Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
As we celebrate Palm Sunday, it is important to notice what Jesus is doing. Jesus is entering Jerusalem to begin the greatest week in all of history.
How is he entering the Holy City? By riding on a donkey. That’s an animal of simple country people. And the donkey didn’t even belong to him. He had to borrow it for the occasion. He did not enter on horseback, like some great figure of history. He didn’t arrive in some military chariot. No, he is riding on a borrowed donkey.
In the gospel, we hear that at first, the disciples did not understand Jesus’ action. Only after Easter did they begin to understand. Then they realized what Jesus was doing. He was fulfilling what the Old Testament prophet Zechariah had foretold. Zechariah had written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on the colt of an ass” (Jn 12: 15; cf. Zechariah 9: 9).
Jesus comes to Jerusalem as a poor man. When the gospel speaks about “the poor,” this has a special meaning. It refers especially to those believing and trusting souls who welcome Jesus. In their language, they are the “anawim” – people like Mary and Joseph and Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah, their son John the Baptist. These and others are the humble people who welcome and support Jesus. They are the ones he names first in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
Jesus comes, as a poor man, for the poor. Pope Francis often expresses his dream that the Church will be a Church of the poor, for the poor. Pope Francis repeatedly calls us to be poor like the first followers of Jesus were. To understand Pope Francis’s words about poverty, we must remember who the pope is. He is a spiritual man, a director of souls, a pastor. He is not a philosopher or a politician or an economist. Listen to what he said in a question and answer session:
For us Christians, poverty is not a sociological, philosophical or cultural category. No, it is a spiritual category. Why? Because God, the Son of God, Jesus, abased Himself, made Himself poor to walk with us on the road.
In a word, it’s about humility. As another Jesuit (Philip Caraman) once wrote, humility is the “virtue by which we take true measure of ourselves before God, bearing in mind all that God has given us and has done for us and expects from us.”
So, we are all like those poor, humble people from the time of Jesus— those who recognize their sins and beg Christ to save them. This is central to what it means to be a poor church. It’s a church that consists of people who freely submit to Christ as the only One who can save us. It presupposes above all inner freedom from greed for possessions. It is freedom from mania for power.
And how do we achieve that freedom? It is first and foremost a matter of purification of heart. Through conversion of our hearts, we are called to recognize that possessions are not about power. They are about responsibility.
Whatever we earn, or own, or receive, imposes upon us a duty towards others. If we have a good job, or an important position, or a wonderful wife, and great children – that is a responsibility which calls us to imitate even more emphatically the example of Jesus.
He became poor for our sake (cf. II Cor 8: 9). He did not “cling to equality with God. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave” (Philippians 2:6-7).
Inner freedom is the prerequisite for overcoming the corruption and greed that devastate the world today. This freedom can only be found if God becomes our richness; it can only be found in the patience of daily sacrifices. That is where true freedom develops.
Jesus is the King who points out to us the way to this goal. Jesus will rule from the Cross. He will rule in complete poverty. He will rule by opening his heart to us, pouring out blood and water that we might have life.
Reflection by Archbishop Jerome, OSB