5 April 2009 Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50, 4-7; Psalm 22; Phil 2, 6-11; Mark 15, 1-39
All four Gospels report that triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. We knew that before He entered Jerusalem, Jesus stayed in Bethany with Martha, Mary and Lazarus. He then sent two unnamed disciples to fetch a colt in Jerusalem for his use as He entered the gates of the city. On his way to Jerusalem, people would lay their cloaks and tree branches singing excerpts from Psalm 118: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh; Blessed is the coming of our father, David.” Here Jesus is treated like a king. In Eastern tradition, a colt or a donkey is a symbol of peace, while a horse is a symbol of war. If a king rides a donkey, he comes in peace. But if a king rides a horse, he declares war. By riding a donkey, He tells us about what kind of a Messiah He is. There is a prophesy, that the king will come riding a horse and declaring war against Rome, Israel’s enemies.
In the Near East, it is customary for people to cover the path of someone whom they deeply esteemed. Joshua in the Old Testament has been treated the same way, as in many pre-Christian mystery religions such as the god Dionysius. The commemoration of Jesus triumphal entry is popularly called Palm Sunday. But only John identified the branches as palm fronts. The rest like Matthew, Mark and Luke mentioned cut rushes (like cogon grass). Palm branches were symbols of victory and triumph (Leviticus 23, 40 and Revelations 7,9). Since there are countries without palms, they people there used pussy willows instead like Russia and the Ukraine. Or they use olive branches and other tree branches as well. That is why, in some countries, Palm Sunday is called “Branch Sunday”.
Many paintings depict Jesus to be looking forward, almost oblivious to the shouting crowd around. He is usually not waving, a response to a welcoming audience. He does not smile or laugh. I guess, this is what Palm Sunday is all about. Jesus, stares ahead, aware of the sufferings He will undergo in Jerusalem. Jesus looks beyond the joyous crowd: He can look into our hearts instead. The people who are now paying the highest honor to him will be the same people who will condemn him in a few hours. Jesus knows something beyond our comprehension.
In our lives, there are members of the family whom we consider our “saviors”. These are the people who have received a better education among the members of the family. These are the people whom we rely our hopes for a better life. Many of these people are the ones who support their families — and extended families. For example, many overseas Filipino workers and bread winners are the saviors of our families. Second, when these people enter their own Jerusalems, whether it is about getting a new job here or abroad, many of us rejoice that finally, our hopes will be realized. And we “lay our cloak and wave our branches” as we see them off at the airport. Not knowing what pain and suffering is in store for them abroad or even in working. Many Filipinos already lost their jobs as an effect of the global recession. Third, many people who have triumphantly hailed these family saviors of ours, sometimes turn out to be the very people who would spend recklessly their money. These are the person who has no sense of gratitude.