Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
At the Procession with Palms: Gospel According to St. Matthew 21:1-11
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
Second Reading: St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians 2:6-11
Gospel: According to St. Matthew 26:14-27:66
The liturgy for this day is a magnificent portrait of the workings of the human psyche as it encompasses the two extremes of emotion in relation to Jesus. We seem to be hardwired to both mindlessly follow and then heartlessly denounce heroes. We are just as thrilled by what we see at the grocery checkout about the fallen demi-gods of our culture as we were when lavishing adulation upon them when they were the media’s flavor of the week. How easily our luminaries move from the cover of People to the front page of The National Enquirer.
The same people who hailed Jesus as the Blessed One quickly became what Stalin would call “useful idiots” as they followed the Jewish hierarchy’s lead and cried out for His death. The masses little understood Jesus and His message, but those in charge should have known better. Instead, they saw Him as a menace rather than a Messiah, as a subversive rather than a Savior.
The swiftness of these events shows how easily public opinion can be swayed when seen through the lens of a mob mentality. It shows that there are forces aligned with what my wife Ann calls “the bad angels” that are always at work under the surface and behind the scenes.
To examine history is to see that horrible things can happen to very good people when horrible people are clandestinely plotting their downfall. When the plots come to fruition, there are those who are surprised and outraged, but those in the know realize that these events had precision and timing that was anything but coincidental.
So it was with Jesus and the events that transpired in Jerusalem from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. Those who cried out for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified were the same people who hailed Him only five days earlier. Their commitment to Jesus as the Messiah had all the depth of a mushroom, and when the winds began to blow against Him, the people were easily uprooted and were swept away in the most devastating “black op” in the history of humankind.
If Tertullian’s proclamation that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church” is true, then how much more so is it true for the Martyr of Martyrs, Jesus the Messiah? It seems that the human emotional pendulum swings both ways. Just as people can be drawn away from a hero when persuaded by events or by those who whisper bad things in their ears, so can they be drawn back to the fallen idol when circumstances change. Clevelanders know better than anyone that a reviled former hero can reclaim his throne by changing the circumstances of a curse involving fifty-two years of sports misery.
When the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two, when the earth quaked, and rocks were split, when tombs were opened, and bodies were raised and seen by many, the circumstances had indeed changed. But neither the useful idiots and their religious masters like Caiaphas, nor the impotent political tools Pilate and Herod Antipas, were able to see what was obvious to the centurion and those others who were charged with keeping watch over Jesus:
“Truly, this was the Son of God!”
Let us always hold on to this Son of God, especially when the winds begin to blow.