Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
March 28, 2010
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
“See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” Zechariah 9:9
Today we commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem before His Passion and Death. In this way, we begin Holy Week, and the Gospel today from St. Luke offers us many subtleties to enrich our meditation.
In older cultures, the entry of a king into a city was a triumph occasion. It was call the “royal progress” in English, “a state journey made by a royal or noble personage,” “a visit of state” (OED). A king could not just arrive unannounced. He had to have heralds who cried out his coming. And the king had to ride into the city. In the ancient world, the horse was the symbol of war, while the colt was the symbol of peace. A colt, as we know, is a male member of the horse family who is less than four years of age. No one would ride a colt to do battle. So, if the king entered on a horse, he was on his way to wage war. If he entered on a colt, he was coming in peace.
In the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus instructs two of his disciples to fetch a colt. When the owner asks why they are doing this, then they are to answer, “The Master has need of it” (Luke 19:31). They might as well being saying, “The king has need of it.” We are hearing a royal command. The owner of the colt needs only to know that “the Master has need of it.” His word is his command.
Jesus is the king, the master, and He enters not for battle but in peace. His heralds announce His coming and say, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). The king was God’s representative. When he appeared, his presence was a reflection of heaven, where glory and peace reigned. As in the entry of an earthly king the people would cover the ground with cloaks to prevent the king from becoming dirty, so the crowds do the same for Jesus.
I am afraid that our democratic attitudes have distorted our understanding of what a king was in ancient society. A king was the protector of the state. He embodied the hopes and dreams of the people. And, most especially, by oath the king had entered into a covenant with the people, to protect them and to provide them with justice. And, finally and most especially, he was God’s anointed. Indeed, he was blessed and came “in the name of the Lord.”
This entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is the fulfillment of a prophecy contained in Zechariah. “See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass” (Zechariah 9:9). Jesus comes as the king of peace, but there is more.
Jesus comes as the king of peace, because He will submit to suffering and to death. This revelation is what makes the “royal progress” described in the entry into Jerusalem connect with the question of Pilate, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (Matthew 27:11), with the mocking of the soldiers, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Matthew 27:29), and with the final inscription on the cross ordered by Pilate: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). Peace submits to death. The king embraces death. And is this not what Jesus says in the Gospel: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (John 10:17-18).
What kind of love is this? It is the love of someone who willingly dies for us. He does not merely accept death as inevitable. He embraces death because He wants it. He welcomes death freely, with full acceptance, with total obedience. It is this total acceptance of death for love of us that should be the starting point of our meditation for this Holy Week.