Electronic Prayer Book

Palm Sunday

 

St Matthew 21: 1 – 9

Explanation

Q.        What place was this Bethphage?

A.         It was a village not far from Bethany, the residence of Lazarus. It was located on the eastern side of Mount Olivet, at the head of the famous valley of Jehoshaphat [Jehosaphat], which from there extends to the Dead Sea. In this village were kept the sheep, goats, oxen, and all the animals that were sacrificed in the temple according to the law. From this place they were solemnly led to Jerusalem, entering by the Golden Gate.

 

Q.        Is there anything to remark on this point?

A.         It was from this village that Our Saviour went to Jerusalem to be crucified the following week, and as He was the Lamb that was to be slaughtered for the salvation of the world, the victim of which all the other sacrifices of the law of Moses were only the figure, He therefore wanted to go to that place, walk on the same road, and enter the same gate which was entered by the victims destined for the sacrifice, and on that solemn day of the Paschal lamb.

 

Q.        What do the two beasts of burden signify which Christ ordered His disciples to bring?

A.         The old one, accustomed to work and carry burdens, was a figure of the Jewish nation brought up under the yoke of the Old Law and accustomed to carry the burden of its observances. The colt that was tied was a figure of the Gentiles, who up to that time had lived according to their will and known no restraint. Christ sent His disciples to bring   both animals, as the apostles by preaching His resurrection and gospel would convert both the Jews and the Gentiles and unite them in His Church and make them the instruments of His glorious triumph.

 

Q.        Had Christ any other reason to use those two animals in entering Jerusalem?

A.         He intended that the prophecy of Zachary should be fulfilled. This prophet long before said: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion [Sion]! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold your King will come to you, the Just and Saviour. He is poor and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.” (Zech. 9: 9) [Zack. 9: 9]

 

Q.        What is to be said on these points?

A.         In all this we recognize an undeniable proof of the divinity of Christ, and of His power and absolute dominion over all things. God alone sees, because present to Him, events at a distance and in the future, even those depending on free agencies. And as Christ told the apostles with certainty, what they would find in the place to which He sent them, He gave a proof that He could see when He was not personally present, and that consequently He was God, as He declared. In regard to the answer His apostles should give the owner of the animals, He gave them to understand that, as God, He was the owner of them, and that the possessor should acknowledge having received them from Him and should give them up to Him when He required them. We should learn from this that what we possess is not really ours but God’s, from Whom we received it, and that we are obliged to render it up to Him when He reclaims it;

 

Q.        How did there happen to be so great a multitude in Jerusalem, and why did they do Christ such great honour?

A.         Remember that on that same day on which Christ entered Jerusalem the Paschal lamb was led with great solemnity from Bethphage to the temple. It is not surprising, then, that our divine Saviour should meet on the same road so many people. Besides, all Jerusalem was in excitement and wonder because of the great miracle Jesus had but recently worked — the raising of Lazarus from the dead after he had been four days in the grave. The people, who revered Him on account of His other miracles, were carried to the highest pitch of admiration by this manifestation of His power over death. This triumph of the God-man had been foretold, and the omnipotent Hand that disposes of all things procured its fulfillment.

 

Q.        What was the intention of the multitude in strewing branches of palm and olive, and spreading their garments on the road?

A.         Naturally speaking, we may say that the people, wishing to pay homage to Christ and to make His entry into Jerusalem as solemn as possible, knew no other way of manifesting   the feelings of their hearts. But we must raise our minds higher, and see the hand of God in things which appear so natural and accidental. Jesus went to Jerusalem to be crucified, and by His death to conquer hell, to bring down upon men the fulness of grace, and detach their hearts from the things of this world in order to direct them to heavenly things. Hence God so willed it that the great multitude should applaud the triumph of the Redeemer, and — as the Church says on this day — with palms in their hands they proclaimed His victory over Satan. The olive branches signified the oil of grace which would be diffused over the children of redemption. The garments spread under His feet signified the renunciation of all earthly affections which the just must make for God’s sake ; for, according to St. Gregory, earthly affections are the garments that entangle our souls, and the better to fight our spiritual enemies we must get rid of them.

 

Q.        What are we to learn from this Gospel?

A.         We must learn not to trust the world, to fear its inconstancy, and to hope for reward from God alone. To-day we behold Christ entering Jerusalem amidst the hosannas of the people — five days later we shall see Him dragged to Mount Calvary amidst curses and blasphemies. To-day the people are all love for Him and pay Him homage — In a few days we shall see them filled with hatred, demanding His blood. To-day Christ crosses the valley of Jehoshaphat in a humble manner, riding on a beast of burden. A day will come when, sitting upon the clouds and surrounded with glory, He will in that same valley judge the living and the dead.

            Let us, therefore, learn not to trust the world, which quickly abandons what it once loved, and not to trust ourselves, who are liable to change at any moment. Let us hope from God the reward for the humiliations we have suffered upon earth.