There are two themes in our liturgy this Sunday namely Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) and the Passion which opens the holiest days of the year we call the Holy Week (Passion Sunday). Our reflection will focus on the triumphal entry of Jesus to Jerusalem.
Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem reminds us of David in the Old Testament when he entered Jerusalem bringing with him the Ark of the Covenant (the box containing the two tablets of the Ten Commandments). Girded with linen ephod, he was dancing while the people of Israel where shouting with the sound of the trumpet. Jesus was now the new David entering Jerusalem and fulfilling the promised Covenant. Jesus did not dance like David but rode instead on a donkey that had never been ridden. It was the fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 “Your king comes to you triumphant and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt…”
When the people welcomed him as king, it was the only time that Jesus let himself be celebrated by the people. In fact according to Luke (19:39-40), when the Pharisees said to Jesus to stop his disciples, Jesus replied “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” The entry of Jesus was not just about him being the King of Israel but also the coming of the Kingdom being himself the Kingdom-personified. We call this in Greek as auto-basileia.
According to John, Jerusalem was filled with people not just because of the festival of the Passover but because the people who witnessed the raising of Lazarus went to meet him (Jn. 12:17-18). Jesus’ popularity during that time made everyone wanting to see him in person.
The people although welcomed Jesus in great jubilation did not understand the meaning of the event. Even Jesus’ disciples did not understand it either as commented by John (12:16) because the fuller understanding will be made manifest in the light of Easter. Because of this lack of understanding, the welcome hosanna songs of the people will later be turned into angry cries that long for Jesus’ death: “Crucify him!”
The triumphal entry was like a homecoming of a hero just like in our times. True enough, it was the homecoming of Jesus to the city chosen by God who had suffered so much pain and witnessed enough blood shed. We can see it as Jesus’ way of conquering Jerusalem which will later reject him and throw him out to be crucified outside the city walls. The conquest was not through might and power but through love and service expressed in pain and suffering.
The entry to Jerusalem was Jesus’ entry to his own death in obedience to his Father. Indeed the triumphal feeling was short lived because the true triumph is not to be given by the people but from God the Father; it was not found in the temple sacrifice but on the sacrifice of the cross; it was not also in Jerusalem the earthly city but in the heavenly Jerusalem. That is why Jesus died outside Jerusalem.
As we reflect on Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem, we welcome him as he enters our wounded and suffering hearts and continue to embrace him as he leads us towards his glorious cross.