His powerful reflection on this day, from The Catholic Thing, which is also found in the magnificent book he wrote, Life of Christ (pp. 272-276); an absolutely must have volume for your library.
It was the month of Nisan. The Book of Exodus ordered that in this month the Paschal Lamb was to be selected, and four days later was to be taken to the place where it was to be sacrificed. On Palm Sunday, the Lamb was chosen by popular acclaim in Jerusalem; on Good Friday He was sacrificed.
His last Sabbath Our Lord spent in Bethany with Lazarus and his sisters. News was now circulated that Our Lord was coming into Jerusalem. In preparation for His entrance, He sent two of His disciples into the village, where they were told they would find a colt tethered, on which no man had ridden. They were to untie it and bring it to Him. “And if anybody asks you, Why are you untying it? This must be your answer, The Lord hath need of it.” (Lk 19:31)
Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this – on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other His “need.” This combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was the consequence of the Word becoming flesh. Truly, He who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might be rich. He borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; He borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed the multitude; He borrowed a grave from which He would rise; and now He borrowed an ass on which to enter Jerusalem. Sometimes God pre-empts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from Him. It is sufficient for those who know Him to hear: “The Lord hath need of it.”
As He approached the city, a “great multitude” came to meet Him; among them were not only the citizens but also those who had come up for the feast and, of course, the Pharisees. The Roman authorities also were on the alert during great feasts lest there be an insurrection. On all previous occasions, Our Lord rejected the false enthusiasm of the people, fled the spotlight of publicity, and avoided anything that savored of display.
At one time: “He strictly forbade them to tell any man That He, Jesus, was the Christ.” (Mt. 16:20)
When He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead: “He laid a strict charge on them, To let nobody hear of this.” (Mk 5:43)
After revealing the glory of His Divinity in the Transfiguration: “He warned them not to tell anyone what they had seen, Until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mk. 9:8)
When the multitudes, after the miracle of the loaves, sought to make Him King: “He withdrew on to the hillside all alone.” (Jn 6:15)
When His relatives asked Him to go to Jerusalem and publicly astound the festival with miracles, He said: “My Hour is not yet come.” (Jn. 7:6)
But the entrance into Jerusalem was so public, that even the Pharisees said: “Look, the whole world has turned aside to follow Him.” (Jn. 12:19)
All this was in opposition to His usual manner. Before He dampened all their enthusiasms; now He kindled them. Why?
Because His “Hour” had come. It was time now for Him to make the last public affirmation of His claims. He knew it would lead to Calvary, and His Ascension and the establishment of His Kingdom on earth. Once He acknowledged their praise, then there were only two courses open to the city: confess Him as did Peter, or else crucify. Either He was their King, or else they would have no king but Caesar. No Galilean seacoast or mountaintop, but the royal city on the Passover was the best time to make His last proclamation.
He drew attention to His Kingship in two ways, first by the fulfillment of a prophecy familiar to the people, and second by the tributes of Divinity which He accepted as His own.
Matthew explicitly states that the solemn procession was to fulfill the prophecy made by Zacharias years before: “Tell the daughter of Sion, Behold Thy King is coming to Thee, Humbly riding on an ass.” (Mt. 21:5) The prophecy came from God through a prophet, and now God Himself was bringing it to fulfillment.
The prophecy of Zacharias was meant to contrast the majesty and the humility of the Savior. As one looks at the ancient sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, the murals of Egypt, the tombs of the Persians, and the scrolls of the Roman columns, one is struck by the majesty of kings riding in triumph on horses or in chariots, and sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes. In contrast to this, here is One Who comes triumphant upon an ass.
How Pilate, if he was looking out of his fortress that Sunday, must have been amused by the ridiculous spectacle of a man being proclaimed as a King, and yet seated on the beast that was the symbol of the outcast – a fitting vehicle for one riding into the jaws of death! If He had entered into the city with regal pomp in the manner of conquerors, He would have given occasion to believe that He was a political Messias. But the circumstance He chose validated His claim that His Kingdom was not of this world. There is no suggestion that this pauper King was a rival of Caesar.
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