A Cycle – Palm Sunday
Mt. 26: 14 – 27
Lent is over, all our preparation to refocus our spiritual lives by repentance, fasting and alms giving is over. It ended abruptly just over two weeks ago when the social distancing edict came down. Everything planned by this parish and in every diocese around the nation to enhance your spiritual lives ceased. I am certain some of you continued with your Lenten commitments, but many were caught up in the emotional upheaval created by uncertainty. This swift challenge to us to remain faithful in following Jesus lives should make us aware of just how easily we are turned away from our desire to be faithful. Perhaps this Palm Sunday can help us learn how uncertainty impacts our ability and our willingness to follow Jesus.
We Palm Sunday reliving the jubilation, with excitement, the joy of the Jewish people welcoming Jesus into their and our midst. The gospel reading as we begin the mass is explicit in describing the scene. Hosanna to the Son of David who comes in the name of the Lord, they shouted. They were joyful, they were excited because the promise of God was being fulfilled, the Messiah was among them. The scene shakes the entire city and its citizens wanted to know “who is this” being welcomed with such outward exuberance. Without hesitating they answer, “this is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
The very next day, Jesus was standing before Pilate, and they were shouting again but their hosanna’s became hostile shouts of “crucify him.” What happened in those 24 hours to move them from praising Jesus to condemnation of Jesus?
Are we just as fickle with our belief as they were that day? Most of the people who join us in church each week would say no, they are not fickle. They would say “we know what we believe, and we stand firm in that belief.” The events taking place in the days following the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem are more than an accounting of the events, they are a mirror of just how easy it is for us to move from certainty to denial. It shows us how quickly we will retreat when our faith is challenged. We do not have to look at the crowd to see how easily that happens. We only need to look at two disciples, Judas and Peter to discover how easily we shrink away when Jesus does not fit our concept of the messiah.
Judas, we know was a zealot, and his concept of the messiah was one who would overthrow the Roman control of the nation and reestablish the former Kingdom of David. After three years of intense discipleship, he failed to grasp the role of the Messiah was to reestablish the Kingdom of God where we, who were created in God’s image, would once again enjoy intimacy with God. Where we would be in the presence of God for eternity because the barrier between ourselves and God was going to be destroyed by the death of Jesus on the cross. What Judas does that night; makes you wonder why he never was able to comprehend the plan of God to restore what we lost by the sin of Adam?
Why use a disciple to fulfill the prophesy of Jeremiah about thirty pieces of silver being the value of a man with a price on his head? Those seeking to arrest Jesus did not need Judas to point him out to them. They were often in the crowds listening to him. Why Judas? Could it be that God was teaching us how easily we can misunderstand what God offers us and our own concept of discipleship blinds us from ever discovering it. Judas shows us how easy it is for us to miss the point of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
But it was not just Judas who missed the lessons of discipleship. Peter who so quickly professed he would never betray Jesus, separates himself from Jesus the moment his allegiance to Jesus was challenged. Peter, who so boldly proclaimed his “he would die for Jesus,” denies him not once but three times.
The contrast between the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem and the journey of His passion the next day should make us look deeper into our own beliefs and understand one aspect of discipleship – we believe we understand who Jesus is but if his disciples could waver, so can we. In fact, we are more prone to do as they did because we have not sought intimacy with Jesus.
It is too bad Judas hung himself for we never got to see Jesus offer him redemption for so grievous a sin. The sin of timidity, wavering in the face of a challenge to our faith is evident on this day. Our desire to belong, to be accepted is a powerful force used to turn us away and weaken our ability to stand up for what we believe. We are entering Holy Week, look upon the cross and ask yourself one question, Do You Believe. Then as you say yes to that question ask yourself, What am I Doing to Show my Belief to Others. We would do well to use the days between now and Pentecost to reflect on how the death of Jesus removed the barrier of sin between us and God.
Peter struggling with his own grief because he denied knowing Jesus shows us how God’s plan of restoration works. Peter struggled with his denial of Jesus, the death of Jesus and even the resurrection of Jesus. It was not until after Jesus appears to Peter on the shore of Galilee that Peter began to understand the plan of God.
Jesus life, death and resurrection were all part of the plan of God to bring us back into the kingdom of God. Pentecost was and remains the final piece of God’s plan for all of us to gain the insights and the strength to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and stand by our faith even in the face of trials and tribulation. Peter understood that for he allowed forgiveness to free him. Unfortunately, Judas and we do not know how many others in the crowd that day never allowed forgiveness to enter their hearts. Palm Sunday challenges us to be forgiven or fickle. In the words of God, “I put before you life and death, choose life” (Deu.30:19).