How Will We Welcome Christ?
After traveling and living with Jesus for three years, listening to all his inspiring words, witnessing his amazing miracles, observing his life of love for all people, everything seems to culminate in the events of yesterday. For the Apostles, going to Bethany where Jesus’ dear friend Lazarus had died and been buried in a tomb four days prior, they thought that the Lord would simply comfort the sisters Martha and Mary, giving them words of hope and strength in the midst of their mourning. Yet Christ not only shocked everyone with his greatest miracle – giving life to a man who had been dead four days – but he reaffirmed His divine identity to His followers. “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though they may die, they shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
Jesus Christ affirmed that He has authority and power even over death itself. He is not simply another great prophet, in the line of the greatest of Jewish prophets. He is not simply another wise teacher and sage, like the philosophers of old. He is not a miracle worker, who has performed some unbelievable miracles. With the raising of Lazarus from the dead, Christ claimed something for Himself, and supported that claim with His concrete actions, in a way that no one else in history has ever done! This culmination of His earthly ministry up to this point in His life, the raising of Lazarus from the dead after four days, affirmed for the apostles the divine identity of Jesus as Messiah!
Well, word about this latest miracle of Jesus spread like wildfire, especially into the city of Jerusalem, which was only a few miles away from Bethany. And with the annual Passover celebration only a week away, countless pilgrims from around the empire were already flooding into the Holy City. In the religious fervor of the day, people began spreading the word that a prophet of old had arisen and was entering the city, and could this even be the long awaited Messiah?
This was the atmosphere into which Jesus and his disciples entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Apostles wildest dreams were being fulfilled when the crowds began praising Jesus’ entrance into the city. Children began crying out “Hosanna to God in the Highest!” People were waving palm branches, as if a victorious king was entering the city. For some of the people who had lived under centuries of oppression, they began to dream that maybe this was a prophet who could lead them to freedom – a prophet like of old, a leader who could not only speak on behalf of God, but also lead them in victory over their enemies.
And yet, like a fickle crowd, how easy is it for people to offer words of love and praise one moment, and change their words to a different tune when the leader doesn’t lead as they dreamed. Less than a week passes before the chants of the crowds change from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Why did many people change their praises of adoration to cries of anger and hatred? Why did the mood of the crowd change from welcoming a prophet and king to condemning a criminal? What had Jesus done to deserve this reversal of fortune?
Was it that Jesus scandalized His listeners by precisely living out what he had been preaching all along – a message that people weren’t ready to accept? Christ taught his listeners, “If you want to be first, you must be last. If you want to follow me, you must deny yourselves and take up your cross.” He challenged His friends, “Love your enemies, and forgive those who do harm to you.” He reminded everyone that the path to greatness was through serving others, “ If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” He forewarned His followers, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” And Jesus summarized his teachings by saying, “Those who love their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for my name’s sake, will save it.”
The crowds didn’t understand such radical teachings. They didn’t want to accept the path of self-sacrifice and self-denial. The idea of dying in order to live was something incomprehensible to most. And when Christ put his words into action through the final deeds during His Passion, the crowds which praised and adored Jesus during his entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, suddenly became silent at best, or derogatory at worse. People didn’t want to understand His path of self-sacrificial love, so they rejected not only His teachings, but rejected Christ Himself!
As we remember and celebrate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem today, on this Palm Sunday, we are challenged to think about how we will respond to Christ’s teaching and life. Like the crowds 2000 years ago, millions of Christians worldwide will enter the churches in praise and worship today and throughout Holy Week. How many will celebrate the joy of Pascha a week from today. And yet, we have to ask ourselves, will we make the commitment to not only worship Jesus, but to follow the path of life that He has given to us?
If we are going to sing “Hosanna to God in the highest” today on Palm Sunday, we need to be careful not to reject Him when he challenges us to live out our faith in its fullness throughout the rest of the year! In other words, will we follow His call to love one another, even to love our enemies? When He commands us to forgive one another, no matter what the other has done to us, even up to 70 x 7 times, will we do it? When he challenges us to reject our self-centered desires, and place the other before ourselves, will we accept this path? Ultimately, when he shows us that the path of life is through dying to self, will we walk this path?
Christ’s call of faith seems like a risky path in life. In the world’s eyes, it may seem crazy. St. Paul called it foolishness by the standards of the world. Yet for those of us who dare to follow this path of the saints, we discover that in authentic commitment to Christ, comes ulimtate fulfillment of life. In radical dedication to our Lord comes the supreme meaning and purpose of our existence. Only through sacrificial love for one another, comes ultimate and eternal love richly abiding in our hearts!
The radical commitment of the few or the fickleness of the crowd. Palm Sunday leaves us much to think about!
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