WE just ended Lent, and we start Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year in our Christian life. We begin it by reenacting Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and contemplating his Passion according to the Gospel of Luke.
What is significant about these rituals? What do they mean to us? How would they affect us and transform our views of life? These are questions we need to ask ourselves on this Palm Sunday. For most likely, many of us, including those who do not come to Sunday Mass regularly, would come to Church to observe these rituals with family members and friends.
In the light of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem signified his establishment of God’s kingdom on earth. What kind of kingdom? It’s one that claims kingship as selfless and humble service to God and fellowmen, marked with trustworthiness, love, compassion, and mercy. It’s a kingdom of justice, peace, unity, and harmony, where everyone receives dignity and respect. It’s a kingdom that would give hope to those who are destitute, oppressed, and alienated from society. It’s one that would bring reconciliation among men and women and a promising future to children and youth.
It’s no wonder that the Gospel of Luke presents Jesus riding on a donkey instead of a horse because, in the ancient Middle Eastern world, rulers who rode on donkeys came in peace while those who rode on horses came for war. Zachariah 9:9-10, for example, mentions that a king riding on a donkey is “righteous and having salvation, gentle.”
Jesus’ kingdom is not marked by megalomaniac attitudes of a ruler(s) that foster egotism, narcissism, vainglory, haughtiness, and arrogance? It does not breed corruption and greed for power, popularity and wealth. It embraces the cross and struggles for the sake of the redemption of all people from the bondage of sin and wretchedness. It’s the kingdom where the king becomes the servant and the least of all.
In Luke’s Passion of Christ, right during the last supper (Passover meal), an argument broke out among the disciples about which of them is the greatest. Jesus then told them: “The kings over nations rule by dominating. Those who exercise authority among them are designated as benefactors. But it is not to be that way with you. Instead, the greater among you is to become as the younger. And the one who governs is to be as one who serves. For who is greater, the one who reclines at table or the one who serves at table? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am in your midst as one who serves at table.”
Luke’s Passion account highlights Jesus’ intense struggle to say yes to the will of his Father that he sweat blood. It focuses on his intense love for others and their lives: he healed the man with the severed ear, consoled the women of Jerusalem, forgave his executioners, and promised Paradise to the repentant thief. It shows how Jesus was willing to give over his own life for the sake of others’ life.
These rituals of Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem and the readings of the Passion have much to say about our present-day realities. They touch on our understanding of leadership in the church, government, and other sectors of our society. Whomever we elect among politicians as our leaders, for example, must be selfless and genuine in his service to the country and community. Whoever becomes a bishop of a diocese must listen to his priests and people, be present to them, and inspire true holiness and service by his teaching, preaching, and witnessing. In these critical times, when scandal after scandal has rocked the Church, he must lead with transparency, accountability, and trustworthiness, protecting the Church, children, youth, and families from further harm.
The Palm and Passion Sunday liturgies also challenge us to look at our faith, our loyalty to God and the values of his Kingdom. As parents, how are we exercising our responsibility of strengthening the faith of our children? How are we leading them with patience and love? In a family relationship, how are we fostering unity, respect, and mutual understanding? As Christians, how are we leading our lives properly through the disciplines of prayer, study, and apostolate?
May our experience of Holy Week this year be deep! May it bring us peace, inspire you to serve and love unconditionally, and give us hope always!
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.