It was the ninth day of the month of Nissan. On the eve of the holiday Jerusalem was teeming with more than a hundred thousand pilgrims from all cities of Judea, from Galilee and Decapolis, from the Jewish colonies scattered all over the Roman empire. As always, at the start of spring, the children of Israel would go en masse to celebrate the Passover within the walls of the city of David….
That morning, while we were lazily stretching at our friend’s inn in the neighboring village of Bethany, Judas of Iscariot came together with Simon, the freckled one… They came from Jerusalem and there was a sense of urgency in their eyes…
Judas: Hey buddies, peace be with you all!
All: Health to you, Judas!… and peace to you, Simon!
Judas: My, my, but what are you all doing here? What’re you waiting for? The whole city is bursting with pilgrims!
Simon: Now’s the time, Jesus! People are asking about you. Everyone is waiting.
Judas: The people are on your side, Moreno. It’s now or never! So, what do you say?
Jesus: The same thing I said when we left Capernaum. Today is the start of the preparation for the Passover. Today we shall begin to awaken Jerusalem from her lethargy and announce the Lord’s coming to fulfill the Year of Grace!
All: That’s it, that’s it! Equality for all, equality for all! Just like at the beginning!
Judas: The various groups in the capital have been advised already, Jesus. Yesterday, Simon and I were talking with some leaders, Ba¬rab¬bas and those of the movement. They are supporting us. They trust you.
Jesus: That’s right, Judas. But they trust their daggers even more. There’s only one thing we need for our purpose, and that is the Word of God. Listen, guys, our plan must be the same as the one commanded of Moses by God: to tell the pharaoh to his face that we no longer support the yoke of any tyrant.
All: You’re our man, Moreno!
Jesus: Our fathers asked to leave Egypt for the promised land. We will ask them to go away that we may live in peace in the land that the God of Israel has given us. The pharaoh before was the Egyptian whose heart was made of steel. Today the pharaohs are of our own blood who have betrayed the people.
Peter: Yes sir! They even call themselves the representatives of the Lord! Look at Caiphas, the high priest, who has sold himself like a hooker to the Roman governor! His father-in-law, the old Annas, is the biggest thief in all Jerusalem!
Philip: This fat head, Herod, is the most corrupt king ever to sit on the throne of Galilee!
Jesus: So we shall knock on the doors of their palaces and at the gates of the Antonia Tower, where this bloodthirsty Roman called Pontius Pilate has been hiding. We’ll tell their crimes to their faces, one by one, as God has listed them in his book. God has seen the suffering of his people, and heard their cries. He comes to free us from the hands of the oppressors. Then we shall tell them: God sends us before you with the same name of his alliance with Moses, which is: “I Am Who Am. Now you will know Who I Am!” To you, who never believed in us, the poor of the land come to say: “Here we are. Now you will know Who We Are!”
All: Very good, very good!
Jesus: And that’s the plan, my friends. What do you say?
Susana: That’s the craziest thing I’ve heard in my whole life. What¬ever has gotten into you, Moreno? How could you even think of facing those big shots and tell them their crimes point blank?
Mary: Jesus, my son, don’t be a fool! Do you think these leaders will listen to you, a peasant with broken sandals? C’mon, tell me!
Simon: Exactly, mam. The pharaoh ignored Moses the first time. But such was his persistence that Moses tried to see him day in and day out until finally, the pharaoh relented.
Jesus: That’s precisely what we shall do: be persistent. We shall go from palace to palace, day in and day out, from pharaoh to pharaoh until they give in. Do you all agree?
Nathanael: No, I don’t. I’m sorry, but I don’t agree…
Philip: There goes Nat and his fears…
Nathanael: No, Philip. I’m not afraid. I just find it silly. There’s not even a second or a third chance. We’ll all be crushed like ripe toma¬toes, the moment we come out in the open.
Jesus: You’re right, Nathanael, if we do it alone. But with our neighbors from Bethany and Bethphage…
Judas: The people from the capital will join us, I assure you. The moment they hear the noise, they’ll proceed to Cedron and wait for us there!
Simon: And the moment you raise your arm, Jesus, a thousand arms will be raised too!
Philip: We’ll organize ourselves into an army, Nat, a huge army!
Nathanael: Right, Philip, an army of men in tatters! A battalion of men starving to death!
Jesus: Moses had the same army and battalion when he crossed the Red Sea. It was the group Deborah had when she gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Tabor. And the very same ones employed by the Maccabee brothers.
Simon: But the Maccabees were armed, Jesus, while we haven’t even a couple of old swords.
Peter: What did David use to fight the giant Goliath, huh?
Simon: At least he had some pebbles with him! We don’t even have those!
Jesus: The stone that we shall put in our sling that will hit them on the forehead is our word. If we act as one, side by side, we shall be able to put up a wall that’s more solid than that of Jerusalem. We shall form one big body, the body of the Messiah, bigger than Goliath, and stronger than the hope of all the poor of Israel!
Philip: I’m with you, Jesus! Hey guys, so it’s been said. He who is afraid will stay. But this big head shall be at the front line with our flag!
Nathanael: What flag are you talking about, Philip! We don’t even have one!
Philip: Then, Judas’ scarf will do, after all, his ancestor was a Maccabee. Then we cut off a branch from the palm tree, tie the scarf on one end and presto!… there’s our flag!
Peter: Where do we start, Moreno?
Jesus: With the hardest nut to crack. The Temple. The family of the priest, Annas, has marred it with their business and their tricks. We shall start cleaning up the country from there.
Mary: For God’s sake, son. Who has put these ideas into your head? Who has put this fever into your body?
Jesus: It’s the Lord, Mama. It is God’s doing. We shall go the Temple in the name of the God of Israel!
Judas: When do we leave, Jesus?
Jesus: Right now, Judas. Why do we have to wait longer? What should be done must be done soon. Hey guys, let’s go, everyone. Lazarus, close down the inn. Mama, Susana, Mary… come with us too, everyone is needed, men and women alike. Even the children will shout with us and the stones will melt with their shouts!
We were all inflamed. We left the inn, in spite of the fear and the risk we had to face. We were composed of a dozen men, six women and Jesus. Soon we reached the small square of Bethany where the water well was located. Jesus climbed up the wall of the well and from there called on the people…
Jesus: Friends from Bethany! Come and listen to us!… We are announcing to you the good news for all people! The Kingdom of God is here and the justice of His Messiah! God is here to unite all of us different people! He has opened the road and He is right ahead of us!… God is leading us to victory!
Simon: That’s our man! Long live the Messiah!
All: Long live the Messiah!
Susana: Long live the Son of David!
All: Long live the Son of David!
Jesus: Friends from Bethany, God is on our side! If you believe, then follow us! The poor, the weeping, those who suffer from hunger, the humble, come with us!
All: Freedom, freedom, freedom, freedom…!!
The village of Bethany was mobilized. People applauded and shouted, and in a few minutes, all the residents were piling up on us, taking the shortcut through the date palm trees, toward the direction of Bethphage…
Peter: Long live he who comes in the name of the Lord!
The pilgrims from Galilee who were lodged in the cottages along the road left their jugs of wine and their games the moment they heard the cheering and joined the group. The women peeped through the windows and greeted us with their handkerchiefs and their brooms held high. Several young men cut some branches of the laurel tree and palm leaves and waved them into the air like swords… The shouts were deafening…
Philip: Hey Jesus, we can’t hear anything! Speak louder!
Jesus: What’ll I do? I’d better climb in one of these trees to be able to talk to these people!
Philip: No, but on a horse, yes! Is there a horse around here?!
Susana: The soldiers and the centurions have them!
Philip: Then, even a donkey will do, damn! The Messiah of the poor will ride on a donkey!
Peter: Hey man, run to the village and untie the first donkey that you see! C’mon, go, Jesus needs it!
More and more people followed us. The twelve of us went with Jesus who led the way. Mary, his mother and the other women had overcome their initial fear, and they were shouting at the top of their voices, mingling with the neighbors of Bethany and those staying in the cottages… A farmer lent his donkey to Jesus, so that he could talk to the people better…
Jesus: Friends, the day of the Lord has come. We want justice today, not tomorrow! We want justice today, not tomorrow!
All: Hosanna, hosanna, justice today, not tomorrow! Hosanna, hosanna, justice today, not tomorrow!
When we got to Bethphage, the whole town was already in the streets. Some, who were overexcited, spread their cloaks on the road where Jesus was passing. Others raised their olive branches acclaiming the Messiah….
Judas: Long live the prophet from Galilee, hosanna!
All: Hosanna, hosanna! Justice today, not tomorrow!
We climbed the slope of the Mount of Olives. It was almost noon and the hot sun was burning our heads. Then, around the bend we saw lying at our feet the city of Jerusalem like a huge beehive, whose crowded houses were bursting with people. She was enclosed with her four walls that glowed like gold. In her midst, atop the hill of Moriah was the Temple whose stairways teemed with vendors and other merchants.
Peter: Long live Jerusalem and may all these scoundrels abandon this place right away!
Without getting off his donkey, Jesus stopped to look over the city. I remember, how at that moment, Jesus’ eyes welled with tears…
Jesus: Jerusalem, city of peace, if you only knew how peace could be attained, true peace! Father, help us! We shall speak in your name! Let the deaf hear the cry for justice of the poor of Israel! Give us eagle wings as in the past, when you freed your people from the bondage of Egypt!
Peter: Look, Jesus, the people are leaving the city to join us! The victory is ours! Nothing can stop us!
Judas: Wave a branch, Jesus, that everyone may see! The people are awaiting this signal!
Then Jesus took an olive branch, held it with his two hands and raised it like a banner in the middle of the huge crowd.
Jesus: Brothers and sisters, Jerusalem awaits us! God is on our side! Move on, in the name of God!
Like a loose rock dragging whatever is in its way, we headed for the slope of the Mount of Olives, gathering clouds of dust while waving our branches. We crossed the Torrent of Cedron and filed toward the Golden Gate facing the Temple’s esplanade… The Roman soldiers posted on the walls looked at us with disdain. One of the centurions, seeing the tumult, ordered the gate closed; and two of the guards responded by working on the locks. But those of us in front of the line hurriedly advanced to prevent the wooden door from closing. The uproar of the impassioned multitude became overwhelming as they passed beneath the double ark of the Golden Gate. Dragged on by an avalanche of people, we made it to the Temple’s esplanade of the city of Jerusalem….
In spring, thousands of pilgrims converged on Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, thus tripling the population of the capital. It is estimated that among the Israelites coming from various parts of the country and the Jewish colonies abroad, there were about 125,000 pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem. Since the city could not absorb such a number, they stayed – depending on their place of origin – in the neighboring villages which, during these days of the Passover, would form the so-called “Great Jerusalem.” Bethany and Bethphage, villages situated in the eastern part of the capital, accommodated thousands of these pilgrims. The atmosphere in Jerusalem on these days was of total joy. During the year, these pilgrims collected all their savings to be spent on those special days. They ate good food, drank good wine, and bought a number of presents. For the people, these were days of respite and relaxation amid a life of continuous deprivation.
It was also during this time of festivity that the political situation in the country became most tense, as people were more aware of their desire for freedom and their hope for a Messiah. Every year, the Passover commemorated the liberation of the people of Israel. Having been in bondage for centuries, the Israelites, led by Moses and the powerful arm of God, finally obtained their own land: thus the purpose of their celebration in those days. The domination of the Roman Empire, which the Israelites had to bear for more than twenty-five years, only raised the nationalistic feelings of the people. The feast of the Passover was an occasion for people’s mobilizations of all types. Jesus was very much aware of this opportunity in order to realize his important prophetic mission right at the heart of Jerusalem which was the Temple. He was willing to take this chance. Together with his compatriots he took part in that festive atmosphere, characteristic of the days of the Passover.
In this episode, Jesus explains his plan inspired by the words and gestures of Moses, the liberator of Israel. Moses had been sent by the same God to the pharaoh’s palace to demand his people’s freedom (Ex 3:16-20). Jesus wished to repeat the same prophetic gesture before the very eyes of the “pharaohs” of his time. Just as God told Moses his name was to be their standard bearer before the oppressor, Jesus intended to do the same. Yahweh – the name of God in the Bible – literally means: “The One who is.” (Yahweh is the third person of “I Am Who Am” in the first person). This name, which is somewhat mysterious to us, may be read in various forms: “I am who makes it to be” (God the Creator), “I am whom they will know I am” (God the Liberator, who makes new things in history). In this episode, Jesus takes this last meaning of the name of God.
The events that occurred on Palm Sunday were an authentic people’s demonstration, massive and passionate, where the most profound feelings of faith in God the Liberator and in their Messiah blended with nationalistic and political sentiments of the various groups. The Zealots – the way Judas and Simon appear in the episode – would see in Jesus’ actions an opportunity to mobilize an immediate popular uprising. The disciples anticipated a concrete triumph of the ideals of justice of the Kingdom of God. The people waited for freedom, not knowing though, what road to take. This happens in any mass action. Expectations are varied, although everyone shares some common sentiments. Palm Sunday was not, therefore, an orderly religious procession with palm branches silently waving to the rhythm of religious songs. That Palm Sunday was one of turmoil..
In order to enter the capital that Sunday, Jesus took the road to Bethany. Atop the Mount of Olives, one can get a full view of the oriental walls of Jerusalem. It is an impressive and unforgettable panorama up to the present. The Torrent of Cedron along the ravine with the Golden Gate in front leading directly to the Temple presented an imposing structure in itself. This gate, which is one of the most beautiful entrances to the walls, is now enclosed. According to ancient Jewish traditions, this gate will be solemnly opened with the coming of the Messiah who will enter Jerusalem through that gate. (Until now, some of the Jews still await the coming of the Messiah). On top of the Mount of Olives facing this beautiful panorama of Jerusalem a small chapel was constructed a few years ago. It is called “Dominus Flevit” (the Lord wept) in memory of the tears shed by Jesus that Palm Sunday while he viewed the capital of his country from that height.
The word “Hosanna” with which Jesus was acclaimed on that day literally means “Please save us!” a supplication for God’s help to obtain victory (Ps 118:25). Gradually, the people began using it as a sign of his acclamation as God and King. That Palm Sunday, the use of Hosanna was the people’s solid confession that Jesus was the much-awaited Messiah. Since the idea of the Messiah was profoundly linked not only to the religious but also to the patriotic and political aspirations of the people, it is within this total context that we must understand the acclamations of that day.
Palm Sunday traditionally marks the beginning of the passion of Jesus. We must be prudent in making this triumphant entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem the first stage of his inexorable journey to death. When Jesus decided to enter the Temple to purify it, doing this gesture at the very heart of the religious-political system of his time, he had to be clearly aware of the risk he was taking. In fact, if anywhere, his passion “is initiated” here, precisely because what took place in the Temple represented a challenge to the authorities, which was reason enough to fill the cup that would officially and ultimately condemn him to death.
(Mt 21:1-11; 23:37-39; Mk 11:1-11; Lk 13:34-35; 19:29-38; Jn 12:12-18)