(Matthew 21:1-11) Few people have fallen from public favour so far and so fast as Jesus of Nazareth. One day – the day we now celebrate as Palm Sunday – He entered the city of Jerusalem to the acclaim of throngs of people shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt 11:9) Then, just five days later, those same people shouted, “Crucify him, crucify him!” as Pilate sentenced Jesus to death. What caused such a dramatic turn of events in such a short period of time?
Perhaps it is simply human nature. We have a low tolerance for leaders who don’t do what we want – who turn out to be different than we expect. When Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem on His day of triumph, the people thought He was the long promised Messiah. They had already heard of Jesus’ great miracles – how He had raised Lazarus from the dead, how the blind could see, and how the lame could walk. They had formed a picture in their minds of what they thought Jesus was like – of who He was and what they could expect of Him. He even came into the city riding on a donkey – just as Solomon had done on the day he became king.1 Surely this was a sign that Jesus was the new King of Israel – that He had come to bring peace to all!
But it didn’t take long for people to figure out that Jesus wasn’t the man they had imagined Him to be. Although the manner of His entrance into Jerusalem revealed that He was truly the Messiah, they had a different, preconceived idea of what the Messiah would be like. They expected Jesus to overthrow the Romans and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel. They wanted Him to be a warrior king, someone who would gather up all of the Jewish people and rebuild the temple at Jerusalem. But when they realized that Jesus was not going to do any of those things, they felt betrayed. The peace He offered was not the peace they longed for. And when the Sanhedrin2 condemned Jesus, they were not prepared to defend Him.
We aren’t that different. We, too, have our own ideas about Jesus – ideas that sometimes have more to do with our own hopes and desires than they do with the truth of who He really is. And when He doesn’t live up to our expectations, we can be just as quick to discard Him.
In The Imitation of Christ, we read, “Jesus today has many who love his heavenly kingdom, but few who carry his cross; many who yearn for comfort, few who long for distress. Plenty of people he finds to share his banquet, few to share his fast. Everyone desires to take part in his rejoicing, but few are willing to suffer anything for his sake. There are many that follow Jesus as far as the breaking of bread, few as far as drinking the cup of suffering; many that revere his miracles, few that follow him in the indignity of his cross; many that love Jesus as long as nothing runs counter to them; many that praise and bless him, as long as they receive some comfort from him; but should Jesus hide from them and leave them for a while, they fall to complaining or become deeply depressed.”3
As the final days of Lent draw to a close and we prepare to enter into Holy Week, take a moment to search your own heart. “Have you met the real Jesus? Are you ready to stand with Him?”
– Sharon van der Sloot
1 1 Kings 1:38-40.
2 The Sanhedrin was the Jewish Supreme Court. Made up of both Pharisees and Sadducees, it had both civil and religious jurisdiction. The Sanhedrin served as the highest authoritative body for the Jews as well as a final court of appeal on religious questions. It had the power to order arrests and maintained its own police force. However, the Sanhedrin was still subject to the Romans, who could curtail its authority at will. By the time of the New Testament, the Sanhedrin had 71 members, which included the high priest who served as its president. Caiaphas was the president at the time of Jesus’ arrest and trial. – Cf. Scott Hahn, Catholic Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 2009), 813-814.
3 Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, trans. Ronald Knox and Michael Oakley (London: Burnes & Oates, 1959; reprint San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2005), Book II, ch. 11, 96.