The thing that always strikes me about the Passion/Palm Sunday is the awful contrast between the reception Jesus got when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey one Sunday some two thousand years ago and the way He was treated only five days later on Good Friday. Where were all those cheering throngs when the chips were down? Why wasn’t there a cry of outrage at the unjust condemnation and execution of this Son of David who so recently had been heralded with hosannas?
The fickleness and cowardice of the human heart are not something unique to the contemporaries of the historical Jesus. We err if we think they were a different breed from ourselves. They are held up to us as if mirrors so that we may see ourselves. We may not like what we see, but in them we see who and what we are.
How many people are in love today and out of love tomorrow? Or betray a spouse of many years? How many are fair-weather friends? How many go with the majority whether the majority is right or wrong? Where were all the Christian defenders of the Jews in 1940s Germany? How many Christians owned slaves up until the Civil War? Why, a hundred years after the Civil War, did we need a civil rights movement to declare segregation unconstitutional? Where were all the Christians behaving in a Christ-like manner?
The answer is simple and sad and bitter: They were the same place most human beings are when the cost of being good and true and noble is high, either going with the flow or cowering on the sidelines.
Believe me, I cast no stones; I am far from without sin in this regard. But let’s get the message of this Passion/Palm Sunday straight. In Christ we see the heart of God. In those who applauded Him Sunday and forsook Him Friday, we see our own hearts, which is all the more reason to thank God that His heart is made of love and mercy.
Our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters have a favorite prayer that is the central to their spirituality. It’s called the Jesus Prayer, and it goes like this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. It’s a perfect prayer for today, really for any day, for on any day, the truth is that we are poor sinners, ever in need of God’s mercy. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy of me, a sinner.