves to be turned against him. But isn’t it exactly this that we find ourselves doing when we allow ‘secular street’ to flow, unrestrictedly, through our daily lives?
Palm Sunday and Good Friday are the only days in the Christian year when we hear read, in its entirety, ‘The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The events we commemorate this week invite us to consider the fickleness of the human heart, including our own, and to recall the frequent Lenten admonition:
“As it has been said: “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15)
Entering these days Holy Week, in contriteness of hearts, sometimes sadly faint and fickle, we are called to build a firmer faith. Being faithful to the Christian challenge necessitates hearing words of correction as well as of encouragement and comfort. Only a listening, contrite and humble heart can acknowledge its share of responsibility for the Cross of Christ. Only a welcoming, contrite and humble heart is able to gratefully rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus. The latter is not possible without the former. Such is the message of this week and the daily challenge of Christian discipleship.
It is said that once a schoolboy was asked what parts of speech are ‘my’ and ‘mine’. He answered - more truthfully than he understood - that they were aggressive pronouns. It is all too true that in 21st century the idea of service is in danger of getting lost. So many people are working only for what they can get. They may well become rich, but one thing is certain--they will not necessarily be loved, and love is the true wealth of life.
Empires established by force have vanished from the face of the earth, leaving only a memory which with the years becomes ever fainter. But the empire of Christ, founded upon his Cross, continues to hold sway.