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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Homily for Palm Sunday - Blessing of Palms

Today, as we begin this last week of Lent, this Holy Week, we commemorate Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem shortly before his Passion and Death. He approaches the city very humbly, riding on a donkey, but the people of Jerusalem line the path before he can enter the city. To use a modern phrase, Jerusalem rolls out the red carpet before him.

Why would the people greet Jesus in such a dramatic manner? If it sounds like they were welcoming him as their king, it's because they were. This whole event is the public proclamation of Jesus as their messiah. The term messiah is frequently understood in Christian circles as synonymous with savior, but it had a different connotation in Jesus' time. The Jewish people were under the control of the Romans, and were looking for a great king that had been foretold by the prophets. This king would free the land of Judah from the foreign oppressors, and would set up a great Jewish kingdom.

Jesus was thought to be this great king, and his entry into Jerusalem was seen as the fulfillment of the prophesy of the prophet Zechariah. In this prophesy, written about 500 years before Jesus' time, Zechariah foretold that the great king would come to Jerusalem “triumphant and victorious [. . .] humble and riding on an ass.” (Zech. 9:9) This king would not only restore the kingdom of Judah, but he would also bring about peace among the nations.

The problem with this view is that it understands the messiah as an earthly king. The people were looking for the establishment of an earthly kingdom, but that wasn't Jesus' mission. He came to proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven and to establish it here on earth through his Church. Instead of establishing a kingdom solely for the Jews, the Kingdom of Heaven proclaimed by Jesus is open to all humanity, both Jew and Gentile.

Through the waters of baptism, we have entered into this kingdom. At the same time, we pray within the Lord's Prayer “thy kingdom come”. If God's kingdom is already here through the establishment of the Church upon earth, why do we pray that it will come? As members of the Kingdom of Heaven, we want to see God's plan of salvation come to fruition. In essence, by praying “thy kingdom come”, we are looking forward to the return of Our Lord Jesus Christ and our triumphal entrance into Heaven.

This is foreshadowed within the Mass when we sing the “Holy, Holy, Holy” immediately before the Eucharistic Prayer. With the people of Jerusalem, we exclaim, “Hosanna in the highest” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Today, as we sing these words, may we enter more fully into the Kingdom of Heaven, and proclaim to the world that Jesus is Lord and Messiah.

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