I try to imagine, sometimes, what it must have been like to be Jesus on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. What must have been going through His mind as He was surrounded by the crowds cheering Him on?
Who knows what the people in the throngs along the road to Jerusalem thought? Some were looking for a king. Some perhaps were full of religious fervor because of Passover. Others had seen the miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection. Perhaps more than a few were just curious about what the noise was all about. There were probably as many reasons for people to be there as people themselves.
But Jesus’ perspective must have been remarkably different. He understood what was going to happen. He knew that more than a few of the faces in the crowd, filled with hope or joy or the sense of pending victory, would turn dark and threatening in just a few days time. Those who were praising Him now would be mocking Him later; enjoying the fall of the famous has been a human occupation centuries before the National Enquirer. And His friends, those who had followed Him over the years and shared the closest moments, the people who walked beside Him and pushed the crowds back even as they basked in some of the reflected glory; one would betray Him, one would deny Him, the rest would scatter in fear. Jesus knew this would happen even as the rhythmic cadence of His donkey drew Him closer to the city gates.
If Jesus’ had been deceived one could make sense of why He continued on. How could He have known what was to happen? But He knew, every detail of every moment to come, how the people He served and healed and taught would turn on Him, how His friends would leave Him at His most critical time of need, and how He would suffer and die. One could have never faulted Him, knowing what He knew, if He had, with a touch of His hand, steered His animal off the road and away from Jerusalem into the wilderness.
But He kept on and I presume the only answer is that something larger motivated Him, some greater force allowed Jesus to transcend those usual emotions of fear, sadness, anger, or despair that would have overcome even the best of us if our places were changed with His. I believe it was love.
Jesus saw the crowds surrounding Him, those sheep without a shepherd, the thirsty of soul craving living water and saw through their fickle praise and their brokenness to the very core of each one’s soul and loved them. Jesus saw his disciples and even though He knew they could not endure the hard days to come He craved their salvation. In a mystical way He saw us too, each human that had been and each that was yet to be born, fragile, prone to sin and self destruction, captured, as our Liturgy says, by the delusion of idols. Love inspired the hope that some would be saved and set free, and because of love He chose to go ride on, even knowing that we would be in so many ways exactly like the crowds that surrounded Him on His journey to Jerusalem.
Our human ways of loving have no way of making sense of this, of love for its own sake, of love that reaches out infinitely beyond self interest for the eternal well being of another. It defies our categories, makes foolishness of our common sense, and the best of us can only develop of tiny fraction of it in our own lives. Yet it is real and today we’re faced with the full beauty, truth, power, and magnificence it all.
This love of God that we see in the Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, in His willingness to bear our darkness, pain, and death despite our unworthiness and betrayal is the truest love of all and the seed that can transform us. It can warm our cold hearts and turn them to God. It can grant us vision to see all that matters and lay aside what is less. Properly nurtured it changes how we see each other and the world around us, provides rest for our souls, and makes worship natural. To the extent we respond to it in kind we are made more human in the best sense of the word and eternity lives in our hearts. And as we see Jesus unflinching love in the face of death we begin to contemplate the meaning of the word Christian.