‘Look, your king comes to you: he is humble, he rides on a donkey and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”
Jesus intended that his entrance into Jerusalem should say something about the kingdom to be established through his approaching death and resurrection. He entered Jerusalem without the trappings of earthly power. The crowds welcomed him as a king, a son of David, but his arrival threw the city into turmoil. “Who is this?” they asked.
At the beginning of Holy Week we welcome Christ into our lives, but like the citizens of Jerusalem we should not be surprised if his presence questions our hearts. Are we ready to welcome a king who shunned the trappings of success, whose humility questioned a whole way of life?
The prophet Isaiah’s description of the suffering servant is a wonderful meditation at the beginning of Holy Week. The Servant, endowed with what was described as a disciple’s tongue, spoke from the depths of his relationship with the Father. “Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear. For my part I made no resistance.”
The prayerful listening that brings us into communion with God would be perfectly fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus.
Throughout this week, even before the events we remember, Jesus remained close to the Father. He listened. It was through this listening that he washed the feet of his disciples, gave himself in the Eucharist and died on the cross. Through this listening, in the Garden of Gethsemane he died to self and chose to live for the Father. It is in prayer that we learn to listen to the Father, in prayer that our resistance to his will is surrendered. It is in prayer that the Father comes to our help, that we are prepared for whatever life might bring.
St Paul’s great hymn to Christ’s humility was not spoken in isolation. It followed his exhortation that we should make our own the mind that was in Christ Jesus. We are reminded that although his state was divine Jesus did not cling to his equality with God, but emptied himself, assuming the condition of a slave. It was from this humility that Jesus gave himself as bread and wine, offered no resistance to those who struck him, and endured the mockery of the crowd. We are not divine, and yet how obstinately we cling to the illusion of what we imagine ourselves to be. It is so easy to fill our lives with superficiality of every kind. Jesus emptied himself. He was humbler yet, even to accepting death on a cross.
There can be no comfortable accommodation on our part between sin and the Passion of the Lord. We “empty” ourselves when we recognise the pride that hinders our communion with God. It is a kind of death, the death with which we die to sin and live for Christ. We cannot bring this about from ourselves. With Christ we entrust our emptiness to the Father, and it is with Christ that we hope to be raised up.
It is not enough simply to listen to the long Passion Narrative on Palm Sunday and Good Friday. We must listen so as to understand our own death and life in Christ. We shout with the crowd who called for his death when we allow his love to die in us. We are one with Christ when we entrust our sinfulness to the Father.