The great paradox of our faith is that today we hear a story of abandonment, denial, betrayal, torture, and death but it is completely swallowed up in God’s divine mercy. Bishop Robert Barron call this the “poetry of the cross.” As Paul the Evangelist says, the Cross of Christ is our boast. WHY? What do we see in this awful symbol? We see all of human dysfunction placed on him - all of the darkness of the world placed on him - and what happens? He swallows it up with those incredible words: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” From this horror story unfolds a singular event of supreme and sacrificial love that brings salvation, new beginnings, access to eternal life. Everything the world can throw at us has been conquered.
This Gospel today is rich in meaning. Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem to Bethpage in the Mount of Olives. Jesus is approaching Jerusalem gradually from the East. A pious Jew in Jesus time would have known from Ezekiel Chapter 10 that the temple, Yahweh's dwelling place on Earth, had become so corrupt that the glory of Yahweh which dwelled in the temple got up and left - left by the Eastgate - the main gate of the temple. And withdrew far away - hovered above the Mount of Olives.
This was a profoundly disturbing prophesy. But, if you read on in Ezekiel, the prophecy also speaks of the restoration of God’s glory in the temple. Jesus, the shekinah Glory of God approaches Jerusalem from the East from the Mount of Olives – from the direction God’s Glory left. In Jesus’ own person, heaven and earth have come together. The glory of Yahweh, which dwells in him - in the temple of his body – is restored to Jerusalem.
Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is marked with palm branches – a symbol of Maccabean nationalism. Jerusalem comes out to welcome a conqueror like David or a hero like the brothers Judas and Simon Maccabeus. But, this Hero has conquered but much more than government and military might – He conquered sin and death AND does so with humility – Jesus, the embodiment of hope and restoration, is announced by Zechariah’s prophesy: “Low your King comes to you triumphant and victorious. Humble and riding on a donkey on the Colt, the foal of a donkey”. It’s no wonder that nearly 40% of Mark’s gospel focuses on Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, his passion, death, and His resurrection. It is rich in symbolic language and prophetic meaning.
Jesus conquers by turning a symbol of cruelty and domination into a symbol of the unconquered love of God. In the first century, Christians held up the cross as a kind of taunt against the evils of the world. Like Paul the Evangelist, our job is to announce this amazing event to the world. But, what does the world want us to do today with the Cross of Jesus? They want us to keep it where it doesn’t have to be seen or reckoned with – inside the building where it’s not so “offensive”. It’s OK as long as it is a “private little symbol”. A sign of our little “hobby” called Christianity. Arghhhh, NO - that is repugnant to the bible and to our faith. It is offensive to me as a Christian – how about you? Jesus said “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” That's our work – isn’t it? To lift up Jesus? It’s called evangelization.
The Eucharist is our example. As Christ is lifted up to day in the bread and wine, let us each resolve to hold up the Cross of Christ in our own lives as a daily challenge to the cruelty, hatred, and injustice in this world. A sign that we believe Jesus is Lord – Jesus has conquered all! We can thumb our nose at the powers of sin and death – free from them, nothing has a hold on us.