Today is Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week. On this day, we celebrate Jesus in his humble glory riding a donkey and its colt into the city of Jerusalem, as the crowds and children cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9, 15) The crowds threw palm branches on the path before Jesus to celebrate him as their approaching King (Matthew 21:8; John 12:13), who came to bring peace and justice.
Many expected Jesus to deliver them from their Roman oppressors in keeping with their Messianic expectations bound up with Zechariah 9:9 quoted in Matthew 21. Like his disciples, they had no idea that Jesus would bring peace and justice paradoxically through the Roman symbol of oppression—the cross. In less than a week from Palm Sunday, Jesus would bear nail marks in his hands. How did they respond to his strategy for bringing about victory, when they saw it all play out? How about us?
Like the crowds, we may respond well during Palm Sunday celebrations. For instance, you will find many churches marking the occasion by distributing palm branches to those gathered for worship. This is a helpful, symbolic act. Palm Sunday helps us look back and forward at the same time: we look back to Jesus’ first coming leading up to his sacrificial death for the sins of the world followed by his resurrection to new life; we also look forward to his second coming, when he returns to rule the world with a just peace. At that time, multitudes from among the nations will worship him (See Revelation 7:9-10).
Not everyone marks Palm Sunday well, though. In Matthew’s Gospel account, many do not cast palm branches before Jesus’ path. They do not approach Jesus with an open hand of praise, but a closed fist, as revealed behind the scenes and within a few days (See the following accounts of how some of the rulers, people and Romans reacted to Jesus: Matthew 21:15, 45-46; 26:1-5; 27:15-31). How do you and I approach Jesus today—with an open hand revealing our palms, or a closed fist?
As with the rulers noted in Matthew 21, we might not be able to see Jesus working wonders if we are consumed with power and control, whereas the blind, lame, and little children can truly see him (Matthew 21:14-15). These vulnerable ones have everything to gain and nothing to lose as a result of Jesus, whereas these leaders fear losing their grip on power, which they hold onto tightly with a closed fist. They cannot reach out and touch Jesus, like those longing for him, though they long to seize him and do him in (Matthew 21:45-46). What about us?
I know a man named George. He is quite old and fragile. For some time, he was losing his sight. Recently, he went totally blind. To this point, Jesus has not come to take away his blindness. In the midst of it all, I have found that George sees Jesus quite clearly and approaches him with an open hand, come what may. I wonder how we would fare, if we were to become frail and lose our sight. If you are anything like me, you work very hard to maintain control and see clearly. How do we respond when we realize that Jesus has not come to conquer the Roman invaders in our lives the way we imagined or take away what ails us here and now? First and foremost, he has come to conquer our hearts.
Have you ever heard the expression, “It was so dark that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face”? When we do not surrender everything to God, it is very difficult to see clearly. Spiritual darkness sets in. If we wish to see Jesus, we must approach him and his will for our lives with open hearts and hands. This message is not just for Palm Sunday, but also for every other day of the week.