Today is the day of great expectations. Jesus, thought by the masses to be the long-awaited Messiah, enters Jerusalem triumphantly. He is given an exuberant reception. The people’s expectations could not be higher. Their cheers have risen to a fever pitch. They anticipate in Jesus an all-powerful Messiah, King of Israel and Lord of Lords.
They expect Jesus, the promise of God, not only to expel the Roman occupiers and oppressors from their capital, they also trust that in time He will bring all other nations and kingdoms of the earth to their knees. It is their cherished expectation that Jesus, taking possession of His kingdom, will be Lord of Lords and King of Kings, ushering in an eternal dynasty. The fruition of God’s promise has arrived! Hosanna, Son of David, Lord and Savior!
The seemingly countless years of tears, grief, and suffering beyond all telling are now but a memory, swallowed up in the victory of God’s Messiah. The centuries of cruel persecution, coercive domination and repressive slavery – at the hands of Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans – has at last come to an end! Hail, great King of the Jews! Our hearts overflow with a joy beyond belief. Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna to the highest! God has not forsaken us, His people. The seemingly endless fate of tyranny’s ruthless yoke is broken at last. Hosanna Son of David!
We are delirious in our joy! Our cloaks are thrown before you. The branches of the palms are cut and waved in ecstatic elation. We cannot hold our emotions back! Even the rocks and stones cry out their excitement. Nothing, no one is silent. It is the time of jubilation!
As you enter the city, you will call your people to rise up. Our zeal will rout the Roman armies and in no time, by God’s grace and power, Pontius Pilate will stand before you, your prisoner to be judged for his crimes against God and humanity. And then you will stand triumphant before us – on the portico of the royal palace. Pilate will be in chains; soldiers will be scourged. You will present Pilate to us, seeking our verdict on his and Rome’s rule over us. In our joy we will call for his death. “Crucify him! Show him no mercy!” we will shout, sing out, full throated.
The law and the prophets will be vindicated! The chief priests and the scribes and Pharisees will at last cast aside their doubts and fears of who you truly are. They will attest to the truth of your identity, you who are our Messiah, God’s Anointed, King of Kings! You will lead us and we will follow, wherever you may go. We are yours now and forever! Our Jewish family members and friends and neighbors – Rome’s prisoners – will be freed from their jails and dungeons; the blind will see; the lame will walk; the deaf will hear and the poor will have good news preached to them. Hail Jesus, our King and Messiah! God has not forsaken us. You are with us now and forever! Amen! Amen!
Oh, but how quickly our expectations are so bitterly trampled and trodden. In the blink of an eye, in the flash of a pan, our dreams are exposed as childish fantasies, as baseless, delusional projections. How could we have been so foolish? Jesus is not the one! How could we have been so duped, so deceived, so stupid in our fanciful inventions. We have been made a mockery, a laughingstock before the Romans. We now hate Jesus more than we despise the Romans, what fools He made of us. There He is, standing before Pontius Pilate, Pilate’s prisoner, vanquished Messiah, phony prophet, conquered zealot, beaten king, illusion of our dreams, the bitter taste of fanciful expectations.
What fools He made of us. Our conquerors will surely be emboldened now more than ever. Perhaps they will be so enraged as to annihilate us once and for all. Perhaps they will reduce our capital to ashes, brick by brick, piece by piece until there is nothing left to obstruct a single plow furrowing through the former foundation of our temple.
But wait! Better that one man should die, then the whole nation. Let us cry out: “Crucify him, crucify him! He is no king; we have no king but Caesar! Crucify him, crucify him. Get him out of our sight. He is a mockery to our illusions! Banish him from our sight; commit him to the earth from whence he came.” Back to the drudgery of our days. Who knows, perhaps we will one day dream again.
And we today, the heirs of those dreams: Who are we? What do we do we desire? Who do we adore? Who is our king? Where is our kingdom? Who is it who comes triumphantly into our hearts so that we might truly give ourselves over?
Is there truly a deepest longing? Or is that an illusion? Are there rather not many longings, many triumphs, many satisfactions, one as good as another? Can we have it all, can we get it all? Or are they just illusions, childish fantasies, wild, wonderful, triumphant fascinations?
Or is there but one ultimate, authentic longing? Is there but one promise, one love that embraces all?
Jesus, you are our Messiah. We will accompany you to Jerusalem. Hosanna, Jesus. You are the great expectation of our lives. We believe in you and we will follow you wherever you go. You are our Messiah, our Anointed One. You are the Christ. Where else can we go?
As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writes in his new book, A Heart on Fire: “If we do not know and love Jesus Christ, and commit our lives to him, and act on what we claim to believe, everything else is empty. But if we do, so much else is possible – including the conversion of the world around us. The only question that finally matters to any of us is the one Jesus posed to his apostles: ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Mk 8:29). Everything depends on the answer. Faith leads in one direction, the lack of it in another. But the issue is faith – always and everywhere, whether we’re scholars or doctors or priests or lawyers or mechanics. Do we really believe in Jesus Christ, or don’t we? And if we do, what are we going to do about it?
“A genuinely Catholic life should feed the soul as well as the mind; should offer a vision of men and women made whole by the love of God, the knowledge of creation, and the reality of things unseen; should enable us to see the beauty of the world in the light of eternity; and should help us recapture the nobility of the human story and the dignity of the human person.
“This is the kind of witness that sets fire to the human heart. It starts the only kind of revolution that really changes anything: a revolution of love. Jesus said, I came to cast fire upon the earth, and would that it were already kindled.
“Our task is to start that blaze and then help it grow.”
Fr. Hugh Cleary, C.S.C., served for 12 years as the Superior General of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Currently he is the Director of Campus Ministry at Stonehill College. He shared this Palm Sunday homily with us as part of a Holy Week series of homilies on the Spes Unica Blog. Read other homilies and reflections by Holy Cross priests and brothers.