The King on a Donkey’s Back

04-14-2019Weekly ReflectionFather Prince Raja

Today the Church is celebrating the Palm Sunday which is also known as Passion Sunday to commemorate thebeginning of Holy Week and Jesus’ final agonizing journey to the cross. The word passion comes from a Latin wordPassio meaning “to suffer,” and we meditatively go with the sufferings of Jesus. Here we have the rejoicing with thecoming of Jesus and at the same time a reminder of his suffering that is to come in a short time. In the liturgicalcalendar Holy Week begins with the Sixth Sunday in Lent. Palm Sunday reminds the faithful of the glorious andtriumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. As Jesus entered into Jerusalem the crowds greeted him with shouts of joyand proclaimed him as the messianic king. They spread their cloaks on the ground and placed the palm branches onthe street and shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”.

The King on a Donkey’s Back

In the gospel of Luke Jesus is on this single, long journey that he started from the little village of Nazareth(Lk 4:42-44) to the capital of the Jewish world – Jerusalem. Now he is almost there nearing his destiny. It is goingto be a solemn entry, almost as a King is about to enter to take possession of his capital. And the procession begins atthe Mount of Olives – the mount that is be the stage for the ultimate Day of the Lord (according to Zechariah 14:34),the day of judgement. Perhaps the people have some insight into what is happening. They throw their cloaks on the road as a sign of their surrender to the king. And they sing in acclamation. The lines they sing are partlyborrowed from Psalm 118 (verse 26) that celebrates the kingship of the Lord.

But here is a contradiction: the Lord rides on a donkey, and not on a horse. The horse could indicate amilitary, violent entry. So he has purposefully chosen a donkey, he makes a humble entry. As the prophet Zechariahonce again reminds us, “Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem! Look, yourking is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey”(Zechariah 9:9). The Gospels tell us that Jesus rode into the city on a donkey, and in so doing emphasized thehumility that was to characterize the Kingdom he proclaimed. In biblical times, the regional custom called for kingsand nobles arriving in procession to ride on the back of a donkey. The donkey was a symbol of peace and those whorode upon them proclaimed peaceful intentions. The laying of palm branches indicated that the king or dignitary wasarriving in victory or triumph.

The liturgy of Palm Sunday, in the past two decades has been closely related to the celebration of the YouthDay. Pope Benedict XVI in his homily of 2006 Palm Sunday said that for 20 years, thanks to St. Pope John Paul II,Palm Sunday has become in a particular way the Day of Youth, the day that young people around the world go out tomeet Christ, wishing to accompany him in their cities and countries so that he will be among us and be able toestablish his peace in the world. The Pope stressed the three characteristics proclaimed by the church, poverty, peace,universality — are summarized in the sign of the cross. Palm Sunday, however, tells us that the authentic great “yes”is, in fact, the cross, that the cross is the authentic tree of life.