Background to Understanding Palm Sunday:
The presence of large crowds: Throughout the New Testament, and throughout the short 3 year period of His public life, Jesus has drawn large crowds. Considering some texts and just from St. Luke: 3, 15: “great crowds;” 5, 15: “great crowds;”8, 4: “a very great crowd;” 8, 4: “the crowd;” 8, 43: “pressed upon by the crowds;” 45: “the crowds throng and press upon thee;” 12,1: “when immense crowds had gathered together;” 14, 25: : “now great crowds were going along with him;” 19, 48: “for all the people hung upon his words.” So, it is not surprising that particularly after the very recent raising of Lazarus in a place like Bethany, as close as it is to Jerusalem, and his presence at a well-attended feast there, that there would be a concentration of crowds and much talk about Him. And this at a time when there is high expectation of liberation from Roman control. Consider Benedict’s remarks on Barabbas: “When Matthew remarks that Barabbas was ‘a notorious prisoner (Mt. 27, 16). This is evidence that he was one of the prominent resistance fighters, in fact probably the actual leader of tat particular uprising.
“In other words, Barabbas was a messianic figure. The choice of Jesus versus Barabbas is not accidental; two messiah figures, two forms of messianic belief stand in opposition. This becomes even clearer when we consider that the name Bar-Abbas means ‘son of the father’….
“Origen, a Father of the Church, provides us with another interesting detail. Up until the third century, many manuscripts of the Gospels referred to the man in question here as ‘Jesus Barabbas’ – ‘Jesus son of the father.’ Barabbas figures here as a sort of alter ego of Jesus, who makes the same claim but understands it in a completely different way. So the choice is between a Messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one’s own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?”
And benedict makes the point: “If we had to choose today, would Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, the Son of the Father, have a chance Do we understand him? Do we not perhaps have to make an effort, today as always, to get to know him all over again? The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have this place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev attributes to the Antichrist a book entitled The Open Way to World Peace and Welfare. This book becomes something of a new Bible, whose real message is the worship of well-being and rational planning.”
The Third Temptation
Consider now the Third Temptation of Christ in Benedict’s “Jesus of Nazareth:”
“We come now to the third and last temptation, which is the climax of the whole story. The devil takes the Lord in a vision onto a high mountain. He shows him all the kingdoms of the earth and their splendor and offers him kingship over the world. Isn't that precisely the mission of the Messiah? Isn't he supposed to be the king of the world who unifies the whole earth in one great kingdom of peace and well-being? We saw that the temptation to turn stones into bread has two remarkable counterparts later on in Jesus' story: the multiplication of the loaves and the Last Supper. The same thing is true here.
The risen Lord gathers his followers "on the mountain" (cf. Mt 28:16). And on this mountain he does indeed say: "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Mt 28:18). Two details here are new and different. The Lord has power in heaven and on earth. And only someone who has this fullness of authority has the real, saving power. Without heaven, earthly power is always ambiguous and fragile. Only when power submits to the measure and the judgment of heaven—of God, in other words—can it become power for good. And only when power stands under God's blessing can it be trusted.
This is where the second element comes in: Jesus has this power in virtue of his Resurrection. This means that it presupposes the Cross, his death. It presupposes that other mountain—Golgotha, where he hangs on the Cross and dies, mocked by men and forsaken by his disciples. The Kingdom of Christ is different from the kingdoms of the earth and their splendor, which Satan parades before him. This splendor, as the Greek word doxa indicates, is an illusory appearance that disintegrates. This is not the sort of splendor that belongs to the Kingdom of Christ. His Kingdom grows through the humility of the proclamation in those who agree to become his disciples, who are baptized in the name of the triune God, and who keep his commandments (cf. Mt 28:19f.).
But let us return to the third temptation. Its true content becomes apparent when we realize that throughout history it is constantly taking on new forms. The Christian empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity. The Kingdom of Christ was now expected to take the form of a political kingdom and its splendor. The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power. The struggle for the freedom of the Church, the struggle to avoid identifying Jesus' Kingdom with any political structure, is one that has to be fought century after century. For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria.”
The power to put Christ at the summit of all human activities. The temptation of Christ to use His divine power to impose adherence to Him is the dark mirror image of His will as spoken in Jn 12, 32: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men (things) to myself.” As you all know, St. Josemaria Escriva heard those words on August 7, 1931 during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. And he understood the Lord to be saying to him that this will become reality by the conversion of men into being who they are by creation in the image and likeness of God and the power of the sacrament of Baptism. That is, that they will have to die to themselves and make the sincere gift of themselves in the exercise of ordinary work and family life, and staying where they are in the secular world – which they are to love passionately – they will become “other Christs,” “Christ Himself.” And so, He will “rule” by others becoming Him in the world and by the world – working like the donkey at the waterwheel.
The Prelate of Opus Dei, wrote in 2004:
“[Escriva] likened himself to a worthless “mangy donkey.” But as humility is truth, he also recognized that he had received many gifts from God, especially the task of opening the divine paths on earth by showing millions of men and women that they can be saints by simply fulfilling their ordinary duties at work.
“Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. We ought to draw some conclusions from this scene. Each Christian can and must make of himself a throne for Christ. And so, in these words of St. Josemaría, we find the ring that fits the finger: “If Jesus had been looking for a perfect place when he asked to reign in my soul-in your soul-we would have good reason to despair. But,” he adds, “Jesus was content with a poor animal for his throne…. There are hundreds of more beautiful, useful, and formidable animals. But Christ settled for that one when he presented himself to the people that they might acclaim him as their king. That’s because Jesus has nothing to do with a calculating cleverness or the cruelty of frozen hearts, or striking but conceited beauty. Our Lord esteems the joy of a good heart, a simple step, a clear voice, clean eyes, an ear attentive to his affectionate words. That’s how he wants to reign in souls.”
Let us allow him to take possession of our thoughts, words, and deeds! Let us reject, above all, the self-love that is the greatest obstacle to Christ’s reign! Let us be humble, without assuming merits to ourselves. Can you imagine how ridiculous it would have been had that donkey attributed to himself the acclaim the people were giving to the Master?
Commenting on this Gospel scene, John Paul II recalls that Jesus did not perceive his earthly life to be a quest for power, eagerness for success or
career, the will to
dominate over others. On the contrary, he renounced the privileges of his
equality with God, took on the condition of a slave, made himself like men, and
obeyed the Father’s plan even to death on a Cross (Homily, Apr. 8, 2001).
Popular enthusiasm is usually short-lived. A few days later, those who had received him with acclaim would be shouting for his death. And we, do we let ourselves be led by passing enthusiasm? If we notice in these days of Holy Week a close brush with the divine grace of God, that he is passing near, let us make room for him in our souls. Let us spread on the ground more than palm or olive branches; let us put our hearts there. Let us be humble. Let us be mortified. Let us be understanding with others. This is the homage Jesus expects from us.
Holy Week is the occasion to relive the fundamental elements of our Redemption. But let us not forget, as St. Josemaría writes, that “in order to accompany Christ in His glory at the end of Holy Week, we must incorporate into ourselves His complete self-giving; we must feel identified with Him, who died on Calvary.” There is no better way to do that than to walk hand in hand with Mary. May she obtain the grace that these days leave a deep mark on our souls, that they be for each one of us, an occasion to intensify our Love for God so that we can show it to others.