Sunday, April 5, 2015

Homily for Palm Sunday

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest (Mt. 21:9)!”

Dear brothers and sisters, yesterday we commemorated the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Today, with palm branches in hand, let us lay aside all earthly cares and receive the King of All, the Son of David, “mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden (Zech. 9:9).” Why did the Lord come into Jerusalem like this? Why did He come riding on such a lowly animal?

First, the donkey is a humble animal. When a king rides triumphantly into a city, he is accompanied by many armed men and strikes fear into the hearts of the inhabitants. The King of All comes riding on a simple animal, in simple clothing, accompanied by men of no renown. This is the opposite of the wisdom of the world, for as the Holy Apostle Paul says, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty (1 Cor. 1:27).” See how the young and innocent children gather around Him, praising Him from their hearts, waving the palm branches? They did not see a poor man riding upon a donkey. Rather, as a hymn from last night’s vigil tells us: “They saw the Master of all riding upon a colt, as though upon the cherubim!”

Second, the donkey is an animal of peace. Our Lord is not like a conquering king on a horse; He has no desire to force us to become His slaves. Rather, He is depicted as entering into Jerusalem, meek and unarmed. As He says to St. John in the Book of Revelation: “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me (Rev. 3:20).” Christ does not capture us with an irresistible grace, but allows us the choice to reject Him.

Instead of forcing the Jews to accept Him as their Messiah, He laments over their hard-heartedness, and says: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not (Mt. 23:27)!” Indeed, although the multitudes shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they will soon cry out “Crucify Him!”

Finally, the donkey is a beast of burden. When an earthly king conquers a city, he imposes harsh laws, compels men to labor for him, and exacts tribute. Our Lord did not come into Jerusalem in order to burden His subjects, but rather to take up their burdens upon Himself. For as the Prophet Isaiah said: “He took our infirmities, and bore our diseases (Is. 53:4).” Instead of imposing harsh laws, Our Lord came to loose them from the curse of the Law. Instead of forced labor, Our Lord came to free them from the slavery to sin. Instead of exacting tribute, Our Lord came to pay their ancestral debt, to free them from the tyranny of the devil.

Indeed, Our Lord came to conquer, but not an earthly kingdom, for His kingdom is “not of this world (Jn. 18:36).” Rather, He came to conquer the empire of sin and death ruled by the devil. However, the Jews did not want the heavenly kingdom. They wanted an earthly kingdom; or rather earthly power, for they were willing to bow to Caesar if they received some kind of benefit. They did not want to have anything to do with Christ. They attributed His miracles to the devil and even wanted to kill Lazarus because the miracle of his return from the grave inspired the people.

The Jewish leaders thus had a childish mentality, and hearts harder than stones. In their hands they bore staves, to arrest and beat their Messiah. In their mouths they bore evil tongues, to blaspheme and mock their God. Finally, they bore him to the Romans, to be given the death of a common criminal.

The Jews did many wicked things to Our Lord, but what about us? Will we be accounted more worthy? Or rather, will we not be held more accountable, because we received more than they did? They had Moses and the Prophets, but we have Christ. They received the Law, but we received the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. They ate manna in the wilderness and died, but we will eat the Bread of Life, the medicine of immortality, the Holy Eucharist.

Let us be more watchful over our thoughts and actions. How many of us commit the same sins over and over again? How many of us praise God with our lips but curse our brother in our heart? Let us not receive Christ at one moment and crucify Him in the next. Rather than imitating the Jews whor , let us imitate the Hebrew children who carried branches and praised the Son of David. Let us also consider the lowly donkey, bearing the Savior, peaceable and humble, and thus bear one another’s burdens. In so doing, we will enter the great procession of saints into the New Jerusalem, the eternal kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, to Whom be all glory, honor, and worship unto the ages of ages. Amen.

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