Jennifer Halling, OSB | April 1, 2023
When Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time of his life, it must have been difficult for him to be hailed as king with hosannas and palm branches, when he knew that he was a marked man who would soon face a crowd clamoring for his crucifixion. Yet, he obediently fulfilled the words of the prophet Zechariah, “Say to daughter Zion, ‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” In doing so, he both affirmed that he was God’s anointed one and demonstrated that, in God’s kingdom, the Messiah is not a warlike conqueror, but a humble servant of the people. He chose to enter Jerusalem in this way to fulfill the Scriptures, thus reinforcing the faith of his disciples after his death and resurrection, and also to teach us something we humans desperately need to learn: that true power lies not in conquering our enemies and gaining status and wealth, but in aligning ourselves with the wisdom of God, which lies in humility, forgiveness, mercy, and self-emptying.
Once, during my years of prison ministry, a colleague helped us prepare for Palm Sunday with a guided meditation. He asked us to imagine being in the crowd that had gathered to acclaim Jesus — to feel the heat of the sun and choke on the dust of the road, to get caught up in the exuberance of the people, to jostle with others to catch a glimpse of this man who had reportedly raised a man from the dead. As I imagined myself in this scene, Jesus approached and looked directly into my eyes as he passed by and, for a moment, I felt utterly connected to his deep compassion, his acceptance of the sacrifice asked of him, and his longing for us to know God’s love as he did.
As we enter into Holy Week, we are all invited to gaze upon Jesus: on Palm Sunday as he enters Jerusalem to great acclaim, on Holy Thursday as he washes the feet of his disciples, and on Good Friday as he enters into his passion and death on the cross. In the events of this week, as Maureen Conroy observes, “Jesus’ life and actions reveal the true nature of God’s power: not the love of power but the power to love is what matters. Jesus chooses utter defenselessness because of the outrageous love of God — to help us realize the depth of God’s love, to see, to open the locked doors of our hardened hearts. In Jesus, God’s heart empties completely and becomes powerless, vulnerable, broken. In turn, our hearts must be hollowed out to receive the fullness of God’s vulnerable love.”
What we will not see when we gaze at Jesus in the coming week, as Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, notes, is any “bitterness, vengeance, loss of patience, or lack of graciousness (not a single trace). When the veil inside the temple is torn, when the side of Jesus is pierced, what we see, what flows out, is only forgiveness, patience, gentleness, understanding, and warm invitation.”
Jesus offers his life, his suffering, his resurrection to us in the coming week, that we might know the depth of God’s tremendous love as he knew it. As we gaze upon him, may we find the courage to follow his example by giving away our life so that our hearts too will overflow with the inexpressible delight of God’s love as we live in trust and anticipate our own resurrection.