The Road to Calvary
Palm Sunday. Mt 21:1-11 (procession); Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9,17-18,19-20,23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66
Today we have read the account of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the account of his Passion and death. While the extreme joy and extreme sorrow of these accounts may move us, the events they describe may still seem very distant from us. Yet as we accompany Christ to Calvary, these stories also tell us our story, the story of a soul in relation to Christ. So instead of simply describing the past, these gospels also predict the future, or rather, our future.
To understand this interpretation, it is necessary to recognize one of the spiritual meanings of the city of Jerusalem. Some philosophers use a city to represent the human soul. In the Bible, the city of Jerusalem also represents the soul, the soul that encounters Christ. So when Christ enters Jerusalem this also signifies, in a spiritual sense, what happens when Christ enters the human soul. The reactions of the different groups then signify the choices that our souls can then make.
First, there is the crowd shouting ‘hosanna’. The word ‘hosanna’ in Hebrew simply means ‘save!’, a cry for help with a sense of urgency. So the word ‘hosanna’ matches the word ‘Jesus’, meaning ‘God saves’. The crowd shouts ‘hosanna’ because they suffer, like all human beings, and because they have an expectation that Jesus, who has saved so many others, will save them as well. The crowd are like the faith of the human soul that first receives Christ. This is the time of conversion. Christ enters the soul with all his benefits: his teaching, his healing and his presence. Faith shines in our souls.
Second, there is a much smaller group of disciples and apostles. Many of the crowd are content to enjoy the benefits of Christ, but very few really want to know him as a person, to sacrifice their time and daily lives for him. Here too, there is a parallel with our lives, for while many Christians treat Christ as an addition to their lives, few really re-structure their lives around Christ. For this smaller group truly centered on Christ, the apostles and disciples, there is a new challenge. The benefits and consolations of following Christ are gradually withdrawn. The sky darkens, the Passion begins and Christ himself is taken away. This is the time of purgation, the purgatory of the soul on earth. Many of the apostles and disciples run away in fear. Hope in God alone stands firm as the world is shaken.
Third, a tiny remnant go all the way to the foot of Christ's cross. What happens to the human soul here cannot easily be put into words. Psalm 22, part of which we read this morning, has the following words, “My heart has become like wax; it is melted within my breast.” Only Mary is here, and of the apostles, there is only John. The other apostles will make their spiritual journey here later. But there are other disciples nearby, such as the women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee. It is to such disciples as these, whom the world overlooks, who are often closest to Christ's heart. Their desire to do the will of God and their desire to be united with God, whatever happens, have brought these souls to Calvary. Here love is perfected in the crucible of suffering.
So these three groups, the crowd, the disciples and the remnant at Calvary, represent the stages of the Christian life. As we accompany Christ to Calvary our souls are rooted in faith, purified in hope and perfected in love. This is not an easy path, as Jesus had warned James and John, “Are you able to drink the chalice that I am to drink?” (Mt 20:22) Not everyone is willing to follow this path straight away, and God in his mercy will often make the offer again. Yet I do know one thing. Every soul destined for heaven will accompany Christ to Calvary sooner or later. We might perhaps recall this thought when we face suffering, perhaps excruciating suffering, and when we take the chalice of the Blood of Christ in our hands.
Fr. Andrew Pinsent, St. Ambrose Church, St. Louis, 16th March 2008
© Fr Andrew Pinsent. Academic Web Site.