April 11, 2014

Palm Sunday: seeing through human applause

By Joe Tremblay *

Leaders like Alexander the Great, Mohammad and Napoleon rode their horses with armed men to triumph their enemies. But Our Lord, on Palm Sunday, rode a colt into Jerusalem in order to be conquered. This was to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: "See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass." (Zechariah 9:9) The same animal that was used by Mary and Joseph to escape from the wrath of King Herod when they fled to Egypt is now used to transport Him right into the hands of his executioners. Yet, ironically, it was the so-called execution of Jesus that was instrumental in conquering the world. As Fulton Sheen said, "If He Who took the worst the world had to offer and conquered it, then evil shall never be victorious again."

Interestingly, colts are used for pilgrims, not for worldly conquerors. Christ was declaring Himself to be a king and a pilgrim; but not of this world. His throne was not to be established in Jerusalem or Rome. In fact, He already had a throne; it exists in heaven! And as a pilgrim-king, He had no interest in worldly power. The appearances of his colt would suggest that he came not to conquer using swords and military might like Mohammad; instead, His weapon is His own Word. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read: "Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account." (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Moreover, the pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem were from all over the world. In fact, the majority of Jews lived outside of Palestine (Israel) in the first century. On Palm Sunday, for instance, many came from Egypt, Syria and Persia. To attend the Passover Feast every year was a religious obligation imposed upon every Jew; no matter how many miles they had to travel. And it was the foreigners -- this crowd of mixed foreigners and natives -- that heard about the resurrection of Lazarus and all the wonderful things the Lord Jesus had done. Arguably, it was they -- the pilgrims and visitors -- who proclaimed Christ to be the "Son of David" as He, like King Solomon (son of David), rode a colt into the City of David.

Earlier in His public ministry Jesus said that a prophet is not accepted in hometown. In fact, many of his opponents i.e. the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, were Jews from Judea; not too far from Nazareth. But many of the visitors in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were neither from His hometown nor even from the same country. As such, they did not share the same prejudices that His countrymen harbored against Him. And it would seem that the adoring crowd who greeted our Lord in Jerusalem represented the Gentile world that would eventually welcome a Jewish Messiah. The Gospels tell us that they cried out:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!"

Indeed, on Palm Sunday it was as if the City of God and the City of Man were being represented in Jerusalem. There were people who wanted to make Jesus their king and there were others who wanted to kill Him. At any rate, the "hosannas" that were shouted on Palm Sunday would be squelched by louder voices who would shout "crucify him!" on Good Friday.

No doubt, Our Lord made an impression on the Apostles that Holy Week. For years to come the Apostles, that is, the first Bishops of the Church, would have to remember that they could not afford to get too comfortable with the perks that attended their status as religious leaders. After all, they saw that within just a few short days that praises can give way to condemnations. Such is the fickleness of human respect. And it deserves mentioning that Our Lord said at the Last Supper that a disciple is not above his Master. That is to say, what happened to Him would also happen to them.

This is a great lesson for anyone who is called to be a leader. In order to lead we have to resemble the Pilgrim-King. If we seek God's approval first and set our eyes on heaven, then it will make little difference whether people hold us in high regard or despise us. As such, the disciple of Christ will be unimpressed with the false promises of worldly ambition and human respect as he pursues his heavenly reward.

Joe Tremblay writes for Sky View, a current event and topic-driven Catholic blog. He was a contributor to The Edmund Burke Institute, and a frequent guest on Relevant Radio’s, The Drew Mariani Show. Joe is also married with five children. The views and opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily reflective of any organizations he works for.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.