The Passion’s Path to Hope

User’s Guide to Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Palm Sunday begins Holy Week.
Palm Sunday begins Holy Week. (photo: Unsplash)

Sunday, April 2, is Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Mass readings: Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54.

Let’s ponder a few points of the Passion. 

The Perception That Is Partial

Near the beginning of today’s Passion account Jesus says, “This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed.’ But after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.” 

Jesus has spoken to them before, on numerous occasions, about exactly what would happen: that he would suffer at the hands of men, be crucified, die and be raised on the Third Day. But still, they do not understand.

Therefore, he predicts that their faith in him will be shaken. 

So their perception is partial. They will see only the negative, forgetting that Jesus has promised to rise. Because they cannot see beyond the apparent defeat of the moment, they will retreat into fear rather than boldly and confidently accompanying him.

 They withdraw into a sinful fear, dissociating themselves from Jesus. Only a few (Mary, his Mother; John; Mary Magdalene; and a few other women) would see him through to the end.

The Problems Presented 

There are at least five problems that emerge. They are unhealthy and sinful patterns that spring from the fear generated by not trusting Jesus’ vision.

They are drowsy. Peter, James and John fall asleep, when the Lord told them to stay awake and pray. A common human technique for dealing with stress and the hardships of life is to become numb and drowsy; we can just drift off into a sort of moral slumber. Being vigilant against the threat posed to our souls by sin or the harm caused by injustice (whether to ourselves or to others) is just too stressful, so we just “tune out.” 

We anesthetize ourselves with things like alcohol, drugs, creature comforts and meaningless distractions. 

They are destructive. When Peter finally awakens, he lashes out with a sword and wounds Malchus, the servant of the high priest. In our fear, we, too, can often lash out and seek to destroy our opponents. But if we are already certain of our victory, as the Lord has promised, we do not need to suppress our opponents and enemies.

They deny. Confronted with the fearful prospect of being condemned with Jesus, Peter denies being one of his followers or even knowing him at all. He dissociates himself from Christ. And we, confronted with the possibility of far milder things such as ridicule, often deny a connection with the Lord or the Church.

They dodge. When Jesus is arrested, all the disciples, except John, are nowhere to be found. We, too, can run away. 

They deflect. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. But because he feared the crowds, he handed Jesus over and washed his hands. We also often favor our careers or our hides over doing what is right. And in so doing, we often blame others for what we have freely chosen.

The Path That Is Prescribed 

Why are we afraid? Jesus has already won the victory. So take courage; see what the end shall be. 

Onward to Easter! 

Pope Francis presided over Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 2, 2023.

Full Text: Pope Francis’ Homily for Palm Sunday 2023

‘Brothers and sisters, a love like this, embracing us totally and to the very end, a love of Jesus like this, has the capacity to turn our stony hearts into hearts of flesh, and make them capable of mercy, tenderness and compassion.’