Every year we celebrate Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the crowds buzzing with excitement. All four gospels have a Palm Sunday account. On my 30-day retreat as a Jesuit I prayed with two of them from Matthew and Luke. This Sunday at Mass we have the option of the accounts from either Mark or John—read just before the procession at the beginning of Mass as the congregants hold up their palms. But this beautiful story ends with Jesus’ Passion and death and so at Mass we also hear the Passion account from Mark. This prepares our hearts as we approach Holy Week.
Here I’d like to share with you my own prayer with the Palm Sunday story in Matthew and Luke, as I wrote in my journal on retreat. Saint Ignatius asks the pray-er to watch the scene unfold and then, in an “application of senses”, actually place yourself in the scene as a character. What I learned was that, as Sunday’s second reading says (Phil 2:6-11), Jesus’ kingly procession—indeed all of his actions—was not for himself but for his Father’s glory.
Clearly things have happened that have increased the number of believers. Maybe it was the raising of Lazarus that was it for the people and now on his way back home they would honour him. There’s much mystery here, in a way, and though Jesus is riding in on an ass, the crowds chanting and worshipping show something of the kingly Messiah people imagined—but for Jesus it seemed like almost a death walk or mocking as many of these same people would turn against him. His disciples must have been proud in this moment. Yet there was this feeling again that Jesus was more aware of his fate than anyone else was and this was in his heart as he rode in. The ride/an entrance like this was for his Father’s glory, not his own.
I enjoyed contemplating this scene as a sunny day in Jerusalem, people excited hearing that Christ the King is coming, people making a path with cloaks and green palms, cheering for the king, praising God, the Resurrection and the Life. Just a majestic entrance! Jesus quietly praying, “Look at all the people I’ve gained for you, Father.” The people weren’t just praising Jesus the person but God! And it was the first time people could celebrate Jesus in a very public way. It was a very public acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God. The scene reminded me of the Two Standards meditation and the beautiful celebratory majestic image of Christ the King. This is the type of king I’d like to follow. The scene almost seemed like a gift from Jesus to his Father.
I imagined the same joyful scene but now the Pharisees were powerless. They couldn’t get the crowds quiet. (“Then some of the Pharisees in the crowd spoke to Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘command your disciples to be quiet!’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you that if they keep quiet, the stones themselves will start shouting.’) Then when Jesus taught these same crowds in the temple the Pharisees again were powerless to stop that. Evil had lost its power in a way. Jesus’ statement about Jerusalem’s destruction seemed more eschatological but I heard in his words a metaphor for him. If only people knew what would bring peace! His destruction… And the enemy will go after believers, too, who betray God. Clearly plotting to kill Jesus, the Pharisees can’t find a way just now, but Jesus continues teaching and working. Now, it seems, after the Palm Sunday procession, there is a greater public acceptance of Jesus as Messiah and now his followers don’t seem too afraid of the Pharisees.
Application of the Senses
The apex and important part of my prayer was when we reached the temple with Jesus and the crowds (I was a disciple). Jesus began to explain what he meant when he spoke about the destruction of the Jerusalem and the people. He explained the importance of repenting for their sins and how they can help change the world. Jesus said that riding in like a king was an image that helped solidify his Messiahship for the people and that since he had little time left he wanted to bring in new disciples and followers. In the temple Jesus asked me to testify and share my story. I told them of my background and how ever since Jesus called me to follow him it’s been an amazing journey of loving people, helping them, and bridging gaps. God made us to love him through one another, not to fight and hate. I urged people to join in. Jesus extended his call and invitation to these people. He said the joy they showed outside and their celebration should not have been motivated by the miracles they’ve seen or heard he performed, but for a desire for a change in their lives. They see how their world is. Now is the time to act. Put their celebration for the King and God into action!