Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Pilgrim-King

Leaders like Alexander the Great, Mohammad and Napoleon rode their horses with armed men to triumph their enemies. But Our Lord, on Palm Sunday, rode a colt into Jerusalem in order to be conquered. This was to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah: "See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, Meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass." (Zechariah 9:9) The same animal Mary and Joseph used to escape to Egypt from the wrath of King Herod when Jesus was an infant, is now used to transport Him right into the hands of his executioners. But it was the so-called execution of Jesus that was used to conquer the world. As Fulton Sheen said, "[I]f He Who took the worst the world had to offer and conquered it, then evil shall never be victorious again."

Colts are used for pilgrims, not for worldly conquerors. Christ was declaring Himself to be a king and a pilgrim not of this world. His throne was not to be established in Jerusalem or Rome, rather, His throne had already existed in heaven. And as a pilgrim-king He had no interest in worldly power. The appearances of his colt would suggest that he came not to conquer using swords and military might, instead, His weapon is His Own Word: "Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart. No creature is concealed from him, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account." (Hebrews 4:12-13)

The pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem were from all over the world. In fact, the majority of Jews lived outside of Palestine (Israel) in the first century. On Palm Sunday, many came from Egypt, Syria and Persia. To attend the Passover feast every year was an religious obligation imposed upon every Jew; no matter how many miles they had to travel. And it was the foreigners, this crowd of mixed foreigners and natives, that heard about the resurrection of Lazarus and all the wonderful things the Lord Jesus had done. Arguably, it was they- the pilgrims and visitors -who proclaimed Christ to be the "Son of David" as He, like King Solomon (son of David), rode a colt into the City of David.

Earlier in His public ministry Jesus said that a prophet is not accepted in hometown. In fact, many of the his opponents i.e. the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, were Jews from Judea; not too far from Nazareth. However, many of these visitors in Jerusalem were not from His hometown or even from his country. They did not share the same prejudices that His countrymen harbored against Christ. The throngs of people- who seemed to represent the Gentile world that would eventually welcome a Jewish Messiah -cried out:

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come!
Hosanna in the highest!"

It was almost as if the City of God and the City of Man were being represented in Jerusalem. There were people who wanted to make Jesus their king and there were others who wanted to kill Him. At any rate, the "hosannas" that were shouted on Palm Sunday would be squelched by louder voices who would shout "crucify him!" on Good Friday.

No doubt, Our Lord made an impression on the Apostles that Holy Week. For years to come the Apostles, that is, the first Bishops of the Church, would have to remember that they could not afford to get too comfortable with their authority and the perks that attend it; this is especially the case with human applause and popularity. Indeed, the Apostles saw within just a few short days that praises can turn into condemnations. Our Lord would say at the Last Supper that a disciple is not above his Master. What happened to Him would also happen to them.

This is a great lesson for anyone who is called to be a leader. In order to lead we have to resemble the Pilgrim-King. If we seek God's approval first and set our eyes on heaven, then we can take the worst the world has to offer and conquer it! St. Paul conquered the world. His conquest resembled that of Our Lord's. Do you want to know how he did it? By pain, dangers and weaknesses! It is by far the most unusual methods that souls and the world can be conquered. But he, like the Pilgrim-King, did it nevertheless. In his own words:

“Five times at the hands of the Jews I received forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I passed a night and a day on the deep; on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my own race, dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea, dangers among false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, through hunger and thirst, through frequent fastings, through cold and exposure. And apart from these things, there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.

Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant? If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.” (II Corinthians 11:24-30)