PALM SUNDAY HOMILY (expanded) “And when He was come near, He beheld the city Jerusalem, and wept over it…” Luke19:41
On Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, we ponder how the Lord Jesus looked upon so-called “the eternal city” of Jerusalem. Jesus had tears of disappoint for this city, originally named Shalom (Salem). The Jewish nation had not responded well to even the Christ’ coming among them; in fact, the leaders were plotting His death. The Roman occupation was a sad thing, too, to see in Jerusalem, and Jesus knew it was happening all because of Israel’s long-ago infidelity to God’s covenant to be a holy nation, to be a people set apart. Since 587 b.c., foreign powers were in Israel running things. Still, the Jewish faith remained, and here was Jerusalem, a city re-founded by King David a millennium before, to be the holy city, God’s city. The City of Peace.
It will become a City of Peace, but all through the Great Cost of Jesus’ Life to bring Peace, Peace via a Cross. He is a few miles away from Jerusalem at this start of the palm parade, down its road, but Jesus can see the Cross waiting for Him in Jerusalem. It is just days away, in fact. As a Catholic Church, we mark this Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion just five days from Good Friday. We start our Holy Week.
Jesus takes the ascent to Jerusalem. In Luke 19: 42-44 says of how He wept over it, being heard to say:“If you had just known, even at least, in this day, when the Christ comes, of the things which belong to your peace, O Jerusalem! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, in this city, when enemies shall cast a trench about you, and compass you around, and… they shall destroy it, not leaving a stone unturned, all because you knew not the time of your visitation from God.” This explains Jesus’ tears.
The ascent of Jesus to Jerusalem starts way down in Bethany and then on to Bethpage. Bethany is the site where Jesus also wept, as John 11 records, for total revival of which the Son of God would have to make for the world. As He raised the good man Lazarus there, it now will be a sign to Jesus of His own going into the tomb ahead. The Cross leads to the tomb. Yet it will lead to a resurrection. Jesus trusts it. He tells it to His apostles, though they little understand it in actual time, as this procession starts in Bethany. Jesus knows He goes up to give His life; The Father will be the One to raise Him up. Jesus would go up to the Mount in Jerusalem like Isaac once went along with Abraham–for sacrifice.
Jesus’ march up to Jerusalem will be to revive the many of the world. He would do it through sacrifice. There is more than the one Lazarus to save now, but it is an action of Jesus coming to save all in need of salvation out of death. At Bethany’s tomb, Jesus had shown His power over death in this instance, but now Jesus goes forth up to the Holy City as so to enter death as the Perfect Lamb of Sacrifice. This all will take place, fittingly, right near the place in Jerusalem where Abraham went up with Isaac for the obedient sacrifice, long ago, and when God intervened, then, and declared: “God will provide the sacrifice, the Lamb, yes, even of His Only Son, as you were willing to do today. Yes. Abraham—your faith has pleased God, and so God offers back a covenant to humanity to save it. Genesis 22.
The procession begins. Jesus goes out into the streets, surrounded by a crowd of supporters, and they go up to Jerusalem for its approaching holy days. Some in the crowd, as probably Judas, as well as some other people who saw Lazarus’ miracle, they likely thought Jesus was now going to unveil and use many hidden powers in Him for a political or military use ahead, to re-take Jerusalem for the Jews—as He’ll somehow become the new King David. They are very mistaken in that Messianic idea of Him.
Jesus goes along with the crowd to a wave of palm branches and a chorus of hosannas, with an enthused crowd on the ascending road of Bethany and Bethpage, ultimately heading to a west gate of Jerusalem city.
In a complete contrast, also coming to Jerusalem, from the west to east direction, comes a powerful army of reinforcements of Roman soldiers, called to keep order and control over the city in its large crowds of Jewish pilgrims headed there. So, from the east, loud noises of chariots, horses, and soldiers marching in clanking armor and brute force, but from the west, one man astride a simple animal, and people holding palms.
Not one, probably, noticed the many tears in Jesus’ eyes for what they meant. They were of sorrow. Jesus heads to Jerusalem with enemies awaiting for Him, men right from the Sanhedrin and scribes and Pharisees. Bad Jewish leaders. Jesus taught in parables beforehand to them of how the Son, the Heir, would be killed. Here it was coming to happen.
Jesus also saw and wept over the calamity of sin that awaited Him on Jerusalem’s Mount. It was a sky-high pile of ugly offensiveness of humanity’s sin and of satanic filth. Yet, Jesus knows Who He is, and what He is to do. He is God’s Son come into the world to destroy the devil’s works (1 John 3:8). Jesus was about the deliver death its deathblow (1 Cor. 15:26). Yet sin grieves God deeply, and its wages of death (Romans 6:23)—and He could see humankind so caught up in its web. He wanted to free the world from it. He had His plan to make it happen. It was all such an unexpected Way, which included suffering for God. This was the cost of the secret attack on our enemy and the measure of God’s love to carry it out.
So, Jesus rides on to Jerusalem with all of this in mind. Two verse in the Bible points out how Jesus knew His tears of sadness would turn to tears of joy: A prophetic Psalm speaks of the turn-around coming, and then a Revelation to John the apostle shows it carried out.
“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).
And when that morning comes, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Revelation 21:4).
Resurrection Morning—a week away—was coming. There was Victory beyond the Cross.
What a humble arrival Jesus made for the grandest event to happen in history. Jesus would have been aware of a contrast taking place, if one could witness things from above, or from a high tower in Jerusalem. Compared to Jesus’ simple entrance from the west, a large amount of Roman Army troops was arriving from Jerusalem’s east side, summoned for crowd control in a busy visiting time of the Jews. The contrast was remarkable—power and force and control and domination coming from one side, and a man of peace and humility and freedom and palm branches from the other. Fierce faces on the soldiers, arriving at an outpost city, with Jerusalem having no religious significance at all to them—as in contrast to the very dear meaning of Jerusalem to Jesus, and to His small travelling band of disciples. This is God’s special visitation to the Holy City of David, and to this same City of Peace, Salem, where God first made covenant with His people through Abraham. God’s Son is here and present.
Jesus comes in with a small adoring crowd, up into Jerusalem, He is amidst hallels and hosannas, which are nice, however, He knows the conditions awaiting Him. This city is cold and hostile and pretty oblivious to the fact that God was now visiting them, for a special appointment in history. The God of Mount Moriah was now to take the covenant of Abraham to its fulfillment.
Jesus comes as divinity in the ‘disguise’ of a fellow human person among them. He is representing humanity, as being truly human, for this encounter. He is humanity in perfection. He is a Lamb worthy of sacrifice, to be the Son offered on the Mount, as promised in Genesis 22. Jesus comes with an adoring crowd into Jerusalem, but He expects abuse, accusation, rejection, judgment and execution to overwhelm and divide this little band of followers. Even the Jewish leadership shall be involved in His crucifixion. Jesus’ friends and followers will become confused and lost and weak ahead. He will be in many ways alone at the end of the ascent. It will be an ascent upon a Cross.
He takes His ride into Jerusalem, knowing that indeed a day of glory will come when all will say: “Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord. “ When people will know for sure Who He is and What He had come to do.
In Catholic Churches of our time and back to the beginning, we pray in an exultant way this same “Blessed is He” prayer, and the “hosannas.” You partake of it at every Mass, right in the height of our prayers, as right before the Lord’s coming in Sacrament upon the altar, as we borrow those words from these Bethany and Jerusalem streets: “Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna to the Lord! To the Lamb of God! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord.”
Have you pondered deeply why we do this at each Mass, fellow believers? It’s worth some time and focus this Holy Week and on. Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord. The Blessed “He” is the Lord Jesus. Our Savior. In Mass, we give hosannas to “He” Who is come to help us now in His Mediation, through His very Body and Blood, to deliver us forward and more deeply into the Kingdom of God experience. Hosanna indeed we sing! We are His people to celebrate Him, fully knowing now the Sacrifice that has been given. We deeply honor that sacrifice in every Mass, and we have Holy Thursday and Good Friday this Holy Week to solemnly remember it again as the Church. The Church is Christ’ Body. The Blessed One comes to us, as He promised at the covenant table of The Last Supper (First Mass), to feed us to our spiritual need for salvation, all in memory of Him Who did give Himself for us, at the Cross.
Our Hosannas are done today with an ascent, not to Jerusalem, but one that is leading to Heaven. We have every reason to sing “Hosanna” and “Hallelujah” and “Bless the Lord” as Jesus is come to us to be with us and lead us to Glory.
The original notion of a few people in the original Palm procession, of a King Jesus ruling right ahead, was to come after the matter of humankind’s separation from God was settled, and that sin and death were dealt their blow.
Yet indeed a reign of Jesus comes, and we may be His people. Not in old Jerusalem, but in the New Jerusalem. ###
Footnote: Jerusalem, the holy city, was the Salem (Peace City) first built in Melchizedek’s time, of which Patriarch Abram found in his sojourn there, in his arrival to it as described in Genesis. Abram’s obedience to God and this pilgrimage for him and his people of faith from Mesopotamia brought them to Jerusalem. The city is known to be built on Abraham’s Mount Moriah and David’s Mount Zion. Its foundations rested upon the Salem of Melchizedek and the Jebus of the Jebusites. It was made the capital of God’s nation during the reign of King David, and David, then Solomon, who said that the city and its great temple would be the pole of the whole earth, and the Lord’s footstool. Yet in centuries to follow, the chosen people Jews were disobedient and ungrateful, and became so weak, that the city and temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. Jerusalem was rebuilt in a revival period later by a remnant of the Jews under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. While there was a faithful remnant of covenant faith Jews in the Age of Jesus’ arrival, still the Holy City officially had not recognized the Lord’s Anointed, the Christ, when He came.
Footnote: Jesus cried for Jerusalem many times, as Luke’s gospel records. In Luke 13 it tells us about a day when He wept over the city before arriving there. As “He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem,” He cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (Luke 13:34–35).
Footnote: Matthew 23 records a sermon Jesus preached in Jerusalem just a few days before He was crucified, and at the conclusion (vv. 37–39) we read words almost identical to those of His lament in Luke 13. He was weeping over the tragedy of a lost opportunity. The Israelites that assembled in Jerusalem for the Passover but so missed the opportunity to see the new Deliverer had arrived, even a greater-than-Moses figure of David figure. They were visited by their Savior, but they did not know it. Instead of receiving Him, they killed Him.