Homily for Palm Sunday
Readings: Mark 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Ph 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
28 March 2021
There have been a lot of rallies and marches of late. People wanting to be heard; people wanting to stand together in solidarity; people wanting the powerful to listen and to change; people wanting respect to be shown to all. The issues may be complex, but there are moments when the demands can be summed up in a simple message on a placard like “Enough is enough”, “March4Justice”, “Girls Just want to walk home”, “Justice and a Fair Go for Refugees” or “Make a Home for Refugees”. This month women have gathered in their tens of thousands outside Parliament House in Canberra and at other venues around the country. They’ve had a gutful. They are demanding real change and not just political spin. This afternoon in every capital city and in many other places, thousands of us will march for refugees, dissatisfied with the government policies which have been pursued by both major political parties for too long.
Will the government policy on asylum seekers change in the foreseeable future? No. Will the Opposition enunciate a more humane refugee policy in the hope of garnering more votes? Not likely. So why bother? There are times when having pursued all available avenues for change or while still pursuing them, it is necessary to take the symbolic stand. Will our politicians put right the toxic culture in our parliament where women have been so disrespected? We hope so, but we have no guarantee. In a democracy, the parliament tends to reflect the culture of the society it serves. Change needs to happen not just in Parliament House. Respect needs to be on display in every house of our Commonwealth.
On the first Palm Sunday, the crowd stood with Jesus. They spread their garments on the road; they spread palm branches in front of him. Those going before him as well as those following cried out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” Many of the crowd were buoyed by hope. They thought they were on a winner. They had found their Messiah. By the end of the week, they are not to be seen for the dust. They thought by then that they were on a loser. By the time Judas leads the armed men with swords to Jesus in the garden at Gethsemane “they all deserted him and ran away”. Even Peter when pressed will declare “I do not know the man you speak of.” The crowd is so fickle that the chief priests can incite them to demand the release of the criminal Barabbas instead of Jesus whom they hailed as blessed only days before, now calling “Crucify him!”. By the time he hangs on the cross, none of the crowd is there to support him. Most have disappeared. Any passing by jeer at him telling him to save himself and come down from the cross.
John Henry Newman once preached on the difference between impulse and determination, warning that we may have our “religious feelings roused, without being on that account at all the more likely to obey God in practice, rather the less likely”:
Let us take warning from St. Peter’s fall. Let us not promise much; let us not talk much of ourselves; let us not be high-minded, nor encourage ourselves in impetuous bold language in religion. Let us take warning, too, from that fickle multitude who cried, first Hosanna, then Crucify. A miracle startled them into a sudden adoration of their Saviour;—its effect upon them soon died away. And thus the especial mercies of God sometimes excite us for a season. We feel Christ speaking to us through our consciences and hearts; and we fancy He is assuring us we are His true servants, when He is but calling on us to receive Him. Let us not be content with saying “Lord, Lord”, without “doing the thing which He says.”
In the end, Jesus was abandoned, on his own. Perhaps even the best of us follows Jesus only as far as his path coincides with our own philosophy, our own hopes, our own world view, or our own expectations, or with community expectations and the spirit of the age. We part company with him once he continues on the counter-cultural path which entails suffering and death. Just as he ends up on the cross alone, abandoned, so too each of us has to face our moment of radical aloneness before our God. Each of us will endure some suffering in life; and each of us will surely die. As we face this reality, there is some consolation in standing together in solidarity in the face of evil and adversity, demanding that enough is enough and marching for justice. Let’s take up our palms this day facing towards Jerusalem for one more Holy Week more resolved than ever to accompany Jesus on this paschal path, knowing that without God’s grace we will always fall by the wayside losing sight of the new life offered us on the other side of the cross. Jesus’ path to glory was the emptying of self, even to the extent of assuming the condition of a slave and accepting death, death on a cross.
As we stand and march for justice demanding to be heard, let’s give thanks that the Lord has given us a disciple’s tongue so that we may know how to reply to the wearied. The Lord comes to help us and the wearied so that we might be untouched by the insults of those exercising disrespectful power over others, setting our faces like flint so that we will not be shamed. If only the disrespect and wanton exercise of power over the weak could be corrected simply by our waving our palms all the way to Good Friday and on to Easter Sunday proclaiming, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!’
Let’s take heart from Pope Francis’ remark at last Sunday’s Angelus in St Peter’s Square: “[I]n trials and in solitude, while the seed is dying, that is the moment in which life blossoms, to bear ripe fruit in due time. It is in this intertwining of death and life that we can experience the joy and true fruitfulness of love, which always is given in God’s style: closeness, compassion, tenderness.”
On our marches for justice and truth, let’s remain COVID close while extending compassion and tenderness to all. Let’s not just call “Lord, Lord”, but let’s commit to doing what the Lord asks of us this Palm Sunday.
 John Henry Newman, ‘Religious Emotion’, Sermon XIV, Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 1, p 177
 Ibid, p. 188
Fr Frank Brennan SJ is the Rector of Newman College, Melbourne, the Distinguished Fellow of the PM Glynn Institute, Australian Catholic University, and the former CEO of Catholic Social Services Australia (CSSA).