Homily for Palm Sunday 2009
H.B. Fouad Twal
Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem
It is Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday, contrasting emotions in the same celebration. This great feast invites us to cheer the Lord, as the crowd has been doing all along our trek from Bethphage to here. Before coming to His Passion, the Lord lived this moment of glory.
Jesus enters into Jerusalem without armies or police, without separation walls or checkpoints. He enters in all simplicity, riding on an ass, fulfilling the prophecy of Zachariah: “Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! 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.” This cry, the cry that we have been repeating all along our route, really says it: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
This cry, however, was not pleasing either to the local authorities or to the Pharisees; it created a sense of unrest, and in the following days events would gather momentum, one after another, the unrest ever mounting.
Today is the beginning of the grand week, the week of divine foolishness and its counterpoint, the foolishness of men. Today, we have before us a kind of synthesis of Holy Week, from the triumphal entry of Jesus into the Holy City to his death and burial in the tomb.
Today we run the entire gamut of emotions: from ecstatically giving praise with our palms to the Savior of the world, singing together: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” to weeping, to shedding tears of repentance in front of his death, with our emotions overflowing, shedding tears when we hear him say: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
The entry into Jerusalem corresponds to the fulfillment of Jesus’ mission, to that fatal hour of which Jesus so often speaks in the Gospel. Jerusalem, which means ‘foundation of peace’, today becomes a city of tragic drama. Whereas today she smiles as she welcomes the Christ with her triumphal cries, yet a few short days thereafter she mocks this king with derision when he stumbles and falls, ground under by the weight of the cross, mocking this Christ with his face so disfigured by suffering.
The Holy Week beginning today is an invitation to follow Jesus and, like him trusting in the Father, to enter bravely into the city and into our society. We listen to his words, we gaze upon his actions; we contemplate the love that will explode in this holy and martyred city in order to create a new world of men, of women, of saints who have given themselves over to God. Let’s let ourselves learn from his example, so that we too might be able to support those who have been crushed by injustice, the lack of freedom and human hypocrisy.
Christ’s passion is an ordeal where we see the Lord meet us within our own suffering and set us on the path to the Resurrection. Rejected, betrayed, nailed to the cross, Jesus exerts his Lordship over the city, exerts his lordship over the world in order to grant to men their true countenance as sons of God. Only Love is able to give an explanation for all these events that are presented to us here in this Palm Sunday. That Love expresses itself in all the ways that emerge in the course of his Passion, of his death and his Resurrection. There is nothing else that can make sense of all of this.
Because of this love, we are here to enter into these events, and have these events enter into our lives. Thus, pilgrimage to Jerusalem is always meaningful. All pilgrims and visitors are welcome. This love is also the reason for which the Holy Father himself will soon be visiting us, and his visit is a blessing for us all.
But let not forget the struggle and the torment that this love undergoes. It is an obstacle to us, so like the Apostles, we have difficulty setting out on our path in the way our faith requires of us. Sometimes we are afraid of the cross and the sacrifices that are asked of us, we are afraid of the enraged crowd: betrayal on the part of a disciple, betrayal on the part of the public, the authorities, afraid of the denial of Peter… There is nothing so strange about that. We ourselves know how fickle the crowd can be, how changeable, and this is not just at a political level. We are also talking about our lives in our religious communities, in our families. The one who yesterday was our friend is not necessarily so today or tomorrow. In this life, anything can happen, even when we speak of those who have been good to us.
Jesus enters into his Passion due to this fickle crowd and for the sake of this fickle crowd that he wishes to save. At His entrance along the streets of Jerusalem, the enthusiastic crowd shows its love and passion, its admiration for the Son of David, neither showing fear of the Jewish authorities nor of the Romans. But this same crowd is capable of exhibiting another passion: a passion of hate, of destruction and of death. Yes, he has truly entered into his torment and passion. Now nothing can stop it: Crucify him! Kill him! He is no longer one of us. He cannot even save Himself! The crowd cheered him. The crowd killed him. Here we see men and their passions.
O Jesus, would that your Passion might save us from our passions!
+ Fouad Twal, Patriarche