A reflection on the readings for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, April 2, 2023.
Jesus’ Galilean ministry has come to an end and the final journey to Jerusalem has been completed. He has preached the words of the Father, healed many, raised people to life, walked the streets of Palestine, eaten what people gave him, and slept wherever He found a place. But His earthly ministry is coming to an end. It is Palm Sunday and Jesus has the bigger picture in His mind. He is looking beyond His present time and place and thinking about every person on this planet.
Psalm 48:2 calls Jerusalem, the “city of the Great King.” It is in this city that the events of the week take place, proclaiming Jesus, the King. Yet, we will see, the proclamation of His Kingship is revealed both by His triumphal entry and painful mockery.
The King Enters Jerusalem in Triumph
Jesus walked 90 miles from Galilee to Bethany and then secured a donkey for the final two miles to Jerusalem, which is strange. In those days, kings processed on horseback during wartime but preferred to ride on a donkey in times of peace. 1 Kings 1:38-41 describes how Prince Solomon used his father David’s royal donkey for the ceremonial procession on the day of his coronation. Hence, horses symbolized war and donkeys symbolized peace.
Now Jesus, the Messianic King, enters the city as prophesied by Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Thus, He enters the city as the King of Peace.
The crowds pave the way for Jesus with their own cloaks and branches, similar to the jubilant royal entrances and processions of King Solomon, Jehu, Simon Maccabeus, and Judas Maccabeus. They welcomed Jesus into the Holy City the same way they welcomed other Kings of the land, with shouts of acclamation.
The mission of the King is to save the people. In their acclamation of Jesus, the crowds use words from Psalm 118:25–26, the last of the Hallel psalms sung at Passover. They pray to the King, “Hosanna” which was originally a prayer, “Save, I/we beseech you.” They ask Jesus, the King of Peace to save them.
The King is Bedecked and Empurpled
After scourging Jesus, the soldiers mockingly clothe Jesus with a purple garment. Purple was the imperial color (Rev 17:4, 18:16) which was worn by the emperor as his outer cloak. Wearing purple was outlawed for anyone below the equestrian rank. An authentic purple cloak would not have been easily obtainable, because the purple dye used for these cloaks was from shellfish, which was very expensive. Now the King is clothed in His royal garments.
To insult Jesus more, the soldiers put a crown on His head. The crown represents kingship. The Roman emperors wore laurel wreaths on their heads, radiant corona symbolizing divinity. The King is crowned now.
The soldiers derided Jesus saying, “Hail, King of the Jews.” Caesar was greeted as “Ave Caesar,” which means “Hail, Caesar.” Jesus is greeted with the normal practice of greeting the emperor in those days. The mockery of purple clothing and the crowning of Jesus becomes the truth.
After clothing the emperor in royal garments and crowning him, the practice was to present him to the public in a ceremonial purple robe and a crown. Now Pilate brought Jesus out to the public, royally bedecked and empurpled to be presented to His people for acclamation. Pilate introduced Him, saying, “Behold the man!” which means, “Look, here is your king!”
The King of the Jews, becomes the King of the Universe
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the Cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
The Jewish authorities wanted Pilate to change the statement, but Pilate refused. The Romans had a lot of respect for the written word. Roman law said that a written document could not be altered. Pilate would not violate this practice. His refusal to alter the sign affixed to the Cross affirmed the Kingship of Jesus despite the attempts of the Jewish authorities to hide it. It was Pilate, the Gentile, who declared the Kingship of Jesus.
The Latin version of Psalm 96:10 says, “The Lord has reigned from the tree.” Now the King rules from the tree. Now that Jesus has been lifted up from the earth, he is beginning to draw all men to himself.
The Angel Gabriel told Mary, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His Kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). Now that Scripture is fulfilled in the last week of His life. He is King, not only of the Jews, but of the Universe.
Image Credit: Jean-Léon Gérôme “L’entrée du Christ à Jérusalem,” Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.
Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province. Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.