There are two gospel passages read today. In the first passage read at the beginning of mass, Jesus begins His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He rides on a donkey fulfilling the words of the prophet Jerimiah. He also approaches from the east, the same directions from which the glory of God was seen by Ezekial leaving the temple hundreds of years earlier. God is returning to His city with a sign of peace, riding a donkey.
Jesus is met with excitement and praise. Crowds adored Him and laid palms down in front of Him as He entered the city. Matthew tells us that the whole city was shaken and Jesus piqued everyone’s interest. Because it was the Passover, all Jews from the surrounding region were present. If they had not heard of Jesus before, they certainly did now.
The second gospel picks up at the evening of the Last Supper after Judas has agreed to betray Jesus. We then hear the familiar story that takes place in less than 24 hours. Jesus institutes the Eucharist, agonizes in the garden, is betrayed, stands trial before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, is beaten, mocked and condemned to death, carries His cross, and is crucified alone amidst jeers and taunts. The story ends with Jesus’ burial, and a guard placed in front of the tomb.
A couple things come to mind when reflecting on the juxtaposition of these two stories. The first is the temptation of Jesus as He comes into Jerusalem and in the garden. Here in front of Him was a host of Jews ready to crown Him king. All Jesus had to do is say the word, and He would have an army of heaven and earth ready to take out the Roman invaders. Jesus even says this to Peter in the garden. Jesus could skip the passion He knew was coming and conquer as His ancestor David did. But that would’ve been using the devices of Satan. Jesus had conquered that temptation in the desert, but it might have been vivid for Him as rode into Jerusalem and again during His temptation in the garden.
The second is the movement of the crowd from hailing Jesus as king, to condemning Him to crucifixion. We usually look at this Gospel from 2000 years away, however, if we place ourselves in the story: Who are we?
Are we the crowd who turn on Jesus in an instant due to our lack of being in relationship with Him?
Are we like Jesus’ disciples who originally welcome Jesus joyfully into Jerusalem, promise not to leave Him even when Jesus predicts His death, but whenever He is persecuted we abandon Him? Is our spirit willing, but our flesh weak?
Are we like Judas who likes Jesus, but uses Him to push our own political or monetary agenda?
Do we accuse Jesus, the Church, or other Catholics because we believe ourselves superior in morality or understanding of the faith as the Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin did?
Are we like the soldiers and temple guards who openly beat and mock Jesus in his state of poverty?
Are we like Pilate who knows that Jesus is innocent but cares too much about the opinion of the crowd to do the right thing?
Are we like those who pass by who revile Jesus in His poverty and demand a sign for their belief?
Are we like Simon, forced to help Jesus carry His cross?
Are we like the Centurion who recognizes that Jesus is the Son of God after His death?
Are like Joseph and Nicodemus, offering burial to the dead Lord?
If we are honest, we often are a mixture of these people throughout our lives depending on the circumstance. If you substitute Jesus with our friends, family members, coworkers, the homeless, our enemies, annoying people in person or online, etc, we know that we are capable of the cruelties of the crucifixion. St. Francis of Assisi tells us, “It is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.” Yet, as we allow grace to take over our lives, transforming us, we know that we are called to be like the women who followed Jesus to the cross, despite the danger and desolation. We are called to follow Jesus, no matter the cost. Because it is only in uniting ourselves to the crucified Christ that we will be able to experience the joy of the resurrection.