Cycle (A) Palm Sunday

Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 21:1-11, 27:11-54

The contemporaries of Jesus were very familiar with the triumphal processions of the Emperors and Kings.

The Roman triumph was held to publicly celebrate and sanctify the military achievement of an army commander who had won great military successes, or one who had successfully completed a foreign war. On the day of his triumph, the general wore regalia. He rode in a chariot through the streets of Rome in unarmed procession with his army and the
spoils of his war. At Jupiter's temple on the Capitoline Hill he offered sacrifice and the tokens of his victory to the god.

The Greek author Plutarch describes how kings are supposed to enter a city. He tells about one Roman general, Aemilius Paulus, who won a decisive victory over the Macedonians. When Aemilius returned to Rome, his triumphant procession lasted three days. The first day was dedicated to displaying all the artwork that Aemilius and his army had plundered. The second day was devoted to all the weapons of the Macedonians they had captured. The third day began with the rest of the plunder borne by 250 oxen, whose horns were covered in gold. This included more than 17,000 pounds of gold coins. Then came the captured and humiliated king of Macedonia and his extended family. Finally, Aemilius himself entered Rome, mounted on a magnificent chariot. Aemilius wore a purple robe, interwoven with gold. He carried his laurels in his right hand. He was accompanied by a large choir singing hymns, praising the military accomplishments of the great Aemilius. ( ) That, my friends, is how a king enters a city. But the King of Kings? He entered riding on a lowly donkey. Zechariah envisioned the King of Kings, the Messiah, coming not on a great stallion, but riding on a humble donkey. Zechariah foresaw it. Jesus fulfilled it. (

The first part of today’s gospel describes the royal reception which Jesus received from his admirers, who paraded with him for a distance of two miles: from the Mount of Olives to the city of Jerusalem. Two-and-a-half million people were normally present to celebrate the Jewish feast of Passover. Jesus permitted such a royal procession to fulfil the prophecies of Zechariah (9:9) and Zephaniah (3: 16-19): “Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion…. see now your king comes to you; he is victorious, triumphant, humble and riding on a donkey…” (Zech. 9:9).

The King is described as victorious and triumphant.  The Roman Emperors celebrated their victory over the Kings who were weaker than them. They cruelly and mercilessly crushed the nation that was not able to stand against their might. Their victory was basically a victory over the weak and the helpless. But the victory of Jesus was different. It was a victory over the forces of darkness. A victory over sin and death. The Emperors conquered their fellow men by fair and fowl means; but Jesus conquered himself through fasting and prayer. The emperors conquered the innocent by the power of sword; Jesus conquered the multitudes by the power of love and compassion. The emperors forced the victims to join their procession. Jesus’ contemporaries were drawn by the charm of His personality. Jesus condemned evil and appreciated genuine repentance. He exposed hypocrisy and recognized sincerity. Therefore, when He saw that the Holy abode of God was being converted into a den of thieves, He reacted violently. When we commemorate the victorious and triumphant entry of Jesus into the city of God the same demand is placed on us too. Fight the evil and stand by Justice. In this attempt we are not alone. There is a group that has gone ahead of us. When Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of King Henry VIII of England, saw that the King was moving away from the precepts of the Lord, he showed great courage to challenge and correct the king. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534 for his refusal to take the oath required by the First Succession Act, because the act disparaged the power of the Pope. In 1535 he was tried for treason and beheaded.  Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was assassinated by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. This is the duty entrusted to every Christian: fight the evil and conquer it. Then with the saints and martyrs we shall join the triumphal procession of the king.

Secondly, the king is described as humble and riding on a donkey. Most of the kings of the world are known for their pride, arrogance and cruelty. The dictator Sulla during the time of the Roman republic invented the "proscription", by which he would just announce whom he wanted dead. This would be read out in public places and he then would reward anyone who would kill that particular person. Caligula abandoned himself to cruelty and lust. He declared himself to be a god and would often go through the streets of Rome dressed as Bacchus, Venus, or Apollo. The Romans were compelled to worship him and he made the wealthiest citizens his priests. Having exhausted Rome and Italy, in A.D. 39 Caligula led a large army across the Alps for the purpose of plundering Gaul, where the richest citizens were put to death and their property confiscated.  The crowd that cheered Jesus was familiar with such cruelties of the Kings and Emperors. Contrary to their experience, they found a new procession where the king was adorned with humility. Jesus invitation is to enter the Kingdom with great humility. The people of Athens were surprised to hear the oracles verdict that the wisest man in Athens was Socrates... When questioned the philosopher, he replied “I know that I know not” In Chinese philosophy water is attributed the quality of humility. In fact Lao Tzu writes “How did the great rivers and the seas get their kingship over the hundred tiny streams? Through the merit of being lower than they; that was how they get their kingship.” Tomas A Kempis, a medieval Christian writer wrote, “No man can safely appear in public unless he himself feels that he would willingly remain in retirement. No man can safely speak who would not rather be silent. No man can with safety command who has not learnt to obey.” Such words are profound in wisdom.

This is the message of the great King. Walk in humility so that you will be exalted in the sight of the Lord.