Palm Sunday Homily

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Homily Notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin  Archbishop of Dublin

Pro-Cathedral 13th April 2014

“Today is Palm Sunday and it is the beginning of the Great Week of the Christian Community, Holy Week: the week in which we remember and witness to and relive in our own lives the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus.  Every other dimension of the Christian life finds its roots and inspiration in this Paschal Mystery.

The readings we hear on Palm Sunday recall two things:  the entry of Jesus unto Jerusalem, which we heard at the beginning of Mass, and then the narrative of the Passion of Jesus which we have heard in the Gospel reading.  

Jesus’ first hearers were aware of the way in which the history of salvation had unfolded over the centuries and how these events were recorded in the scriptures of the Old Testament. These scriptures pointed towards the Redeemer who was to come.  But as we have heard in both of our readings not everyone who knew those scriptures was able or willing to recognise in Jesus the fulfilment of the promises of old.   

We face the same challenge today.  We have to ask ourselves then the question: “who is this Jesus Christ who enters into Jerusalem and who enters into our world and into the life of each of us”.  And we have to ask ourselves: how, when we recognise this Jesus, must we change the way we live? 

The Gospel reading we heard before the blessing of the Palms opens with Jesus asking his disciples to prepare for the celebration of the mystery of the Passover as he enters into Jerusalem to reveal to us the greatness of God’s love.

This is the beginning of the high point in Jesus’ mission.  This high point begins however from an unlikely starting point.  Many failed to recognise Jesus because they imagined that the Messiah might enter Jerusalem with the chariot of a soldier-warrior wielding power or with the elegant coach of a politician or of the wealthy and powerful.  To show us who God is, however, Jesus chooses to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, the animal of the poor, indeed on a borrowed donkey.  Jesus chooses to show us his power through humility, with a total detachment from worldly possession.   Jesus is telling us, at the very moment in which he goes up to Jerusalem to claim his kingship, that his power has nothing to do with the trappings of political power. 

Sadly his disciples even until the last moment hoped that Jesus’ power would become a political kind.  Jesus stresses that his power is of another kind, and that is how he reveals to us who God is: a God who becomes poor for our sake and who would impose his rule not with the arms of war or power, but through a peace that only God can give.

With Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, as on so many other occasions, Jesus is recognised by some and he is rejected by others.  Those who are at the gates of Jerusalem are those who in humility are full of the hope that redemption would come.  They cast their poor garments of little worth on the grounds before Jesus and can cry “Hosanna” as they recognise the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

Others reject Jesus.  When Jesus enters Jerusalem they will cry out not “Hosanna” but “Barabbas” and later “Crucify him”.  They feel that know who God is.  They are prepared to determine who God is for everyone else, but on their terms.    They will only accept Jesus if he is the Messiah that they want. 

All of us are tempted to create a Jesus that we would like, rather than allowing Jesus to make of us people that God would like.

The Gospel of the Passion is full of the titles which the Old Testament had presented as the signs by which we could recognise the Redeemer who is to come.  Curiously our Gospel reading of the Passion narrative puts the references to these terms in unexpected mouths.   It is those who reject him – the Sanhedrin, and Pilate and the Roman soldiers – that speak of Jesus as “The Christ” or “King” or “Messiah”, in order to reject him.  The wife of Pilate calls him “this good man”, the Centurion who stands at the cross at the moment of Jesus greatest humiliation, calls Jesus:  “Truly the son of God”.

It is fascinating to note that most of those who reject Jesus know the correct language about the one who is to come, but they fail to understand its true meaning.  Reform and renewal of the Church today depends on our ability to recognise the true meaning of the language of the Scriptures and to shape our lives according to that true meaning.  There are many in our societies who speak loudly about the failings so the Church – and that is necessary – but who fail themselves to allow the Jesus of the Gospel to embrace them and change them.  There are many in the fold of the Church, today as then, who know all the right language but allow their fears and their self centeredness and their prejudices and their comfort zones to block them from taking the radical leap of real faith in Jesus.

Jesus is truly recognised only at the moment of his humiliation.   Jesus is the fulfilment of the scriptures because he is the one who takes upon himself our sufferings and gives himself totally in love for our sakes, even to the point of taking on death itself, so that he would free us from the death of sin.

The Church is a community which reaches out.  It must never be close-in on itself or self-centred.  The Church reaches out not to sell itself or to want to take up a place of power and prestige in society.  Its only mission is to preach and to witness to Jesus himself.  If Jesus presents his identity and his kingship in terms of service, the Church must do so in the same way.  The Church reaches out not in order to dominate but to being freedom and redemption from the things to bear down on us and bear down on those in our world who are exploited and marginalized, who are victims of a culture of greed, who are burdened by scruples which our false ideas of God have imposed on them.

Some recognise Jesus, others reject him.  Jesus will only be recognized by those who like Jesus follow the way and the will of the Father. The people who reject Jesus had all heard of the Prophet from Nazareth but their own arrogance prevented them from understanding and accepting his message.

We pray that our celebration of Holy Week here will be a moment of renewal as we in all humility recognise the saving power of God revealed in Jesus who, as we heard in the second reading, humbles himself and gives himself for us.   There is a growing interest in our days – among believers and non-believers alike – in pilgrimages and pilgrim walks.  The fundamental pilgrim walk of the believing Christian, however, is the interior walk and the journey of life which we make alongside Jesus in this Holy Week.  We journey with Jesus as he humbles himself and gives himself to death, so that all can reach resurrection and new life.  Let us set out then on that pilgrim journey.”