Today we have the reading of the entire passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus -- quite a long Gospel this year according to St. Luke, so I have no intention of preaching at length, but there's just a couple of things about this Gospel lesson in preparation of our procession with the palms. But, also, as we listen to the long Gospel of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, there are points that I hope we will spend this week reflecting on, bringing about deep transformation in our minds, our hearts, our attitude, and our way of acting.
It starts with this procession with palms. We do a little bit of theater, in a sense. Jesus did this journey into Jerusalem, the crowds gathered, and just spontaneously it was a march and a decoration of Jesus as king. So we reenact that. We bless the palms and then we have our procession around the church singing, "Hosanna to the Son of David." As this Gospel for the procession points out, Jesus developed a kind of theater himself for the procession.
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
They had many times wanted to make Jesus king and he always rejected it. He simply would not be a king because they understood the king to be one with power, one who led people in war, one who dominated and ruled, and oppressed often. Jesus was not going to accept that role. Yet, here at this point when the crowds had got so large and were so insistent, he went along with their desires to go into Jerusalem being hailed, "Hosanna to the king," this prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.
But notice what he does with his staging of how he's going to enter into Jerusalem as their king. In Matthew's Gospel, Matthew points out that he is fulfilling a prophecy from the prophet Zechariah. Matthew just quotes a part of it, but listen to what the prophecy is, "Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout for joy, daughter of Jerusalem for your king is coming just and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt. No more chariots in Ephraim. No more horses in Jerusalem for he will do away with them. The warrior's bow shall be broken when he dictates peace to the nation. He will reign from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth."
It's so clear, if we listen. Jesus is saying, "I'm not going to be a king the way you think. I reject that. I reject power, domination, oppression, violence, war." So he stages his procession riding on a donkey. If he were going to be like a real king he would come on a war horse. He would have soldiers following him, not people carrying palm branches. He would come armed with large numbers to wage war, but he doesn't.
In fact as the prophet says, "No more chariots, weapons, or instruments of war. No more war horses in Jerusalem. He will do away with them. The warrior's bow shall be broken, weapons gotten rid of when he brings peace to the nations." Jesus has another way of bringing peace—not through violence, not through war, not through oppression and power and domination, but through love, gentleness, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
In the passion that we will read during Mass in a few moments, it's obviously worth reflecting on the whole thing, but there are a couple of points especially that reinforce this message from our liturgy of the procession. First of all, it's only in Luke's Gospel that Jesus reacts to violence that begins to happen when one of his followers strikes out with his sword and severs the ear of the high priest's servant.
Jesus carefully, tenderly, with love restores that servant's ear, heals the servant's ear. Jesus says, "No, we're not going to do violence. We bring healing and love." Then Jesus enters into a conversation with the two criminals who are being executed with him. When the one criminal reaches out asking for forgiveness, Jesus forgives, "This day you will be with me in Paradise." He's quick to forgive, to reach out in mercy and love.
Finally, on the cross when Jesus is being tortured, executed in a cruel, humiliating, evil way, he reaches out in forgiveness, prays for those who are putting him to death, "Father, forgive them." Jesus does not take vengeance, does not want to return violence for violence. He returns love for violence, love for hate. This is the core message of Jesus. We haven't learned it or really followed it in the 2,000-some years since Jesus proclaimed this good news.
In the early centuries, the first Christians did follow a way of rejecting violence, but quickly that passed and we began to justify violence and war. In our time, do we hear Jesus and his call to forgiveness, to love, to rejecting violence? We live in a nation that is overwhelmed with violence. We live in a nation that has been at war for decades and we see no peace because we continue to follow the way of the world, the way of violence and killing and revenge and hatred instead of rejecting that and following the way of Jesus.
You hear it, calls to arms all the time. We're in the midst of a political campaign and most of the candidates with great vehemence say, "We will destroy our enemies. We will treat them with hatred. We will destroy them. We will be the strongest military force in the whole world." Is that what you hear in this Gospel for the procession? Is that what you hear as you hear the account of the passion and death of Jesus? No, of course not.
This week I hope we will spend more time in quiet prayer and reflection on what Jesus is really teaching us as we follow him on the road to Calvary, as we follow him through his suffering and death to his resurrection on Easter. Pray that we can undergo a transformation of our hearts, our minds, and our spirits so that as St. Paul pleaded with his Christian community at Philippi, "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus."
In other words, pray that this week we can begin to transform our minds, our hearts, our attitudes to become like Jesus, the Jesus who shows us the way of love as the way to peace in our world, in our lives, in our communities, in our families. The way to peace is through love.
[Homily given at St. Philomena Parish, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]