As the whole world continue to be gripped by the corona virus pandemic, we celebrate Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the Holy Week–the holiest of all week which celebrates the paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ–his passion, death and resurrection. Today is also called Passion Sunday. Passion is from the Latin word, passio, which means suffering.
The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In the first gospel today, Jesus Christ rode on a donkey into Jerusalem, and the celebrating people there laid down their cloaks and small branches of trees in front of him. The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
In this time of pandemic, what does it mean to welcome Jesus as king? This holy week and next weeks will probably be the toughest in our fight against coronavirus and there will be a lot of death. What will the entry of Jesus as king in this pandemic mean?
In the second part of the liturgy, the upbeat mood of the crowd suddenly became violent and tragic. As we listen to the long reading of Jesus’ passion, we hear the glorious cry of “Hosanna” is turned to the cruel shouts of “Crucify him!” Jesus is depicted as king with a crown of thorns, a staff and clothed in a purple cloak. The soldiers spat on him and struck him on the head with the staff repeatedly. The greatest of these ironies is the cross. Jesus on the cross with the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” died of a slow, painful, excruciating, gruesome, and humiliating death.
What a king Jesus had turned out to be. Why would the King of Kings allow all this to happen?
Let us listen to the First Reading.
I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting. (Is 50:5)
These words, actually written many centuries before Jesus, represent a passive surrender. Is it a kingly action, this passive surrender? You or I would have shouted, “my God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” The Responsorial Psalm says exactly these words, and Jesus too will say them from the cross.
Are they the words of a king?
The Second Reading answers this question with the famous passage from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Chapter 2, stating that Jesus did not regard being in the form of God as something to cling to
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Isn’t this the complete opposite of kingliness as we think of it. Isn’t it a mockery of kingship?
Not at all. This is the true basis of being a king, a leader, which we do not see very often in today’s world. To be king is to serve the people, offer all of one’s gifts, time even life no matter what. This is the kind of kingly service that our frontliners in this time of pandemic has shown. The healthcare workers–Doctors, nurses, medical technologists, the police, retail workers and other frontliners who directly work with COVID-positive patients–have given most of their time and efforts and have risked their lives so that these patients may heal and live. Countless doctors and nurses have already died as they served the thousands of patients.
In this time of pandemic and beyond the pandemic, welcoming Jesus as king means becoming king to others by serving others to the best of our talents, efforts and time. Making Jesus as king of our lives means generously giving our lives for others even to the extent of forgetting our own needs and sacrificing our lives. Welcoming Jesus our king is to continue to do good to others even at the expense of insult, persecution, humiliation and hatred from others.
Just as the experience of the crowd during the time of Jesus, welcoming Jesus in our lives will disturb and unmask the profound existential paradox and inner struggle within us. Welcoming Jesus as king is allowing Jesus to confront the temples of our lives–the sinful structures we have made of our lives. We become aware of our resistance to let go of the power, dominance and control that has hindered the gospel of Jesus to become the guide of our lives. Allowing Jesus to enter our lives is admitting our hypocrisies that while we worship Jesus inside our churches, we participated in his crucifixion by our collusion with the prevalence of evil in our world today. We continue to mercilessly shout “Crucify him!” when we continue to become complacent and pathetic to the suffering of others especially the weak, poor and vulnerable.
During this holy week let us follow Jesus our king in his journey towards resurrection by making our lives as a sacrifice for others. In this time of pandemic and beyond the pandemic, we can follow Jesus our king by our humbe service and by helping others to make the most out of their lives. Proclaiming Jesus our king is making our own little way of building the kingdom of Jesus, living out the kingdom values of love, justice and peace, here and now.