The power of Jesus on Palm Sunday
Father J. Ronald Knott
The whole city was shaken when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Matthew 21:1-11
I am convinced that many Catholics think the first Palm Sunday was like some kind of Pegasus Parade, with the streets lined on each side with happy, cheering crowds, and Jesus and his donkey serving as the central float. Nothing could be further from the truth! This was no nice parade.
Things were crowded and tense in Jerusalem when Jesus arrived for the Passover in 32 A.D. Jesus was considered a popular religious and political revolutionary. The religious establishment was jealous of his popularity among the common folk. They feared he wanted to revolutionize their old time religion.
Jesus had only recently charged through the Temple precincts, overturning the money changers, accusing the religious establishment of corrupting the Jewish religion and turning it into a financial racket. The political establishment was paranoid that his arrival could trigger a riot. They feared he wanted to be king. Tensions had reached a boiling point. The whole city was on edge.
Palm waving and the throwing of coats on the road were not just some spontaneous gestures of welcome. These two actions had serious political overtones. They were synonymous with flag waving.
People threw their coats on the road when a new king arrived to ascend his throne and palm waving was a symbol of Jewish nationalism.
Even though the people had tried to make Jesus a king, in hopes that he would be the one to throw the hated Romans out of their land, Jesus had said “no” on more than one occasion to being the political revolutionary they wanted.
With the crowds in that frame of mind, no wonder the Roman authorities were nervous that day. The text says “…the whole city was shaken when Jesus entered Jerusalem.”
Jesus himself knew that his arrival in Jerusalem under those circumstances smacked of a showdown. In response to the people’s misguided reception as some kind of religious and political revolutionary, Jesus came into the city, not in a chariot pulled by white horses, but on the back of a jackass.
By choosing that kind of animal, the animal of the poor, Jesus made the statement that he did not come with political power, but with spiritual power. The people just didn’t want to hear it. They wanted a powerful Jewish king and so this symbol of humility simply went over their heads. They wanted be freed from oppressive religious and political leadership and they wanted it now.
Palm Sunday has a lot to teach the church, even today. My friends, our power is not to be found in political power. Turning to political power is the clearest sign that we have failed to inspire a conversion of heart.
Our power is even more powerful than political power. In fact, we have been most weak spiritually when we have been most aligned with political power. We have been most powerful when we have been humble and honest in the eyes of the world.