Year B Palm Sunday
Our Lord entered the Holy City riding on a donkey, which is the way royalty would traditionally enter the city in times of peace. It was also a gesture of solidarity, since the donkey was a symbol of the simplicity of the villagers who made up the vast majority of the population. Christ chooses this ancient symbol as a sign that his kingdom rejects worldly wealth and will not expand through armed warfare. Compare, for instance, how a Roman Emperor might ride in triumph through the city of Rome surrounded by gold treasures plundered from other civilizations while riding on a warhorse. Christ chooses to borrow a donkey that doesn’t even belong to him. He has nothing.
Later, after his death and resurrection, the disciples realize that through his actions Jesus has fulfilled the words of the prophets. In particular, St. John notes the words of Zechariah, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
What St. John doesn’t quote, though, is equally helpful for us. Zechariah goes on to say, “He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
Here is the shocking truth, the Kingdom of God is universal, it is open to all wish to join it. It isn’t only for the devout, or the intellectuals, or the saints, or the priests – it is for all people. It is for those who have spent the majority of their lifetimes rejecting him and only found him at the last moment, it is for the divorced, those who have made terrible mistakes, those who are embarrassed and ashamed of their past, for converts, for eccentrics. There is only one requirement, to bring our palms and lay them down at his feet in adoration.
Christ is, first of all, a king to the poor. He himself has not a donkey to ride into town with, not a roof under which to lay his head, not even a pillow of his own.
Anyone who comes to Christ must first become poor. Note that we are not talking about money, here. We are talking about money, and poverty of spirit, and a heart humble enough to bow down before God. We are talking about how it is possible to be materially wealthy but be overcome by pride and so have no place in the Kingdom. We are also talking about how it is possible to have very little money but to have a heart full of jealousy for wealth and power. This envy shows that even those of us who are poor or middle class are still of one mind with the rich.
No, we must all become poor. In our poverty, there is no discrimination, which is why Dorothy Day says, “The Gospel takes away our right forever, to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” We are all equally empty-handed when it comes to what we can do to earn God’s love. We have nothing with which to bargain for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. So what’s the solution? We don’t bargain at all. Instead, we leave behind all pretension of how spiritually rich we are, so that we may throw ourselves on the mercy of Jesus.
By this, Our Lord intends to give us interior freedom so that we may purify our hearts by overcoming the desire for power and wealth.
We have a perfect example for how to do this. Our Lord, while being rich, gave up everything so that he might walk among us, and his path along the palm lined road that day was leading him to his ultimate impoverishment – he gave away everything to save us.
O Lord, may you become the treasure of our hearts.