April 4, 2023 // Bishop

Christ Entered Jerusalem to Establish God’s Kingdom and to Institute the New Passover

The following homily was delivered by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades during Mass on Palm Sunday, Apr. 3, at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend:

I think this is the only Mass of the year when we have two Gospel readings. The first, at the beginning of Mass, was Saint Matthew’s account of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. The second, which we just heard, was Saint Matthew’s account of the Passion of Jesus. We call today “Palm Sunday.” The official title of today is “Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord,” since today the Church not only recalls the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, but also Our Lord’s Passion. Today begins Holy Week, the weeklong commemoration of our Lord’s Paschal Mystery, culminating, of course, with the Sacred Paschal Triduum.

Daniel Tucker

Jesus went up to Jerusalem with His disciples, like so many other pilgrims, to celebrate the Passover. Notice how intentional Jesus was, even giving two of the disciples precise instructions about finding an ass and a colt, untying them, and bringing them to Him. Why is this noteworthy? Because Jesus had a purpose.
Saint Matthew tells us that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy from the book of the prophet Zechariah that one day the Messiah-King would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. God told Zechariah: “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.” That’s why Jesus sent the two disciples to find an ass and a colt. Jesus knew who He was and what He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.

Jesus had been announcing a kingdom since He began His public ministry and many people believed He was or might be the Messiah, the Son of David they were waiting for. Jesus now reveals that He is by entering Jerusalem the way He did. He is openly revealing that He is the Messiah, the One they were hoping for, the new King. Later, during the trial before Pontius Pilate, Pilate directly asked Jesus: “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus did not deny it. He simply replied: “You say so.” Jesus did not deny the truth of His kingship. But entering Jerusalem the way He did, our Lord showed that His kingship is different from popular messianic expectations of a nationalistic revolutionary. Jesus did not enter like a warrior to conquer the city with weapons of violence. He did not enter riding on a great and towering horse, but on a small young donkey. He entered meekly like the prophet Zechariah foretold.

Jesus entered Jerusalem with great purpose, to accomplish our salvation through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Jesus the Messiah-King entered Jerusalem to establish a new kingdom, the kingdom of God. He would do battle — yes — but His weapons would be truth, humility, love, and mercy. He would be victorious in the battle. He would conquer Satan and his kingdom. He would conquer sin and death. He would definitively establish God’s Kingdom through His cross. He would reign as King from the wood of the cross. This is what we celebrate during Holy Week.

Christ the King invites everyone into His kingdom. He invites sinners, you and me, to the table of His kingdom. He invites us to conversion. That’s what the season of Lent is all about. The poor and the lowly belong to His kingdom. In fact, Jesus says of the poor, “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And He says that the kingdom belongs to those who become like little children, that is, those who trust in Him and His word. Many, if not most, of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday were children and the poor. They waved palm branches and cried out: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” We who are members of His Kingdom, the Church that is the seed and beginning of His Kingdom, acclaim our King with these same words at every Mass at the beginning of the Eucharistic Prayer when we sing the Sanctus. We sing “Hosanna,” which means “Please save us.” And we acclaim He who comes in the name of the Lord, Jesus, who comes to us and gives Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.

I mentioned that Jesus entered Jerusalem intentionally, with firm purpose. He could have gone back to Galilee, but He didn’t. Jesus knew what was going to happen, but He freely desired to enter Jerusalem to accomplish His mission of salvation, to do His Father’s will. Jesus also deliberately chose to enter Jerusalem during the time of Passover, to join the tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims who annually celebrated in the holy city the memorial of Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt. At Passover, the Jewish people also celebrated their hope that God would one day give them definitive freedom. Well, that day arrived with Jesus, the Son of God, sent by the Father to set us free, free from the slavery of sin, and to deliver us from the power of death. 

Jesus approached the Passover feast with the awareness that He Himself was the Passover Lamb foreshadowed in the Book of Exodus, a lamb without blemish that would be sacrificed. He entered Jerusalem at Passover time to institute a new Passover and establish a new covenant between God and His people. He would give a new meaning to the blessing of the Passover bread and cup on the night before He died. The Catechism explains this beautifully: “By celebrating the Last Supper with his apostles in the course of the Passover meal, Jesus gave the Jewish Passover its definitive meaning. Jesus’ passing over to His Father by His death and resurrection, the new Passover, is anticipated in the Supper and celebrated in the Eucharist, which fulfills the Jewish Passover and anticipates the final Passover of the Church in the glory of the kingdom.”

Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist as the memorial of His death and resurrection to make us sharers in His Passover from death to life. He nourishes us with His Body and Blood throughout our pilgrimage of life so that we will arrive one day in the promised land of heaven, the new Jerusalem.

Brothers and sisters, I hope and pray you have a good Holy Week as we celebrate the core of our faith, the Paschal Mystery of Christ. His Passion, Death, and Resurrection are our support in all the trials of our life. May you experience more deeply this week, especially through your prayer, the immense love of Christ our Redeemer. Only He gives us the peace and love for which our hearts so deeply yearn. May Mary, the Sorrowful Virgin, who accompanied her Son in His Passion and stood at the foot of the Cross, from which Jesus gave her to us as our Mother, accompany us with her love and prayers this week! May she help us to follow her Son, and to discover in the mystery of the cross and resurrection the full meaning of our life!

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