If we had been alive two thousand years ago, what would we have seen?
We would have seen Jesus entering the gates of Jerusalem, the holy city, in the midst of great jubilation. Though Scripture tells us he rode on a simple donkey, the crowds came out to hail him as though he were a conquering general. The crowds shouted, sang and waved palm branches with indescribable joy at Jesus' entry into the city of David.
Why were they so enthused? Because they heard of all the wonders Jesus had worked. The stories of his healings had made their way all through the city. The incredible tale of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in Bethany, just a few miles from Jerusalem, had no doubt been told in every barbershop and at every marketplace. As Jesus entered the city, there was a feeling that something remarkable would happen. The people parading behind Jesus must have had a feeling that history was being made, that something of tremendous importance for the city and for the world was about to happen, and that they would be there to see it all.
What went wrong? Why would it be that in less than a week, their jubilation would sour to bitter scorn? Why would it be that this same crowd would call for this man's death? Why would they reject Him as Messiah saying that they wanted no other king than Caesar?
It is most likely the same thing that caused Judas to betray his friend and teacher, Jesus. This Messiah was not strong enough, not flashy enough. They preferred a Messiah mounted on a mighty steed, not a lowly donkey. They wanted a Messiah clad in shiny armour, not in a simple linen tunic. They wanted a Messiah who could shower them with riches, not one who was even poorer than they were. How could this humble carpenter from Nazareth ever stand up to the mighty Roman Empire and fight for them?
And so, they ask the Roman Empire, in the person of Pontius Pilate, to save them from their Messiah by crucifying Him among thieves.
Can we say two thousand years later that we are so different from them? Can we say that we would have acted differently? Don't we act the same way when we praise God on Sunday, but turn our backs on those in need on Monday? Do we act any differently if we reflect on the mysteries of the rosary, but are blind to the mystery of God unfolding in our lives? Are we any better when we can remember everything that happens on American Idol, but can't recall what the gospel reading from the Sunday before was?
For two thousand years, the world has both longed for its Messiah, Jesus, and turned its back on Him. It has longed to see Him and closed its eyes to Him. It has wondered why God is so silent, yet failed to listen to Him. Today, with all the advancements of modern society, we cannot claim to be much different than that crowd that welcomed Jesus two thousand years ago.
Yes, the week that saw Jesus enter triumphantly into Jerusalem will end with the tragedy of His death. But, wait! The story is not over. For, this week, the God who chose to suffer and die rather than exact vengeance on His people will accomplish something marvelous. It is something that no one could ever have imagined when Jesus' beaten, lifeless body was taken down from the cross. Yet, it was for this moment that the world was created. It is the mystery of how God plans to save us even in the midst of our rejection of Him.
We'll have to come back next Sunday to find out what this wonderful thing is. But we can be assured that it will not fail to disappoint us. For this God of surprises, this God who loves us beyond all telling, will not let death have the final word over His beloved Son nor over us who believe in Him and welcome Him into the city of our hearts.