Homily: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion – Cycle A
On the surface, Palm Sunday always seems to contradict itself. On the one hand, we begin by recalling the grand and triumphal procession of Jesus into Jerusalem as he is hailed as the Messiah: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” On the other hand, we recall the ignominious defeat of Jesus in his Passion, death, and burial. Perhaps we’re left asking ourselves? Which is it, Palm Sunday? Triumph or defeat? “Triumph and then triumph”, says Palm Sunday. What? How can that be? Let’s take a look.
Read using the logic of man, Matthew’s Passion Narrative seems to present Jesus as someone completely powerless to defend himself. This is because, according to the logic of man, a person demonstrates his / her power over others by exerting control over them. Since throughout the narrative Jesus seems to be subject to the control of others, he seems to be powerless. This, it seems, is what gives the Jewish leaders all the more reason to complete their condemnation and execution. The Messiah—the Son of David—as understood according to the logic of man, would be a powerful leader who would drive out the Roman occupiers. Jesus, although he did perform acts of great power, did not show his power when challenged by the authorities. Thus, he appeared to them to be weak and powerless; and, thus, his claims to be the Messiah were blasphemous: since the true Messiah couldn’t be someone powerless.
Read using the logic of God, however, Matthew’s Passion Narrative presents Jesus as being supremely powerful. This is because, according to the logic of God, a person demonstrates his / her power by submitting him / herself completely to the will of God, even (and especially) when submitting to God’s will causes him / her to suffer in this world. The bizarre nature of this logic is on full display throughout the narrative. For example, when Jesus commands his disciple to put down his sword, claiming to have legions of angels who could come to his aid if he commanded it, yet he didn’t command it. And why? Because he knew that it was the will of God that he should submit to this arrest, trial, conviction, and death. Another example: when Jesus was hanging on the cross, those who had condemned him to death mocked him and challenged him to use his power to come down from the cross so as to prove—according to the logic of man—that he was the true Messiah, the Son of David, the King of Israel, but he didn’t. Rather, he endured their insults and remained on the cross because he desired only to fulfill the will of his Father. Thus, in contrast to the logic of man, Jesus showed himself to be supremely powerful according to the logic of God.
Lent, and the work that we have been doing throughout it, has been about rearranging our logic to conform once again to God’s logic. This is because the logic of man resists the logic of God. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we resist the logic of man and, thus, conform our minds and hearts to the logic of God, submitting ourselves completely to his will once again. This week—the holiest week of the year—is the culmination of our work. Each of the celebrations of this week is meant to lead us into the celebration of the ultimate triumph of Jesus’ suffering: his resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
And so, looked at with the logic of God, this liturgy itself no longer looks so contradictory. No, my brothers and sisters, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is not followed by his ignominious defeat on the cross. Rather, according to God’s logic, his triumphal entry is followed by his still greater triumph on the cross. Thus, what we celebrate on Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion is truly triumph and then triumph.
And so, my brothers and sisters, let us allow the seemingly contradictory tone of today’s liturgy to heighten our senses so as to enter more fully into the experience of the mysteries of our salvation that we celebrate this week: an experience which is renewed for us even now, here in this Holy Eucharist.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – April 9th, 2017