Commentary for Palm Sunday
A bishop reports that logos for McDonald's, Shell Oil, and the Olympics are better recognized throughout the world than the cross. The Olympic symbol of five linked rings was recognized by 92% of people asked. McDonald's and Shell Oil logos were recognized by 88%. But the cross was recognized by only 54%. The conclusion is that the Olympics, McDonald's, and Shell Oil are better missionaries than we.
The seventeenth century Dutch genius Rembrandt painted a crucifixion. His Christ is bathed in his signature white colors. At the foot of His cross are the usual suspects. However, off in a corner of the masterpiece is the face of an interloper. It is Rembrandt. He was reminding himself that he too because of his sins was responsible for the painful death of his Saviour.
Scripture scholars insist that the details of Holy Week were the first to be written down by the Gospel writers. Early Christians were insistent that every detail of their Lord's passion and death should be preserved for us. This is the reason that today's Gospel is long and detailed.
From the Gospels, we know only about the activities of 100 days from the 12,045 days of the life of Jesus. Yet, we know almost everything He did every hour of His last seven days.
He spent the night preceding Palm Sunday at Bethany, an affluent bedroom community outside Jerusalem. He rose early. One hopes He had the farmer's breakfast. He would need it. The last chapter of His earthly life was to be a showstopper. It would end not with a whimper but with a bang. He had the unenviable task of taking his many enemies on alone.
Every detail of the Palm Sunday procession had been worked out by Him weeks before. It was not just a question of kidnapping a donkey and hopping on for the ride. The Master had long ago contacted the donkey's owners and arranged for the animal. The owners were disciples unknown even to the apostles. Even a password had been worked out between the Christ and the secret disciples: "The Master has need of it." When the owners were told the password by the unsuspecting apostles, they released the ass. There is a nice touch here. Jesus promised the owners the ass would be returned to them after the parade. He knew they would need it for work next day. So, even as His murder nears, He was thinking not of Himself but of others.
The parade begins. This would be the only demonstration where Jesus would positively encourage people to salute Him as King. All other times He would not hear of it. He would flee into the mountains alone at the sight of the first monarchists. The hapless apostles would be left behind to placate the royalists.
This entrance into Jerusalem was an act of superb bravado. He was coming onto center stage. This was high noon. There was a price on His head. He was an outlaw wanted dead or alive. A posse was out looking for Him. Every young gunslinger in the city was hoping to make a name for himself by bringing Him down. They would be searching for Him. But He was not about to go into that dark, dark night quietly.
Why has the cross remained so popular for us down through the centuries? Teachers report that they show children pictures from different stages of Christ's life. They invite them to pick their favorite. The pupils pass over scenes of the nativity or the Teacher surrounded by children their own age. Invariably they choose the card depicting the crucifixion.
Even people who are A & P Catholics (Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday) have a cross hanging from their necks. I recently watched an old time gangster film. The two chief crooks were wearing large gold crosses. Surely the cross was reminding them that despite all their faults Jesus loved them enough to die for them. Is it not telling them that Christ does not make garbage? Does it not send us the same message?
We should borrow a brush from Rembrandt. Then dipping it into his lush palette, we should paint our faces into the passion picture. We had much more to do with it than we care to admit.
The cross, the savant tells us, reveals people's hatred for God and God's love for people. Also he says that believing Christ died is history and believing He died for me is salvation. Finally it reminds us, the savant says, that while many people may be worthy of admiration, only Jesus is worthy of adoration.