Entry into Jerusalem, Giotto di Bondone, 1303-1305, Cappella degli Scrovegni, Padova
Sunday 10th of April
PALM SUNDAY – YEAR C
We arrive today, almost at the end of the Lenten journey that will conclude on Thursday with the Easter Triduum, at the gates of Jerusalem. Today Jesus does not tell us when the kingdom of God will arrive, but he reveals to us how it will arrive: the King will arrive on a donkey. How beautiful it is to see that God chooses simpler creatures than him to communicate his message to us. All he asks of each of us is to untie a donkey, he only needs this! What does this donkey represent? And what is the humble service that each man can perform to bring his brothers and the planet to happiness? If we want to contextualize the passage in the Gospel of Luke, we find ourselves in chapter 19 which began with the figure of Zacchaeus, and which had illustrated the kingdom of God with the parable of the minas, giving meaning to God’s expectation by multiplying the gifts that made us. That parable ended with the figure of a king, and today we see how this king enters Jerusalem.
Jesus does not tell us when he is coming. Showing us the modality, which as we will see leaves us upset and distorts our prejudices about God, teaches us a very important thing: every time we let this king enter as he comes today, we can say that the kingdom of God is among us, we welcome the kingdom of God. The whole Gospel of Luke lives a tension of expectation towards this passage, from the first Christmas scenes in which the angels sang “glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth” up to chapter 13 in to which Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, and says to her sadly: “In fact, I tell you that you will no longer see me until the time when you say: Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” Here a prophecy is fulfilled, the first day of the six days that Jesus will live in Jerusalem begins, the time of a new creation. The prophecy is fulfilled through the figure of the donkey, it is the only time in the entire Gospel of Luke in which it is said: “Go into the village … and you will find…” and a few words later we read: “who were sent went away and found it“. What does this mean for our everyday life? The fact that a prophecy has already been fulfilled indicates that it is a prophecy of what always happens. In this way, when we manage to educate our gaze to contemplation, we will be able to see the kingdom of God.
Our problem is that we almost always want the king to arrive on horseback and with chariots, with special effects or with tanks, and we are almost disappointed to see him arriving on a simple donkey. We always expect so much more from God. We still find it too hard to see him in silence on the Jordan River to be baptized, in line with the wounded humanity. A God who is at service, while we always expect a dominating and judging God. “Jesus walked in front of everyone” opening the way, staying close to everyone and indeed marking the way, at the end of this ideal path to Jerusalem that is described throughout Luke’s narrative.
We are “near Betfage and Bethany“, at the gates of Jerusalem, two places that have a precise meaning that binds us to the cry of the earth and the poor, places of purification before entering the city. Bètfage, in Aramaic בית פגי, literally “house of barren figs”, refers to the people of God who do not produce fruit, and in front of the fig tree in this Lent we have experienced God’s mercy. Bethany, in Aramaic: בית עניא, Beth anya, “house of poverty” refers to our limit. The purification towards the holy city takes place within our limits, the cry of the earth and the poor, in the sterility of our actions and in the fragility of the planet, in this very place we can meet the king. He enters our sterility and our poverty, and through his cross he succeeds in giving dignity to our limitations. In the other Gospels this scene is introduced by the anointing of Bethany, but Luke has already described the scene in chapter 7. The anointing therefore takes place with the olive trees, it is almost a “cosmic anointing”.
In the mission Jesus “sent two disciples“, we do not know which ones, we only know that the sending is always plural. There is a coherence in sending his disciples two by two, “to the village in front of you“. Just as the disciples are not known, the village is not known. It seems strange, because the scene is clearly located in the two villages of Bethany and Bethany, but perhaps the village opposite tells us that we always have before us a mission land, a place where God sends us. And here is the prophecy: “you will find a tied colt“, a donkey that lives the vocation to humble service, a sign of meekness since the prophecy of Zechariah. It seems almost offensive to find an image of God in a donkey, it could seem almost blasphemous, as disappointing is the image of the hen evoked in the lament over Jerusalem. Not a noble eagle soaring in the sky, but a hen, when she said: “How many times have I wanted to gather your children like a hen its brood under the wings and you didn’t want to!” Not a free-range horse pulling war chariots, but a humble donkey who takes charge of all the sins of the world.
This donkey we can find every day in the village in front of us, the protagonist of the story, has two characteristics. First of all it is tied. It is not free. Who knows when he has been tied up, while God’s creation took us all free. Sin binds creatures, our fear is the mirror of our distance from God, even if this village is “opposite” nearby, we have to cross a limit. This limit is the tie that scares us. The second characteristic of the donkey is that “no one has ever climbed on it”. This is not a thoroughbred, after all who ever wants to get on a donkey? Riding a horse recalls the nobility, think of the young Francesco how much he had wanted to be a knight, to be clothed in glory. But which of us has the desire to serve others? Here’s the command: Untie this ass. Freeing in us this image of God who comes to serve, an image that we find in our daily life, in our opposite village. Each of us, in the image and likeness of God, has this vocation to service within us, even if we are perhaps a little ashamed of it, we do not want to get on this donkey.
“If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’» . The only time that Jesus defines himself as “Lord” in the whole Gospel of Luke is in this scene. And he tells us that he is Lord because he needs it. What does he need? To untie love, service. To untie humility, littleness. The great dignity of obedience. The action of the two disciples generates a question “As theywere untying the colt, the owners said to them:” Why are you untying the colt? “”, There are “owners” who own the donkey, and keep it tied. While there is “the Lord” who needs it, there are “the lords” who possess it. And finally the two disciples lead the donkey to Jesus. Who knows what a cross between the foal and Jesus, we all have in mind the sweet gaze of a donkey, obedient and so useful. We associate it with the images of our grandparents, working in the fields, it hardly arouses negative feelings in us. I like to imagine the sweetness of this intersection of glances!
On this colt they throw cloaks, a sign in the Torah of essentiality, even of life or death, each one had to have a cloak for the night, even if on loan it had to be returned because one risked dying from freezing in sleep. As if all our certainties must be entrusted to this donkey, a docile sign of God’s service and love. And Jesus sits on these cloaks, the donkey is the king’s throne, through which he enters Jerusalem. Coming down from the Mount of Olives, creation, as always, with its ascents and descents marks our daily life and the places of our prayer and dialogue with God, here “all the crowd of disciples” praised him. It almost seems to hear this original “Laudato si” sung by a crowd, now they are all disciples, we have the feeling of great success, unattached love brings with it great cheering crowds.
«Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” ” it is the song of praise of the promised land, the final song of the exodus. Peace in heaven, how much we need peace, a song that recalls Bethlehem, the grotto where there was a donkey and where the angels sang: “Peace on earth to men loved by God”. Here is the peace of heaven, the peace of all creation, when by untying God’s humble love we can quench the thirst of the earth in need of him! The earth needs humble love, and in fact Jesus is not ashamed of this “Hosanna”, he welcomes the acclamation and this messianic entry into Jerusalem. Many of us would be scandalized, we are still too tied to the idea of a powerful God, a God on horseback, a God of justice. We are just like “some Pharisees in the crowd – who – said to him:« Teacher, rebuke your disciples »”. We are still tied to the law, to reproach, to the authority of God.
And instead Jesus, quoting the prophet Habakkuk, replies: “I tell you that, if these are silent, the stones would cry out“. The stones cry out the injustice of men, those stones that last Sunday risked being an instrument of death for the adulteress, today cry out for justice. In many passages of the Franciscan sources there are references to humility, perhaps the most beloved wife of St. Francis, who reminds us that: “Blessed is the servant, who does not consider himself better, when he is praised and exalted by men, than when considered vile, simple and despicable, since what man is worth before God, so much he is worth and no more. Woe to that religious, who is placed on high by others and does not want to descend by his will. And blessed is that servant, who is not placed high by his will, and always desires to place himself under the feet of others “(FF 169). We thank the Lord for his gift of humility, from which we must learn in order to be an authentic gift for our brothers. Let us pray that this holy week that opens today will reveal to us the humble face of God’s love, and make us live it every day. We sincerely wish you a happy Palm Sunday, and a rich holy week towards the Passover of the Lord.