Every year of his life, Jesus made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, the commemoration of His people’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. For most of those years, He went unnoticed. He blended in with the crowds who prayed in the temple and offered sacrifice according to the Jewish law.
However, today things are different. Jesus enters triumphantly into the Holy City. Rather than walking through the gates of the city, He rides a donkey. Rather than join the bustling crowd filing its way through the cobblestone streets, He enters the city as part of a festive parade with crowds chanting His name, laying their cloaks on the street before Him and waving palm branches in celebration.
The crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover that year had a sense that something was about to change. They had the feeling that somehow they were part of an historic occurrence, a once in a lifetime opportunity to witness history in the making. The atmosphere was charged with excitement and anticipation. And Jesus was at the center of it all.
Those crowds could not have known that in only a few short days the man they hailed as Messiah would be executed as a criminal. They could not have known that they would soon turn on Him and demand His crucifixion. Much less could the political and religious leaders who were already planning His death know that, within a week’s time, He would rise from the dead and change the course of history forever. They were all part of an historic event, but they could not yet begin to grasp its meaning for themselves and for the world.
Jesus enters the Holy City of Jerusalem as its King and Messiah. But unlike an earthly king, He does not conquer through military power. He does not rally His disciples to attack His opponents or devise a plan to coerce the people to hand power over to Him. Rather He comes as the Suffering Servant described in today’s first reading from the prophet Isaiah. He defeats evil by doing good. He returns a blessing for a curse and forgiveness for injury. He refuses to attack those who arrest Him or to defend Himself against those who torture Him. And by so doing, He changes everything.
We stand here today as we have for just about every year of our lives to commemorate the suffering and death that Jesus underwent to save us from the slavery of sin and death. We remember as Saint Paul tells us in today’s second reading, how He came down to earth that we may be lifted up to Heaven and how He emptied Himself that we may be filled. Jesus suffered it all for you and for me. Why? Simply because He loves us and He wants us to know His Heavenly Father’s love for us. We must also realize that it was because of our sin that He died on the cross. If we were to leave this place and continue living sinful lives, we would be no better than the crowds who so shortly turned on Jesus after welcoming Him with such fanfare.
We stand here today in a society that is increasingly hostile to the message of Jesus. It is a world that fails to value the dignity and sacredness of human life. It is a world that treats fertility as a curse and pregnancy as a disease rather than as a participation in God’s creative power. It is a world that ingratiates the powerful and enriches the wealthy and that tells the poor that their lack of resources is their own fault. It is a world that ridicules and persecutes those who follow Jesus.
It is to this world torn by selfishness, hatred and ignorance that we are called to bring Jesus’ message. Like Jesus, we do not change the world through military power or political influence. We do it with the witness of our lives, by acting as He did. We do it through marriages that are truly loving. We do it by sacrificing our pleasures to feed the poor and help those in need. Very often, it means putting up with insults and ridicule because we do not share the values of our classmates or coworkers. Only by forgiving those who injure us and blessing those who curse us as Jesus did can we convince others about the sacredness of every human life and the love of God.
It is not easy. We cannot do it without God’s help. So I would encourage all of you to make the effort this week to attend all the Holy Week services for Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil. As we recall all that Jesus did to save us we will be strengthened to not only change the way we live but to proclaim to others that we are truly free only through the love of God. Then Jesus the King and Messiah will be welcome in our world once again.