PALM SUNDAY “A” 2019
“HOSANNA…, CRUCIFY HIM!”
There is a saying that goes thus: “Success has many parents; failure is an orphan.” This means that most people like to identify with someone who is successful in life, while only a few people will go with someone who is a failure. It also means that when fortune is smiling on us and we are on top of the world, people will be falling over themselves to be our friends. But if our fortune should change suddenly, and we are down and out, most of the people we once called our friends will desert us. Some of them may even stick around to rub our nose in the mud.
- JESUS, THE CELEBRITY
That is exactly what happened to Jesus. At the time he entered Jerusalem for what would be his last Passover feast there, he was a huge success, a celebrity. His fame had spread far and wide. Everybody hailed him as a wonder worker. They were saying:
- “Everything he does is good; he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak” (Mark 7:37).
- “We have never seen anything like this before” (Mark 2:12).
- “Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mark 4:41).
Others admired his teaching as the best Rabbi they had ever known. They said:
- “Here is a teaching that is new, and with authority behind it…” Mark 1:27).
- “His teaching made a deep impression on the people because he taught them with authority, unlike their own scribes” (Matt 7:28-29).
With that kind of reputation accompanying him, the people of Jerusalem turned out massively to welcome him into their city. They gave him the equivalent of what would be a “red carpet treatment” today, by taking off their cloaks and spreading them on the road for Jesus to ride on. Then they chanted “Hosanna”, and the “King who comes in the name of the Lord”. There were only a few dissenting voices—those of his perennial adversaries, the Pharisees—and they were easily silenced by the large cheering crowd.
- THE JEWISH LEADERS DESPERATELY WANTED JESUS TO DIE
At the death of Lazarus, the Pharisees and the Scribes decided that they had to kill Jesus because his popularity was growing too fast, and wide. The original charge against Jesus was that of blasphemy. “Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). When that did not make any impression on the pagan governor, they substituted treason. The Jews, realizing that they had no right to impose capital punishment on anyone, since they were under Roman rule and law, and a mere religious charge could not be sufficient to sentence someone to death, they had to try to make Jesus a political criminal. For, the Romans treated religious cases as “mere customary squabble about fables” (Cf. Acts 25:19) since these Romans were essentially pagans who did not believe in the God of Israel. The Jews trumped up charges in order to make Jesus commit a political crime which could tantamount to treason in the eyes of the Roman authorities.
- In Luke 20:22-25, when asked whether it is lawful for them to pay taxes to Caesar or not, Jesus responded: “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” But later, before Pilate, (Luke 23:2) the Jews falsely testify: “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding people to pay taxes to Caesar”. They further say: “they heard Jesus saying that he himself is a King”.
- In John 6:15, when Jesus saw that the people wanted to come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed into a mountain himself alone. But when Pilate attempted to free Jesus, they shout: “If you release him, then you are not a Friend of Caesar. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12).
- The Jews (particularly the Zealots opposed the Roman occupation of their land). It is clear throughout the gospels that the Jews never accepted Caesar as their king. Now they cry out, “We have no king but Caesar” Away with him, away with him, crucify him. (John 19:15).
- To crown it all, Matthew 27:37 says: “Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’”
From all these, it is crystal clear that Jesus was being given a political trial, and was convicted for a political crime. That was an offence punishable by death under Roman law.
- WHY DEATH BY CRUCIFIXTION?
- a) Death by crucifixion was a very contemptuous form of death. It was the most shameful, the most humiliating, and the most inhuman form of death. The Jews wanted to vent out their rage in the most inhuman way since death by crucifixion was like someone dying a thousand cruel deaths in one. So, they were determined to submit Jesus to this form of death to use this as a firm deterrent so that his disciples and followers could be silenced forever. Unfortunately, however, they ended up putting a catalyst in place. This was like someone trying to put out gasoline fire with limited amount of water.
- b) The Jews had clearly at the back of their minds the text from Deuteronomy: “When someone is convicted of a crime punishable by death and is executed, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse must not remain all night upon the tree; you shall bury him that same day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not defile the land that the Lord your God is giving you for possession” (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). In the eyes of the Jewish authorities, Jesus has satisfied the provisions of this law of crucifixion. His death was a permanent reminder to the people that “He that is hanged is accursed by God.” They hoped his death would mean the end of his movement. But their action produced a totally opposite effect: It hastened the glorification of Jesus, which ultimately became a catalyst for his movement.
- JESUS, THE FAILURE
This time around, Jesus was a failure in the eyes of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. He had a few friends among them. The very same people who had shouted “Hosanna” earlier in the week, were now yelling “crucify him, crucify him!” The same crowd has been schooled, cajoled, and ‘fixed’ or bribed by the Pharisees and scribes. They even preferred a man who was a bandit and a murderer to Jesus. They howled, “Away with him (Jesus)! Give us Barabbas” (Luke 23:19). His own disciple, Judas, betrays him after money has changed hands. Even his own good friend, Peter, denies him three times. The rest of the disciples lazily fall asleep, with little or no concern for his plight. That is life. Indeed, “success has many parents; failure is an orphan.” ‘How quickly decent, nice people degenerate the moment their circumstances change. Their virtue suddenly vanishes, and there’s nothing left of their former selves’. (Dostoyevsky).
How very often has this sort of drama been played out in the lives of many us? We certainly know of people among us who were once comfortable, maybe even affluent. They were gainfully employed, had a handsome income, and were readily able to meet all their financial commitments. They had loads of friends. Many people wanted to be seen in their company, to be identified with them.
But when their fortunes changed, the story was different. Before they knew it, they were all alone, perhaps only with their immediate family. Where have all those friends of the good old days gone? Flown, like birds! They were no longer anywhere to be seen. They simply made themselves unavailable.
- a) One lesson to learn here is that malice exists in the world. Never deceive yourself that all is always well. Evil is real. That is why the Jewish leaders could manufacture evidence in order to implicate Jesus in a crime of treason.
- b) The second lesson is that we should not get carried away if people are hailing us and shouting “Hosanna” when we are doing well. We must not let it go to our heads, because the same people will turn around tomorrow to shout “crucify him”, if we should fall into misfortune.
- c) A third lesson is that we must always stand by our friends, the people who call us “friends”, in good times as well as in bad. It is precisely when things go sour for them that they most need us. That is when we should show them that “A friend in need is a friend indeed.” As Christians, we should not be just “fair weather friends”. We should be “all weather friends” to those who count us among their friends.
Jesus needs a friend in you, at this moment of agony and pain! Let us accompany him as TRUE FRIENDS throughout this Holy Week!