I heard and interesting definition of meekness once: power kept under control. To have the power and not flaunt it is no small challenge unless one is very humble. For the crowds around a celebrity who approach a fanaticism about the that person, the trajectory is meant to be up, always up, including when it is really not. In an example of the opposite end, there are celebrities that get old, weak and eroded of glorious beauty. In that case, the public does not forgive.
Such is the significance of what is called Palm Sunday by Christians in a crucial day in the life of Jesus. Jesus made an entrance with much acclaim but his demeanor was really low key. He proceeded on a donkey but was hailed with words fit for a king. Before coming into the city of Jerusalem, he spoke with knowledge and authority that was determined and very set telling his disciples “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me” (Matthew 21:2). A donkey was a status symbol of a fresh new car. But was not meant to be speedy. It was slow enough that one could chat with the people and be approachable rather than being on a high, fast horse.
Jesus spoke from knowledge, authority and determination because his standpoint was from eternity and not just one age. Taking a step back and seeing Jesus through a prophesy lens shows more in the preparation than his ride. “This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: ‘Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” ” (Matthew 21:4-5). There is power and authority shown here but again there is meekness because there is a reference to the “daughter Zion”. The prophecy that is quoted here has those two words to show the gentle favor like one would have for a daughter but saying Zion since that was a term for Israel of how God keeps his promises without an end.
“Hosanna” is a word quoted from the crowd in all four gospels for this event. It comes from the Hebrew words yasha (“deliver, save”) and anna (“beg, beseech”) which forms what we say down to English, as “hosanna.” Literally, hosanna means “I beg you to save!” or “please deliver us!” Later that day by the temple they would repeat it again much to the dismay of the religious leaders. There is something noble to their praise, but it is worth keeping in mind the question: how many in the crowd would not forgive him like society does of those who grow old for not being so super? How many matter of 5 days later would being saying “Crucify him!”? when appears in a mockery of royal robe and crown of thorns? They generally may be calling for Jesus to save them only half on what matters and 150% on what does not.
This comes back to why the apostles and the early church preached and taught Jesus as crucified but then risen. If we call out to Jesus without a well rounded understanding of his sacrificial love, we will be set up to love without meaning and sacrifice without endurance. So too for those who call themselves by the name of Christ, we will shine for the radiance of Jesus to the world. To speak and live out the fulness of the good news of Jesus Christ in a robust manner is to let out Matthew, Mark, Luke and John like a lion from of a cage.
There is a recurring mentioning for evangelizing with the gospel to “lead by beauty” (Bp. Robert Barron). Praise was given with palm leaves and personal clothes laid in the his path which could be considered beautiful in its simplicity. “And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this’ And the crowds replied, ‘This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’ “ This was a simple insight in that someone important was there to see but next the chance to hear him. And if this turned out to be a prophet truly sent from God then there was a new direction to come.
With the emergence of Christianity that was based on the cross and the resurrection the impact would be more than a shaking via a proposition but a provocation into the darkness of the world. Decades later, associates of Paul would be responded to accordingly with an adverse commentary. “But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, ‘These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. ‘ “(Acts 17:6).
Such is the pattern of Christ encountering the individual or the culture. First the shaking by beauty and then the flipping of the paradigms. Even this same day we see a hint of it. “He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve” (Mark 11:11). This seems like a quiet happening until one considers that only months ago he was there solo in a confrontation with the religious leaders when he healed a man born blind whereas they were troubled due to deeming Jesus and the man unworthy of a miracle. Now Jesus comes with the Twelve. These were the apostles of the Church. The day would come when they would be teaching in what is equivalent to the temple basement. Change would be coming outside of the box of the elite. Today he begins to serve them notice that grace was here and it would be unstoppable as it is the hand of God. “Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ He said in reply, ‘I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!’ “ (Luke 21:39-40).
Also it is worth noting the irony they were leaving the temple where the leaders do not understand him to Bethany where he was understood. In Bethany, Jesus had revealed himself to be the resurrection and the life in raising Lazarus from the dead. It was there that his sister Mary was used as object lesson of what it is to listen to him and adore him. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha served as a microcosm of community that is formed by Jesus and receive teaching in the context of being more formed towards him. Such a people formed even more from the fullness of what Jesus did and is would likewise be prone to cry out.
Thus we should consider Palm Sunday for what it can be. It marks not the fulness of revelation of who Jesus is but is an appetizer of who he and his kingdom. But drawing from this scene we cry out to him now as Lord and Savior.