The triumph of Jesus: meditation on Palm Sunday
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD | 29 March 2023
Jesus, I want to follow You in Your triumph, so that I may follow You later to Calvary.
Holy Week begins with the description of the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on the Sunday before His Passion. Jesus, who had always been opposed to any public manifestation and who had fled when the people wanted to make Him their king (cf. Jn 6:15), allows Himself to be borne in triumph today. Not until now, when He is about to die, does He submit to being publicly acclaimed as the Messiah, because by dying on the Cross, He will be in the most complete manner Messiah, Redeemer, King, and Victor. He allows Himself to be recognised as King, but a King who will reign from the Cross, who will triumph and conquer by dying on the Cross. The same exultant crowd that acclaims Him today will curse Him in a few days and lead Him to Calvary; today’s triumph will be the vivid prelude to tomorrow’s Passion.
Jesus enters the holy city in triumph, but only in order to suffer and die there. Hence, the twofold meaning of the Procession of the Palms: it is not enough to accompany Jesus in His triumph; we must follow Him in His Passion, prepared to share in it by stirring up in ourselves, according to St Paul’s exhortation (Phil 2:5–11), His sentiments of humility and total immolation, which will bring us, like Him and with Him, “unto death, even to the death of the Cross”. The palms which the priest blesses today have not only a festive significance; they also “represent the victory which Jesus is about to win over the prince of death” (Roman Missal). For us too, they must be symbols of triumph, indicative of the victory to be won in our battle against the evil in ourselves and against the evil which roams about us. As we receive the blessed palm, let us renew our pledge to conquer with Jesus, but let us not forget that it was on the Cross that He conquered.
Jesus submits to being borne in triumph, but with what meekness and humility! He knows that His enemies are hiding among the people who are singing the Hosanna, and that they will succeed in changing that Hosanna into “Crucify Him!”. He knows it, and He could impose Himself upon them in all the power of His divinity; He could unmask them publicly and disclose their plans. However, Jesus does not wish to conquer or to rule by force; His kingdom is founded on love and meekness. The Evangelist says this very aptly: “Tell ye the daughter of Sion: ‘Behold, thy King cometh to thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass’” (Mt 21:5). With the same meekness, He, the Innocent One, the only true King and Conqueror, will consent to appear as a criminal, a condemned and conquered man, a mock king. In this way, however, from the throne of the Cross He will draw all things to Himself.
As the joyful procession advances, Jesus sees the panorama of Jerusalem spread out at His feet. St Luke says:
“When He drew near, seeing the city, He wept over it, saying, ‘If thou also hadst known, and that in this thy day, the things that are to thy peace!… Thy enemies…shall not leave in thee a stone upon a stone because thou hast not known the time of thy visitation.’”Luke 19:41–44
Jesus weeps at the obstinacy of the holy city which, because it has not recognised Him as the Messiah and has not accepted His Gospel, will be destroyed to its foundations.
Jesus, true God, is also true man, and as man, He is moved with compassion because of the sad fate which Jerusalem has prepared for itself by its obstinate resistance to grace. He goes to His Passion and will even die for the salvation of Jerusalem, but the holy city will not be saved because it has not wished to be, “because it did not know the time of its visitation”. This is the story of so many souls who resist grace; it is the cause of the most profound and intimate suffering of the benevolent heart of Jesus. Let us give Our Lord the joy of seeing us profit to the full by the merits of His sorrowful Passion, by all the Blood which He has shed. When we resist the invitations of grace, we are resisting the Passion of Jesus and preventing it from being applied to us in its plenitude.
“O Jesus, I contemplate You in Your triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Anticipating the crowd which would come to meet You, You mounted an ass and gave an admirable example of humility in the midst of the acclamations of the crowd who cut branches of trees and spread their garments along the way. While the people were singing hymns of praise, You were filled with pity and wept over Jerusalem. Rise now, my soul, handmaid of the Saviour, join the procession of the daughters of Sion and go out to meet your King. Accompany the Lord of heaven and earth, seated on an ass; follow Him with olive and palm branches, with works of piety and with victorious virtues.”St Bonaventure
O Jesus, what bitter tears You shed over the city which refused to recognise You! And how many souls, like Jerusalem, go to perdition on account of their obstinate resistance to grace! For them I pray with all my strength:
“My God, this is where Your power and mercy should be shown. Oh! what a lofty grace I ask for, O true God, when I conjure You to love those who do not love You, to answer those who do not call to You, to give health to those who take pleasure in remaining sick! …You say, O my Lord, that You have come to seek sinners. Here, Lord, are the real sinners. But, instead of seeing our blindness, O God, consider the precious Blood which Your Son shed for us. Let Your mercy shine out in the midst of such great malice. Do not forget, Lord, that we are Your creatures, and pour out on us Your goodness and mercy.”St Teresa of Avila
Even if we resist grace, O Jesus, You are still the Victor; Your triumph over the prince of darkness is accomplished, and humanity has been saved and redeemed by You. You are the Good Shepherd who knows and loves each one of His sheep and would lead them all to safety. Your loving heart is not satisfied with having merited salvation for the whole flock; it ardently desires each sheep to profit by this salvation… O Lord, give us then, this good will; enable us to accept Your gift, Your grace, and grant that Your Passion may not have been in vain.