“Contemplate His Throne”
Palm Sunday: April 13, 2014
Zechariah 9: 9 – 13/Psalm 118: 15 – 16; 25 – 29/Revelation 19: 11 – 16/John 12: 12–19
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
We continue with our pilgrim way of Lent. We are approaching the climax as we come today to Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week. I have stressed this enough: we journey by stages and we allow God to lead us. Many times, it is not easy to have someone lead you. The Bible says that it is a sign of maturity. The frustration of people, especially when they reach a certain age, is being used to in all their life of being able to do everything independently by themselves. They can go to the bathroom by themselves, feed themselves, tie their own show lace or dress themselves up. They reach a certain point when they are too weak to do some of those things and they depend on something like a cane or on a person to support them when they walk. It may not be just in old age, but sometimes in sickness too. It is difficult to depend on somebody. It is difficult for our pride because you would rather do things by yourselves. You are the closest to anyone that can ever please yourself. You would rather do things than leave them to others. It is a sign of maturity that we allow somebody we trust to lead us.
Jesus told Peter, in signifying His death, “When you were young, you went to places wherever you want to go; but when you are old, somebody else will lead you and take you somewhere you don’t want to go.” It is a sign of maturity. It is a sign of total surrender to what God wills to happen. You may not understand it. Right after Jesus told Peter this, He told him, “Follow Me.” Peter may not have understood it when he heard it, but Jesus signified to him the kind of death He was to die. Nonetheless, you can interpret that as maturity.
When we are young, we want to do what we want to do. We reach a certain point when we depend on God and allow Him to do things and we follow. We don’t necessarily like where He leads us. Jesus told a disciple that he should lay hands on Paul because God was to show Paul the many tribulations, the many sufferings he has to go through for the sake of the gospel of God. It is difficult not to be independent but to depend on somebody. We are all bound to get there. We are all going to get old and we are all going to depend someday on somebody else. We are being trained to surrender totally and to follow especially the leading of our Lord.
Is it obeying blindly? Is it not thinking for yourself or analyzing? The Bible calls it walking by faith not by sight. You don’t necessarily have to see it or understand it. You just have to trust God and have faith in Him because this is our calling. It is not to analyze or evaluate; not to get everything figured out before we act. Take the step of faith, which means even if we don’t see or understand, we go and follow.
God told Abraham, "Go up to the mountain with your son, Isaac, and I want you to sacrifice him there." Isaac, seeing all the things needed for sacrifice, like the fire, the wood except for one things, asks his father, "Behold, the fire, the wood, but where is the lamb for sacrifice?" Isaac did not see; neither did Abraham, but Abraham, whom Isaac trusted, told him, “God will provide.” This is all that Isaac had – God will provide. This is all the basis that he can put his faith on. He did not see the lamb. What he did was to go up to the mountain with his father. The Bible didn’t even say that he questioned when he was being bound by his father. He did not question his father. He did not say anything when Abraham raised his hand on which was a knife. It was the angel who shouted, not Isaac. He did not see, but he followed. We don’t see all things.
Hebrews 2:8-9 says that we don't see all things subjected to man yet, but we do see Jesus and all we need to see is Him. We do not need to see where He leads us. We only trust Him. The sheep don’t necessarily see what the shepherd see because the shepherd is in front. The people on the ground don’t necessarily see what the watchmen on the tower sees because he is on a position of better sight and better view. The watchman warns the people of a wolf and would have to trust him as they put their faith in him. They don’t say, “Let me go up there first and see for myself that there really is a wolf for who knows you are the boy who cried wolf.”
Faith and trust. We don't see the Promised Land yet; we see the cloud leading us to the Promised Land. All we need to see is the cloud that will take us to the Promised Land. We trust the cloud because God is our cloud. We follow. Abraham went out not knowing where he was going, but he followed God. The Wise Men followed the star. We should guard ourselves; we must humble; we must not be arrogant.
The iluminati or the enlightened think they understand everything and they have a voice for everything. As Christians, we follow. We don’t necessarily have to always see and understand. The gospel said that the disciples did not understand at the first until Christ was risen and glorified. In the meantime, they followed. They had their ups and downs, but they followed even if they did not understand at first.
After healing the man born blind, Jesus said in John 9:41, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see and that those who see may become blind." Those who have knowledge that they cannot see apart from God showing and leading them, God will show them the right things. Those who claim arrogantly that they need to see first or that they see that they are enlightened, they understand, then they remain in their sin and their blindness. People who think that they don’t need God are the most miserable. Jesus told one church in Revelation, “You say you are rich, you don’t know you are miserably poor. You think you are secure, but if you don’t depend on God, you are the most insecure people that exist.” We need to understand that we are followers. It is not blind followers but faithful followers. We need to understand that we don’t see it all the time.
On the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing." Who knows that they don't know what they are doing? Who is aware that they don’t know what they are doing is wrong? Nobody knows that they are doing wrong. Why are they doing wrong? Maybe, some arrogantly, even if they know it is wrong, they continue doing it. But in that, they don’t know that they are doing wrong. In the voluntary doing of wrong, is that in itself not knowing that you are doing wrong? Nobody would acknowledge that, which is why Jesus had to pray for them so we must be humble.
Like the disciples at the Table, Jesus said, "One of you will betray Me." One by one, they asked, “Lord, is it me? Forbid that it would be me! Is it I?” Let us be humble. Let us be teachable. Let us continue to follow and submit – not blindly but by faith. The commandment never changed in Israel whether they had good or bad kings; good or bad prophets; good or bad priests. In the Church, we have heard of good and bad Popes. What is the commandment? It does not change. “Obey your leader; follow.”
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and we continue to follow. Up to this point, Jesus kept His identity. It wasn’t time for Him to be publicly known. In fact, some of the religious leaders told Him, "Are you the Christ? If you are, tell us plainly!” On this day, Jesus did by fulfilling all of the Old Testaments Scriptures – in Zechariah 9 and Psalm 118. The people were giving Him praise as He entered Jerusalem and taking the throne in Jerusalem. It was the Triumphal Entry where there was a large crowd, three thousand or more, that welcomed Him. They heard of Jesus – of His teachings, of His miracles; but I believe that the climax was when He raised Lazarus from the dead. He said of the sickness of Lazarus, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.”
The glory of God was seen in Lazarus’ resurrection. Obviously, God was not done. His glory was yet to be seen in the Son on this day in His Triumphal Entry of Jerusalem. It was written that the crowd who was there in Bethany who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead were giving testimonies to the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus. They were spreading the news like the Samaritan woman at the well. They were spreading the news in Jerusalem. Jesus’ actions and words were being testified to. The actions and the words of the crowd reflected that they believed Jesus was the Messiah and were anticipating His arrival. They knew of Zechariah 9; they could see the donkey but they did not understand fully who Jesus was. Maybe, they were expecting somebody with power and might according to the world’s standards. They probably thought, “If this Man could raise the dead, heal the sick, and could defy the Roman government, maybe He is the person that we have been waiting for that would deliver us from the yoke of the Romans.”
Jesus was clear. It did not matter that the people did not understand. His selection of the donkey indicated the nature of His kingdom which was peace. He did not ride a big horse indicating that He was ready for war or He had power. His kingdom is a kingdom of peace. Even His disciples did not understand that first; Jesus knew. He had foreknowledge of everything. In fact, He told His disciples, “We are going to Jerusalem. This is what is going to happen. I will be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. The religious leaders will spit on Me and scourge Me and deliver Me over death. This is what is going to happen in Jerusalem. I am telling ahead of time.”
They obviously forgot about it. The finding of the donkey, the arrangements for the Last Supper, the betrayal of Judas, Peter’s denial three times – everything – Jesus knew before hand. He knew His mission. It is what we say in the Eucharist, “A death He freely accepted.” In the movie, “Passion,” Jesus would always go back to His cross and embrace it. He would fall but He crawls back to the cross; and in His weakness and pain, He would embrace it. He won’t let go of it. In fact, He rebuked Peter for trying to protect Him from the cross and called him Satan. He knew His mission. The people did not. The people shouted, “Hosanna” which means, “Save us. Lord, do save!” As in Psalm 118, “Lord, do save. Messiah, do save!” They probably remembered the chant of the crowd as David returned from war victories and Saul was insulted because the people said, “Saul has slain his thousands and David his tens of thousands.” Maybe, they are thinking, Jesus has hundreds of thousands of Romans that He will slay. "This is our Messiah! This is our Deliverer! This is the Son of David! Another battle King, Somebody who would deliver us from our oppression.”
According to the gospel of St. Mark, Jesus rode victoriously on a donkey into Jerusalem. He goes to the temple, surveys the temple, looked around and He left for Bethany because He was getting late. The people who shouted, “Save us, save us,” were left with mouths wide open. “What happened to our Savior? I thought He was going to deliver us from the Romans?” Could it be that this disappointment turned in a few days into hatred and frustration to the point that they even joined the crowd who shouted, “Crucify Him?” They could have said, “You are a false Deliverer. Why did we even shout, “Hosanna”? Why did we even ask You to save us? You are not our Savior! You are not our Deliverer! We take back our praises on Palm Sunday!”
Our praise and our acknowledgment of our dependence on the salvation of God must be on His terms. Jesus was Savior and Deliverer. They did not understand His terms. He delivered them through peace. He gave them life by going to the cross. Our praise and our acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty and dependence of Him is not flattery to get Him to do what we want done. In the first place, we don’t see everything; God does. We don't know what is best for us; God does. We need to follow. We don't praise Him like a child going to a father and saying, “I like how you parted your hair today. You look good on your clothes. Can you give me five hundred pesos because I need this?" It is not flattery to get what we want. It is simply an acknowledgment of the truth that God is Lord. He is worthy of our praise. He is King and Lord. His will will be done on His terms. We are to submit to it.
God is King not servant. He is our Lord. He is our Boss; He is the One who will be followed, not us. We call Him Lord and our King and we call ourselves servants. Then, we are the ones to follow His will. Do we understand it? Sometimes, no! Do we like it? Many times, no! But He is King and we follow. He is not “yaya,” a servant, a butler, a valet, a bodyguard or driver. He is not on our beck and call. This is supposed to be us like Boy Scouts – always ready to follow His will.
We are suppose to sustain our praise today even if we don’t fully understand and even when God disappoints us and doesn’t fulfill our expectations. In the first place, we don’t fully understand. You don’t say to God, “I thought You were King! I thought You were the Provider. Why didn’t You give this petition of mine? Why didn’t You give me a pair of shoes? I thought You were King so why did You let this happen to me? Why did You allow this to happen? Why did You do this to me?” He is King and works all things together for good to those who love Him.
Do we understand? Sometimes, but not at first. Sometimes, He lets us after a while, but we follow and we don’t hate Him and crucify Him for not fulfilling our ignorant desires. The Collect says, “That we may honor Christ not only with our lips but in our lives.” The praises we sang today sustained it. Not just through the whole Holy Week, but in our lives. Jesus leads and we follow. He is King and He is Lord. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, He must deny Himself of his desires, his prayers for himself, and then, take up his cross daily – every single day – and then follow Me.” I don’t see there anywhere if it feels goods or He agrees or if it is according to His GPS or if we are going to the right path, then He follows. Deny yourself – including your opinions, your feelings, and your own theology. Follow; deny yourself and take up His cross and follow Him. To follow is to look at Christ wherever you go. You don’t need to see where He goes; He just needs to see you for He will take you where you are to go.
Jesus says, “The Son of Man must suffer many things. He must be rejected. He must be killed and He would be raised upon the third day.” This is the way of the Cross. This is the way that we follow Him. The Collect for Holy Monday goes, “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified; Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” He went not up to joy before He suffered pain. He did not enter into glory before He was crucified. The prayer asks God the Father, “Grant, O Lord, mercifully, that we, walking in the way of the cross, following Christ on His way, may find the way of the cross none other like but the way of life and peace.”
Maybe, we don’t understand it so this is why we pray that. May we not be guilty like the crowd on Palm Sunday. They did not understand the way Jesus was going. The problem is that they did not follow and they thought for themselves that they were right and Jesus was wrong. We ask God, “Grant us that we see that this way, Jesus’ way. The way of the cross is the only way to life and peace.”
May we by humble enough to pray that. One day, as the Lord wills, He will show us and He will make us understand that we did the right thing in following Him, humbly and teachably. My dear brothers and sisters, this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.