Fulton Sheen on Palm Sunday

“It was the month of Nisan. The Book of Exodus ordered that in this month the Paschal Lamb was to be selected, and four days later was to be taken to the place where it was to be sacrificed. On Palm Sunday, the Lamb was chosen by popular acclaim in Jerusalem; on Good Friday He was sacrificed” (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ., Ch. 33 p. 272).

Bishop Sheen points out that the request for teh donkey (Luke 19:31) embodies the paradox of the Incarnation: “the LORD has need of it.” God humbled himself to share in our humanity. He who has no need, who is “that greater than which nothing can be imagined” chose to have need. “It is sufficient for those who know Him to hear: ‘The Lord hath need of it'” (Life of Christ, Ch. 33, p. 273).

Until this point, Jesus has always discouraged people’s praise and proclamation, commanding them to silence. On Palm Sunday, for the first time, He encourages their celebration. Even the Pharisees acknowledge the world is turning to Jesus.

“His ‘Hour’ had come. It was time now for Him to make the last public affirmation of His claims. He knew it would lead to Calvary, and His Ascension adn the establishment of His Kingdom on earth. Once He acknowledged their praise, then there were only two courses open to the city: confess Him as did Peter, or crucifiy. Either He was their King, or else they would have no king but Caesar” (Life of Christ, Ch. 33, p. 274).

Sheen goes on to discuss the prophecy of Zechariah that Jerusalem’s king would come riding on a donkey. Great conquerers always ride on horseback, “sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes” (Life of Christ 274). But Christ comes on an ass.

“How Pilate, if he was looking out of his fortress that Sunday, must have been amused by the ridiculous spectacle of a man being proclaimed as a King, and yet seated on the beast that wa sthe symbol of the outcast[. . . .] If He had entered into the city with regal pomp in the manner of conquerors, He would have given occasion to believe He was a political Messias. But the circumstances He chose validated His claim taht His Kingdom was not of this world. There is no suggestion that this pauper King was a rival of Caesar” (Life of Christ, p. 275).

Conversely, the adoration of the people exceeds that which they might give to a mere King :they give him the adoration of a God.

Discussing the response of Christ to the Pharisees’ complaints (Luke 19:40), Sheen points out, “Stones ar ehard, but if they would cry out, then how much harder must be the hearts of men who woudl not recognize God’s mercy before them” (Life of Christ, p. 276).

(edition is New York: McGraw-Hill, 1958.)

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