Home Homilies Michael Whelan SM, PhD Gospel for Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord

Gospel for Palm Sunday of the Passion of Our Lord

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it.

If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.'” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the
one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:1-10 – NRSV)

Introductory notes

All four Gospels mention this event – see Matthew 21:1–11; Luke 19:28–40; John 12:12–19.

The triumph occurs not so much at the entry into Jerusalem (11:11) but in the approach to Jerusalem (11:1-10). Jesus has been journeying towards Jerusalem throughout his ministry. He has now arrived at the gates of the city where the true nature of the messianic prophecies will be revealed.

Mark places this scene near the Mount of Olives, recalling the apocalyptic vision in the messianic prophecy of Zechariah 14:1-5. However, in the case of Zechariah, God is portrayed as the great warrior. Jesus is anything but a great warrior. The messianic reality is quite different from the messianic expectations. The reality is much closer to an earlier messianic text from Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

The messianic mood is enhanced by the singing of one of the Hallel Psalms – Psalm 118:26. The Hallel Psalms – 113-118 – were sung on Jewish holidays.

The word “Hosanna”, as used here, seems to be ambiguous. It is a Greek transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning, “save, please”. It is found in the Hallel Psalm 118:25: “Save us we beseech you O Lord!” Yet it also
seems to be a cry of joy and acclamation as used here by Mark.

The kingdom on offer through Jesus is not just a restored Israel. Jesus is re-interpreting all the messianic categories, images and expectations the people may have had. The full impact of that re-interpretation will be brought home to the disciples only when they experience the horror of Friday and the joy of Sunday morning. They must share in Jesus’ Passover, psychologically and spiritually, if not physically.

In the first instance, that Friday was not seen to be “good”, the Saturday was not seen to be “holy”. The empty tomb changed everything. And there would have been no empty tomb if there had not been the wilderness of Calvary.

Thus, in hindsight – and only in hindsight – the Christian community is able to say with scripture scholar N T Wright: “Try imagining the Old Testament God for a minute – passionate, involved with his people in their
wanderings and stupidity, loving them tenderly and rescuing them again and again, grieving over their folly and their pain, taking costly action to redeem them. What would that God look like if he were to be become human, and live among us humans? I think he would look very much like Jesus of Nazareth; and never more so than as he hangs dying on the cross.” (N T Wright, The Crown and the Fire: Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit, William B Eerdmans, 1992, 53-54.)


It is not the entry into Jerusalem but the approach to Jerusalem. It is the climax of a journey that has taken several years. Jesus is now in the place where the truth of his existence will be revealed.

We arrive with him. Through the liturgy we will yet again encounter the “terrible beauty” of this revelation. Shining through the shame and degradation we will see the embodiment of love. Those who will inflict the shame and degradation will be embraced in that love along with the rest of us.

The arrival at the gates to Jerusalem is a metaphor for the dawning of each day of our lives. Do we turn away? Do we face it? One contemporary author reminds us of this option that is ours each day:

“In Jesus on the cross, I see the human being I dare not be, dying the death I dare not die. Rather than be him I kill him. But my attempt to eliminate him confronts me with the perfect symbol of the death I fear to die. Jesus enfleshes for me the identity, the personhood, that I fear. Acting out this fear, and killing him, I confront myself for the very reason for my fear: the death that I dare not die. The awful secret is that ‘the human being I dare not be’ and ‘the death I dare not die’ are one and the same thing. My violent reaction to the first only confronts me with the second. There is an indissoluble connection at the heart of our being, between death and the real person. But so hugely resistant are we to this connection, so wholly built is our culture, layer on layer, on its denial, that our only way into it is through destroying, in the name of all our culture, and of our whole human habit, the real person. We thus create the symbol of the very thing we attempt to deny, the symbol of the human being consummated in death. The cross is not the negation of culture. The cross is culture’s negation of God, of total truth, of total reality, this negation seen in a healing symbol. The only redemption of consciousness lies in the discovery that at the limit of its claim to constitute the absolute world it creates the symbol of what that claim denies: the human being perfected in death. The cross is the one totally realistic dialogue between the human being God made us and the human being we make ourselves.” (Sebastian Moore, The Crucified is No Stranger, Darton, Longman and Todd, 1978, 71.)