“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” (Matt 11:10).
The utter improbability of the Gospel is apparently something the early church was eager to proclaim. By worldly standards, the arrival of the Messiah, hailing from Nazareth in Galilee, riding into Jerusalem on an ass to purify the Temple was a perfect parody of royal and imperial power. Behold, the clown prince of Yellow Dog, Tennessee, blowing into Washington, DC, on a tractor to clean up Congress and save the world.
Conquering kings and Roman generals marched with their armies into vanquished cities astride white stallions, trumpets blaring and banners waving. This was real power. Matthew instead fulfills prophecies from Isaiah and Zechariah that depict God’s servant coming in lowly estate, welcomed by the poor waving branches and spreading their cloaks on the road before him. These prophecies mocked imperial pretensions to real authority, which comes from God alone.
And in yet another twist of this parody, Matthew subverts the crowd’s show of support for Jesus by contrasting it with the howling mob that just days later will reject him as king and call for his crucifixion. With Palm Sunday we begin a ride on a roller coaster of high expectation and sudden collapse as Jesus’ ministry comes to an appalling end on Golgotha. The man on the donkey pays the ultimate price for his insolence and presumption. Son of God, indeed.
Indeed. Believers who re-enact Palm Sunday know that the story was written backwards in the light of the Resurrection. If Jesus is not risen from the dead, there is no story to tell, no Good News. So our procession with palms and our participation in the reading of Matthew’s long Passion account today is a walk in faith, step by step, deeper and deeper into our own commitment to share in the mystery of the cross in order to know the meaning of the resurrection.