It will be a week of cleaning, preparing for company, some celebrating (two of the kids have birthdays), very little school, and hopefully a bit of special time for reflecting on this most holy of weeks. I’ve been working my way very slowly through To Know Christ Jesus by F.J. Sheed, and this week I’ve decided to skip ahead to his writing on this week in the life of Jesus. I figured a good way to start updating my blog and getting reflection time in would be to post some of his commentary day by day. It should be noted that in writing this commentary on the gospels, Sheed states that his “concern with the Gospels is to see the Face which through all the centuries has looked out from them upon men. The object is not to prove something but to meet someone – that we should know Christ Jesus, know him as one person may know another. As Christians we love him, try to live by his law, would think it a glory to die for him. But how well do we know him?” – from the Foreword
We begin with Sheed noting that the Passover was only six days away, and Jerusalem was crowded with people, especially people talking about Lazarus and his rising from the dead. There were those that wanted to meet Jesus and those (the chief priests) who had decided they wanted to kill both Lazarus and Jesus.
On the Sunday morning Jesus began on the last two miles, taking the shorter way from Bethany, over the mount of Olives. For the first time we see him riding – he was on a donkey. His enemies in the crowd must surely have remembered how that other son of David, Solomon, promised the kingship by his father, had come riding into the city from this same Mount of Olives.
The roads would have been thronged with the pilgrims who poured into the city for the great feast, from all Palestine, from all over the Roman World. His followers spread some of their garments on the donkey and others in the road in front of him. The excitement spread. Pilgrims cut branches from the trees and strewed them in the road. Meanwhile the news that he was on his way brought crowds out from Jerusalem to meet him, carrying palms.
The excitement grew towards frenzy, with the crowd shouting, “Hosannah to the Son of David. Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosannah in the hightest. Blessed be the kingdom of our father David which is now coming.” The kingdom was indeed coming; he who was to come – the Messiah – was coming. At last. But the donkey should have warned them that it would not be the kingdom of their dreams – he was coming peaceably, not as for war. (p.329)
Sheed then begins to comment on what this all meant to Jesus himself, which as he points out is probably not much as far as the uproar. Jesus had in his miracle of the five loaves and fishes had people who were ready to make him king, and in His teaching on the Eucharist they completely walked away from Him. Now here were the people again all excited and thinking of His triumph, but He knew in that excitement was a lot of hysteria. Certainly their thinking of His triumph was completely different than what Jesus knew it would be.
…But he knew in what it would consist – for himself, for those who should follow him. He tried to tell this to his apostles (Jn 12:23) – “The hour is come for the Son of Man to be glorified”; but the entry into glory involves dying. Leave a grain of wheat lying about and it remains simply that, a grain of wheat’ it must be buried in the earth if it is to bring forth abundance of new life. That, he tells them, is the law for them too. They must not love this earthly life too much, for it must surely end; and, if it alone is loved, it will have no sequel of glory. “If any man minister to me, let him follow me; and where I am there also shall my minister be.”
In all that happened so far, Jesus had been the self we know, calm at the heart of a whirlwind. Then it is as though the horror to come flooded in on him. For this instant his control seemed close to breaking. Reading the Gospels we have seen him angry, seen him compassionate, seen him sorrowful, seen him grieving, but always master. For the first time we feel the mastery waver. Gethsemani was anticipated.
It is all in a single verse (Jn 12:27). “Now is my soul troubled” (compare with “My soul is sorrowful even unto death”). “Father, save me from this hour” (compare that with “Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me”). Then, this time as in Gethsemani, comes resignation. “But for this cause I came unto this hour” – his whole life would have been stultified had that petition of a moment ago been granted; he would have been a grain of wheat which remained only that. But in his dying, he was to be made life-giving.
Palm Sunday at an end, Jesus returns to Bethany to spend the night. Accounts of the next four days are now found in three of the four gospels. It is John’s gospel that tells us nothing of this time.
WE ADORE YOU, O CHRIST, AND PRAISE YOU.
BECAUSE BY YOUR HOLY CROSS YOU HAVE REDEEMED THE WORLD.