Homily: Palm Sunday, Cycle B

Readings of the Day

(This is a composite of two short homilies, one at the beginning with the palms and the other at the regular time.)

In 1965, three sisters of St. Joseph, Carondelet made the journey to Selma, Alabama to participate in the Freedom March organized by Dr. Martin Luther King and others to seek justice for the black community of Alabama. It was a dangerous journey: it took three tries to make the trek to Montgomery, but with persistence, negotiation, and determination they called out the unjust situation and helped bring change.

The first march for justice was the original Palm Sunday. It was during a time of oppression, of unjust rulers and their local collaborators keeping a people in subjugation in order to take their resources through unjust law and tyranny. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, it was a strong sign that the reign of God was at hand, and things would be different. I think in many ways, every march demanding justice is part of that first Palm Sunday march, including the ones that happened around America this weekend, where the children made their voices heard.

Jesus’ death was inevitable, especially after his entry into Jerusalem. It was a statement that the Temple leadership could not mistake, a challenge to their power and authority. Tyrants aren’t known for toleration, or for playing fair when it’s not in their best interest. The rule of the Kingdom would make them losers, and the priestly party wasn’t going to give in. The standard for every Roman governor was their province be ‘peaceful and orderly,’ and they had broad discretion in keeping the peace. They never had enough underlings for administrative work, and never enough troops to keep the peace without help. They frequently worked with local elites, and sometimes leverage worked both ways. The priests were able to leverage Jesus’ execution, and Pilate did it to keep Judea quiet while maintaining the relationships he needed to cultivate in order to rule.

I’m always struck by the little detail of Gethsemane of the man who came wearing a linen sheet and ran off naked. That’s abject fear in action, something no one does unless in panic and fear for one’s life. We can understand Peter’s denial of Jesus: when the Romans suppressed a movement, they didn’t just decapitate it; they crucified everybody they could find remotely associated with the movement. Jesus died alone, and even though we know that isn’t the end of the story, we need to remember the disciples and everyone else didn’t know the ending. What they went through was very real, and the outcome uncertain.

Going from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount means going down a mountain, crossing a valley, and ascending another mountain. It would be tempting to take a hang glider across, although taxis are simpler and less risky. It’s tempting to go straight from Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem to the empty tomb, but to grasp what Easter means to us, we have to walk through that lonesome valley of betrayal, trial, torture, and death in order to grasp the impact of the empty tomb. We have to stand at the desolation at the foot of the Cross before we can feel the love Christ has for us.

So this week we should walk with Christ as much as we can. We need to read the readings for all the Masses this week, participate in the Triduum wherever we can, reflect on what’s happening and what is means for us. This is a journey of love and redemption, even at its worst, and we need to walk it to understand the depth of Jesus’ love for all of us. It is that love which promises the kingdom to come, a promise we all need.

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