5th Sunday Lent – What an amazing context!!!
California Jesus enters the city.
As “they” say on Facebook: “You won’t believe what happens next!” Watch this.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem – John 12:12-19
The next day a great crowd who had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!”
A. Branches of palm trees reveal the crossroads of the Path to Life and the Way to Death. On the one hand, the Book of Revelation, written in the tradition of John, shows this scene depicting events in heaven at the Last Day:
Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
B. On the other hand, as Dennis Hamm, SJ tells us: “[Palm branches] are not merely a symbol of royalty; they connote a pride and a claim to power this is national. For most of Jesus’ contemporaries, palm waving evoked a very particular moment in their history of the time, some two centuries before, when the Maccabees celebrated their successful revolt against the oppressvie Syrian overlord Antiochus IV (an event still commemorated annually a Hanukkah). On that occasion, when the people had purified the Temple of Antiochus’ desecration, they marched about waving palm branches (2 Macc 10:7). Ever since, palms had been a symbol of Jewish nationalism, as evidenced by the palm branches struck on coins during the Bar Kochba revolt.
C. Application: Waving Palms sets us at the nexus of the full-hearted praise of God and our idolatrous allegiance to whatever or whomever we hail as a WINNER. To cope with our human frailty, we seek to identify with someone strong, powerful, and invincible. Or so we hope…
The Packers, Cubs, the Creighton Bluejays, a political party or leader, an ecclesial leader or antagonist, some sort of hero/heroine. Such identification with a group buttresses or self-esteem. When they win, we’re elated. When they lose, we’re crushed. Wave those palms next week remembering your gods! I will.
14 And Jesus found a young ass and sat upon it; as it is written, 15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on an ass’s colt!”
Jesus’ response to “King of Israel” acclaim was to grab a colt to make a counter-sign of humility. He refused to accept the nationalistic enthusiasm of the crowd with its all implications.
16 His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him. 17 The crowd that had been with him when he called Laz′arus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead bore witness. 18 The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.”
Application: In good Johannine fashion, the author demonstrates the ironic use of ‘world’ here. On the one hand, the Pharisees lament how many people went after Jesus. “Seems like everyone!”
On the other hand, and this is key: the ‘world’, that which opposes Jesus, went after him to make him be their kind of king, rather than the king he was going to be. INRI.
Hence, when in Sunday’s gospel, Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life,” he’s pointing not to earth, but to the world of making other gods, other heroes, other idols to safe us from our terrible yet precious vulnerability.
All this leads into Sunday’s gospel.