his innocence saved us

Many of us find ourselves puzzled as to why we proclaim the passion narrative on Palm Sunday, no doubt in large part because of the palm branches we received upon entering the church along with it being called Palm Sunday. To add to the confusion, it is common practice for only one Mass to begin with the Procession with Palms along with the inclusion of the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 19, verses 28-40, which recount the final journey Jesus took to Jerusalem. Yet today is actually called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion and there is a perfectly legitimate reason for naming it so as well as for having two Gospel readings.

Our King and Savior

Our King and Savior

New Testament scholars will tell you that within all the Gospels, everything prior to the passion of our Lord is significantly different in that what comes before primarily consists of pericopes, short units that were verbally retold long before they were actually written into the Gospels. The passion narrative however is quite unique in that it is one continuous narrative which begins with Christ’s journey to Jerusalem and ends with his passion, death, and resurrection. Thus, both the first Gospel and the second are in fact portions of one narrative, not two, accounting for this Sunday being called Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion.

Jesus had been telling his disciples for quite some time of his impending suffering, death, and resurrection although few neither took him seriously nor truly understood what he was saying to them. There is great symbolism in his triumphant procession into Jerusalem, notwithstanding that Jesus knew what he would soon be facing. He knew that his death would be terrible and that the suffering he would endure would be excruciating. He also recognized that he would be abandoned by his best friends and his disciples, that one would deny him and another would betray him.

It is indeed ironic that those who proclaimed him king and spread their cloaks on the road as he approached the Mount of Olives would within a day demand that he be crucified as a common criminal.

Many ask why Jesus chose to ride on a donkey upon his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. In the words of Zechariah, Chapter 9 verse 9, we read “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” For the people of Israel, the sign of a king was his humility, and it was the custom for a king to ride a donkey in procession to indicate his willingness to humble himself before the people and so it was that Jesus rode a donkey as a king.

Neither Herod nor Pilate could find fault with Jesus yet ultimately the people who sang his praises and called him king earlier “persisted in calling for his crucifixion and their voices prevailed.” What is perhaps most significant here is “that Christ died between two thieves. He was innocent; they weren’t. However, because his sacrifice was seen against that horizon, it was judged, by association, by those present to be as tainted as were the deaths of those he died with. People watching the crucifixion did not distinguish between who was guilty and who was innocent. They assessed what they saw en bloc. For them, all crucifixions meant the same thing.[1]

And isn’t it still as true today as then. We live in an age and a culture suffering from great divisions, conflict, moral decline, and lost virtue. Our Christian faith and Christ’s church have been accused, tried, convicted, scourged, and found guilty of many wrongdoings, some legitimate and some not. Many have turned their backs on the church and on God himself just as those who first claimed Christ their king and then called for his crucifixion.

In a way it was perfectly fitting that Jesus would suffer and die among thieves for throughout his public ministry “Jesus walked with sinners, ate with them, was accused with them, and died with them.”[2] And then again, Jesus did come into this world to die for our sins, to save us from our faults and failures, and to give us new life through him, didn’t he?

As Saint Paul tells us, “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” We should consider this for a moment and reflect on what an incredible act of pure love this was. Even though Jesus Christ, the Son of God, knew that we creatures, his creations, could or would not understand how he could be both human and divine, did so anyway, not as a king or a powerful leader but as a slave, a servant, humble and obedient to the Father, even accepting the most excruciating, painful, humiliating death on a cross.

As Christians we have often encountered evil and met with many temptations and in doing so have more often than not failed to resist the devil’s siren call. We have died to sin and in such death have found ourselves broken, humiliated and ashamed. But through Christ’s humiliating crucifixion, horrifying death and salvific resurrection we have been given the opportunity to be reborn, to rise from the death of sin into new life with Jesus Christ.

For those of us who remain among the faithful, is our faith in Jesus Christ as strong as it ought to be? Are we willing to carry our cross to Calvary? Are we willing to suffer and be crucified for our faults and failures? Are we willing and ready to die for him who suffered and died for us? These are questions we should search deep within and ask ourselves as we observe this coming Holy Week.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.



[1] Ron Rolheiser, High Season for Religion Foes, Center for Sunday Liturgy, In Exile.

[2] Ibid.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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