On Palm Sunday, the faithful hear the poignant Gospel reading of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and then the harrowing Gospel of the Passion — the longest reading of the year — that begin Holy Week.
As we read in Luke’s account this Lent, Jesus made His way to Bethany and sent His disciples to prepare for His entry into Jerusalem, a mere two miles away. The crowds greet Him as a king, a detail exclusive to Luke, and the proclamation of “Peace on Heaven” (19:39) echoes the angelic announcement of the angels at the birth of Jesus (see Lk 2:14). He rides a colt, a young donkey, and enters in humility and in peace, pointing to what His kingdom actually entails and fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah 500 years before: “A just savior is he, / Humble, and riding on a a donkey, / on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec 9:9-10).
In a grim foreshadowing of the Passion to come, we see the Pharisees calling on Jesus to rebuke His followers. They now begin to plot His death, and the great drama of Holy Week unfolds.
In this issue, Dennis Emmons takes a look at the meaning of Palm Sunday. Take note, especially, of his quote from St. Bernard of Clairvaux.
Pope Francis, meanwhile, in his Palm Sunday homily in 2014, pondered: “We might well ask ourselves just one question: Who am I? Who am I, before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd? Am I ready to express my joy, to praise Him? Or do I stand back? Who am I, before the suffering Jesus? We have just heard many, many names. The group of leaders, some priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who had decided to kill Jesus. They were waiting for the chance to arrest Him. Am I like one of them?”
The two readings make for a stark contrast, and saints, popes and theologians have long pondered how the crowd in Jerusalem could welcome Our Lord with hosannas and then call for His death by crucifixion just a few days later. To pick up on Pope Francis’ question, are we like the crowds in Jerusalem? Do we proclaim Him our King on Sunday and by the end of the week deny Him in our thoughts, our actions and our own fear to live the Christian witness in our families, with our friends and in the world?
And remember to treat your blessed palm branches from Palm Sunday with respect. They are considered a sacramental and customarily are burned on Shrove Tuesday the following year to make ashes used for Ash Wednesday.
A holy Lent!
Matthew Bunson, D.Min., K.H.S., is editor of The Catholic Answer and The Catholic Almanac and author of more than 40 books. He is a senior fellow of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and a professor at the Catholic Distance University. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.