Good Friday solidly proves Jesus’ Messiahship

Father John A. Kiley

In St. Mark’s Gospel account, the measures for the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on what later generations have understandably described as Palm Sunday are quite similar to the arrangements Christ requested when planning his Last Supper with his disciples on Holy Thursday. In both instances, Jesus’ directions are to go into the city where a few preliminary measures have been readied. On Palm Sunday, a colt has been secured which the disciples untie and bring back for Jesus’ use, after explaining to bystanders that “the Master” has need of the animal. On Holy Thursday, Jesus commissions two followers to go into the city and inquire of a man whether a room has been prepared for “the Teacher.” So Palm Sunday’s procession and Holy Thursday’s pascal meal were both planned by “the Master,” “the Teacher,” as an instruction for his close followers then and his later believers now. Both blessed events deserve close attention!
Although the final verse of the Palm Sunday narrative in St. Mark is not included in the Sunday liturgy, its words are instructive to grasp the whole significance of the event. Jesus is outside the Holy City and then, accompanied by his disciples and a few cheering devotees, approaches the Temple. St. Mark wrote, “He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve.” This scene is quite reminiscent of the events in Psalm 118 where the Jews and their king (no doubt, David) approach the Temple area, confidently celebrating God’s help in time of need. As they encounter the priests at the Temple gate, they sing out words later to be associated by St. Mark with Palm Sunday: “LORD, grant salvation! (Hosanna!) Lord, grant good fortune! (Hosanna!) Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God and has enlightened us. Join in procession with leafy branches up to the horns of the altar (Ps.118:25-27).” As St. Mark later wrote in the same vein, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!”
Psalm118 is a celebration of victory after adversity. King David had endured the rivalry and envy of King Saul as well as challenges and conflicts within his own family. He was nonetheless able to hand over his kingdom to his worthy son Solomon. Jesus, every believer knows, likewise endured envy and betrayal but was able to establish his kingdom for the benefit of the ages to some. The psalm anticipates Christ’s victory, especially when the psalmist requests admittance to the Temple, as Jesus on Palm Sunday prepares to enter Jerusalem and approach its Temple: “Open the gates of righteousness; I will enter and thank the LORD. This is the LORD’s own gate, through it the righteous enter. I thank you for you answered me; you have been my savior. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the LORD has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad (Ps.118:19-21).”
Biblical commentators also note that, while St. Mark truly celebrates the arrival of Christ into the Holy City, in this instance he refrains from labelling him as messiah. Jesus is still the prophet, the one who is announcing the triumph to come; victory has not yet been accomplished: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come (Mk.11:9-10).” Jesus is celebrated today, this Passion Sunday, throughout the Christian world, as the prophet of a coming messianic kingdom. The sad events of Holy Week will reveal and finally confirm that Jesus not only preached the Kingdom of God, he truly realized the Kingdom of God in his own Person, through his Passion, Death and Resurrection, the high holidays of Christian observance.
While palm fronds have captured the imagination and the images connected with Passion Sunday, attendant details confirm the irony of Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem. Jesus is seated and riding on an ass, certainly the lowest beast of burden. Bits of clothing are scattered along the roadway; certainly no royal carpet is laid out for Jesus’ approach. St. Luke notes that the Pharisees had little regard for Jesus’ solemn entry: “Teacher, rebuke your disciples! (Lk.19:39)” St. John observes that the crowds following Jesus had been impressed with the awesome raising of Lazarus and were not necessarily committed followers. So Jesus still has his work cut out for him. Good Friday will solidly prove Jesus’ Messiahship.