Father Donald Senior, CP

March 28: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Jerusalem the holy city

Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1—15:47

On this Palm Sunday our liturgy takes us to Jerusalem, where we remain through Holy Week.

The readings for this Sunday are rich and bountiful: Mark’s portrayal of Jesus’ dramatic entry into the city; one of the “suffering servant” songs from Isaiah that is a passage Christian faith sees as an image of Jesus himself; the powerful lament of Psalm 22 that is the anguished prayer Mark and Matthew place on the lips of the dying Jesus, “My God, My God why have you abandoned me?”; the magnificent early Christian hymn that Paul cites in his Letter to the Philippians that captures the depth of Christian faith in Jesus who does not cling to his divine status but “empties himself,” becoming human and dying for our sake; and, finally, the sober Passion account from Mark’s Gospel, tracking the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, the ultimate act of redeeming love.

Today’s liturgy invites us to accompany Jesus as he enters Jerusalem. This city looms large in both the Old and the New Testaments. A thousand years before Christ, the newly installed King David shrewdly made Jerusalem the capital of all Israel, helping to fuse into one the northern and southern tribes who, until this point, had centered around their own central cities of Hebron in the south and Samaria in the north. 

David not only establishes his own palace in Jerusalem but also brought to the city the sacred Ark of the Covenant, the mobile tabernacle that was revered as a unique dwelling place for God. From then on, Jerusalem stood as the political and religious center of Israel.

It still has this significance for Jews, as the ongoing conflict about making Jerusalem the capital of the modern State of Israel demonstrates. While most citizens of Israel today live along the Mediterranean coast and may seldom, if ever, visit Jerusalem, the city still stands as a sacred symbol of Jewish identity. 

Adding to the drama is the fact that Jerusalem is also sacred to Christians as the place where Jesus worshipped, where he taught, where he suffered and rose from the dead and where the early church began. Jerusalem is sacred also to Muslims as a place that, in a mystical vision, the prophet Mohammed visited and from there ascended into heaven.

No wonder the Gospels place the climax of Jesus’ mission in Jerusalem. The Gospels acclaim Jesus as the Christ, the anointed king of Israel, the one whom God sent to save the world. 

Like King David, but in the eyes of Christian faith with an identity far exceeding that of his ancestor, Jesus enters his royal city to the acclaim of the people, and then into the very house of God his father, his true home. 

But Mark’s account of Jesus’ entry has a unique tone. He enters not as a conqueror or a monarch demanding honor and submission. Rather, Jesus enters riding on a donkey.

He is truly a king but one like no other. He is one, as the other readings make clear, willing to give his life for the sake of his people; one filled with compassion and love; one who puts to shame the false pretenses and hypocrisies that so often infect those who think they enjoy absolute power.  

To drive this point home, Mark cites a key text from Zechariah 9:9. It is worth quoting in full: “Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O Daughter Jerusalem! Behold your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, humble and riding on donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem. The warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”

As we grasp our palms this Sunday and prepare for this sacred week, we are invited to reflect again on the Gospel portrayal of Jesus, God’s own Son, driven by love and justice, a strong challenge to human arrogance and indifference.



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