Reflection for the Vigil of Palm Sunday (Cycle B)

By Genevieve Robinson, O.S.B.

Reading: Mark 11:1-10

Sister Genevieve RobinsonTomorrow commences the start of Holy Week, a week in which we will reflect upon our redemption and the promise of resurrection as we meditate on the last days of Jesus' time on earth before his death and resurrection. Beginning this Sunday and throughout the week, we will hear the passion as told by the writers of the gospels. But what comes before the passion narratives? 

Unlike the other evangelists, in the Palm Sunday gospel, Mark demonstrates Jesus' humanity more than his divinity.  A prime example is that memorable day before Jesus begins his entry into Jerusalem. He instructs his close followers to fetch a colt, an animal on which no one has ridden. Following his instructions, the apostles bring the colt to Jesus, then, fulfilling the prophecy found in Zachariah, He rides it into Jerusalem. 

Along the way as He enters the city, the people--we do not know how many or who they are--greet Jesus with palm branches.  The crowd and His disciples are expecting Jesus to overthrow the Roman power that rules them and to set up a kingdom with Jesus as King or Messiah. However, their vision of a kingdom--a utopia--is not Jesus’ idea.  They want life to change for the better; they long for an end to foreign rule.  Instead, Jesus’ thought of revolution is unique; it is “a revolution that will replace empires altogether with a humanity in which everyone is included" (1) He wants us "to realize the divine image that lives in"(2) each of us. He also understands that the journey towards the kingdom is on a road that is less traveled—initially, few will voluntarily take it.  The path that beckons Him culminates in the cross and bloody Calvary.  So, a day that begins with cloaks and palm branches being thrown on the road for him and shouts of Hosanna ringing out to honor their King--a king who hopefully will restore the throne of David--a disappointed crowd rejects the invitation of Jesus and, instead, abruptly disperses, leaving Him alone with the twelve disciples.  Jesus then goes to the temple briefly, surveys the surroundings, and heads on to Bethany for the night.  Because their vision of a new kingdom has not been met, members of the crowd that cheered him earlier in the day will later condemn Jesus and support his execution.  

So, what of us today?  Are we any different when our expectations remain unfulfilled and we are not saved from terminal illnesses, slights, threats, sleeplessness, loneliness, or community problems? Do we turn to thoughts (and actions) of dismissal, or do we reassess whether our expectations are realistic?  Unlike the crowd on Palm Sunday, will we hear the invitation to come and follow Jesus, to be His disciples?  Will we hear the cries of the hungry, the homeless, the lonely in community, and the prisoner with the ear of our heart? Will we work to alleviate suffering?  Will we work for justice, peace, and relief for wounded souls? As we run alongside Jesus as He approaches His crucifixion, will we live out our baptismal commitment believing that we shall live in His resurrection? 

As we mull over this, we might call to mind a few lines from Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Jesus took the less traveled road.  He issued an invitation to his disciples and to us with the words, “Come, follow me”.  As we, like His disciples, are invited to travel the road that He walked, many of us are fearful and seek to go on the road more traveled.  However, if we truly trust in God, we will listen with the ear of our heart and travel with Jesus.  Edward Hayes captures the moment when he wrote, “In Gethsemane, Jesus reaffirmed the road that he would travel even though it would ultimately lead to his death.”(3) Today, we, as baptized Christians, are called to accept the invitation of Jesus to walk the road less traveled as we “participate in the mystery of our salvation as a present reality.”(4)

2 Ibid.
3 Edward Hayes, The Lenten Pharmacy:  Daily Healing Therapies, (Notre Dame, Indiana: Forest of Peace, 2006), p. 107.
4 Verna Holyhead, S.G.S., Welcoming the Word in Year B: Sowing the Seed, (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2008,) p. 45.