The King’s Welcome: Calvary

1846 Christs_Entry_into_Jerusalem_Hippolyte_FlandrinFrom Fulton J. Sheen’s Life of Christ:

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.

His last Sabbath Our Lord spent in Bethany with Lazarus and his sisters.  news was now circulated that Our Lord was coming into Jerusalem.  In preparation for His entrance, He sent two of His disciples into the village, where they were told they would find a colt tethered on which no man had ridden.  they were to untie it and bring it to Him.

And if anybody asks you,
Why are you untying it?
This must be your answer,
The Lord hath need of it.
Luke 19:31

Perhaps no greater paradox was ever written than this – on the one hand the sovereignty of the Lord, and on the other His “need.”  This combination of Divinity and dependence, of possession and poverty was the consequence of the Word becoming flesh.  Truly, He who was rich became poor for our sakes, that we might be rich.  He borrowed a boat from a fisherman from which to preach; He borrowed barley loaves and fishes from a boy to feed the multitude; He borrowed a grave from which He would rise; and now He borrowed an ass on which to enter Jerusalem.  Sometime God pre-empts and requisitions the things of man, as if to remind him that everything is a gift from Him.  It is sufficient for those who know Him to hear:  “The Lord hath need of it.”

As he approached the city, a “great multitude” came to meet Him; among them were not only the citizens but also those who had come up for the feast and, of course, the Pharisees.  The Roman authorities also were on the alert during great feasts lest there be an insurrection.  On all previous occasions, Our Lord rejected the false enthusiasm of the people, fled the spotlight of publicity, and avoided anything that savored of display.  At one time:

He strictly forbade them to tell any man
That He, Jesus, was the Christ
Matthew 16:20

When He raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead:

He laid a strict charge on them
To let nobody hear of this.
Mark 5:43

After revealing the glory of His Divinity in the Transfiguration:

He warned them not to tell anyone what they had seen,
Until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.
Mark 9:8

When the multitudes, after the miracle of the loaves, sought make Him king:

He withdrew on to the hillside all alone.
John 6:15

When His relatives asked Him to go to Jerusalem and publicly astound the festival with miracles, He said:

My Hour is not yet come.
John 7:6

But the entrance into Jerusalem was so public, that even the Pharisees said:

Look, the whole world has trend aside to follow Him.
John 12:19

All this was in opposition to His usual manner.  Before he dampened all their enthusiasms; now He kindled them.  Why?

Because 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 and 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 else crucify.  Either He was their King, or else they would have no king but Caesar.  No Galilean seacoast or mountaintop, but the royal city on the Passover was the best time to make His last proclamation.

He drew attention to His Kingship in two ways, first by the fulfillment of a prophecy familiar to the people, and second by the tributes of Divinity which He accepted as His own.

Matthew explicitly states that the solemn procession was to fulfill the prophecy made by Zacharias years before:

Tell the daughter of Sion,
Behold Thy King is coming to Thee,
Humbly riding on as ass.
Matthew 21:5

The prophecy came from God through a prophet, and now God Himself was bringing it to fulfillment.  The prophecy of Zacharias was meant to contrast the majesty and the humility of the Savior.  As one looks at the ancient sculptured slabs of Assyria and Babylon, the murals of Egypt, the tombs of the Persians, and the scrolls of the Roman columns, one is struck by the majesty of kings riding in triumph on horses or in chariots, and sometimes over the prostrate bodies of their foes.  In contrast to this, here is One Who comes triumphant upon 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 was the symbol of the outcast – a fitting vehicle for one riding into the jaws of death!  If He had entered into the city with regal pomp in the manner of conquerors, He would have given occasion to believe that He was a political Messias.  But the circumstance He chose validated His claim that His Kingdom was not of this world.  There is no suggestion that this pauper King was a rival of Caesar.

The acclaim of the people was another acknowledgment of His Divinity.  Many took off  their garments and spread them before Him; others cut down boughs from the olive trees and palm branches and strewed them on the way.  The Apocalypse speaks of a great multitude standing before the Throne of the Lamb with palms of victory in their hands.  Here the palms, so often used throughout their history to signify victory, as when Simon Maccabeus entered Jerusalem, witnessed to His victory – even before He was vanquished.

Then taking verses from the great Hillel which referred to the Messias, the multitudes followed Him, shouting:

Blessed is the King
Who comes in the name of the Lord;
Peace in heaven; glory above.
Luke 19:38

Admitting now that He was the One sent by God,  they practically repeated the song of the angels of Bethlehem, for the peace He brought was the reconciliation of earth and heaven.  Repeated too is the salutation the Wise Men gave Him at the crib: “The King of Israel.”

Hosanna for the Son of David;
Hosanna in heaven above
Matthew 21:9
King of Israel.
John 12:13

He was the promised Prince of David’s line; the One Who came with a Divine Mission.  Hosanna, which was originally a prayer, was now a triumphant welcome to a Savior King.  Not wholly understanding why He was sent, nor the kind of peace He would bring, they nevertheless confessed that He was Divine. The only ones who did not share in their acclaim were the Pharisees:

Some of the Pharisees who were among the multitude
Said to Him:  Master, rebuke They disciples.
Luke 19:39

It was unusual that they should have appealed to Our Lord, since they were disgusted with Him for having accepted homage from he crowds.

With awful majesty, Our Lord retorted:

I tell you, if they should keep silence
The stones will cry out instead.
Luke 19:40

If men were silent, nature itself would cry out and proclaim His Divinity.  Stones are hard, but if they would cry out, then how much harder must be the hearts of men who would not recognize God’s mercy before them.  If the disciples were silent, enemies would have nothing to gain, for mountains and seas would become vocal.

The entry has been called triumphant; but well He knew that “Hosannas” would change to “Crucify,” that palms would be turned into spears.  Amid the shouts of the multitude He could hear the whispers of a Judas and the angry voices before Pilate’s palace.  The throne to which He was hailed was a Cross, and His real coronation would be a Crucifixion.  Garments aplenty beneath His feet today, but on Friday He would be denied even His own.  From the very beginning He knew what was in the heart of man, and never once did He suggest that the Redemption of men’s souls could be accomplished by vocal fireworks.   Though He was a King, and though they now admitted Him as their King and Lord, He knew the King’s welcome which awaited Him was to be Calvary.

Tears were in His eyes, not because of the Cross which awaited Him, but because of the woes impending over those whom He came to save and would have none of Him.  Looking over the city:

He wept over it, and said;
Ah, if Thou too couldst understand
Above all in this day that is granted thee,
The ways that can bring Thee peace!
As it is, they are hidden from they sight.
Luke 19: 41, 42

He saw with historical accuracy the descent of the forces of Titus, and yet the eyes that saw the future so clearly were almost blinded with tears.  He spoke of Himself as willing and able to have averted that doom by gathering the guilty ones under HIs wing as the hen doth gather chickens, but they would not.  As the great patriot of all ages, He looked beyond His own suffering and fixed His eye on the city that rejected Love.  To see evil, and to be unable to remedy it because of human perversity, is the greatest anguish of all. To see the wickedness and be baffled by the waywardness of the evildoer is enough to break a heart.  The father is cast down with anguish when he sees the wrongdoing of his son. What prompted His tears were the eyes that would not see and the ears that would not hear.

In the life of every individual and in the life of every nation, there are three moments:  a time of visitation or privilege in the form of a blessing from God; a time of rejection in which the Divine is forgotten: and a time of doom or disaster.  Judgment (or disaster) is the consequence of human decisions and proves that the world is guided by God’s presence.  His tears over the city showed Him as the Lord of History, giving men grace, and yet never destroying their freedom to reject it. But in disobeying His will, men destroy themselves; in stabbing Him, it is their own hearts they slay; in denying Him, it is their city and their nation that they bring to ruin.  Such was the message of His tears as the King goes to the Cross.

A Sign of Contradiction

6bc34ad8ad29151deed7006b4caab9f6We wanted to share with you some thoughts on today’s Feast of the Presentation from Venerable Fulton J Sheen excerpted from his book Life of Christ:

We find here another instance of how God in the form of man shared the poverty of mankind.  The traditional offerings for purification were a lamb and a turtledove if the parents we6bc34ad8ad29151deed7006b4caab9f6re rich, and two doves or two pigeons if they were poor.  Thus the mother who brought the Lamb of God into the world had no lamb to offer–except the Lamb of God.  God was presented in the temple at the age of forty days. About thirty years later He would claim the temple and use it as the symbol of His Body in which dwelt the fullness of Divinity.  Here it was not the Firstborn of Mary alone Who was presented, but the Firstborn of the Eternal Father.  As the Only begotten of the Father, He was now presented as the Firstborn of restored humanity.  A new race began in Him…

Simeon was like a sentinel whom God had sent to watch for the Light.  When the Light finally appeared, he was ready to sing his Nunc Dimittis.  In a poor Child brought by poor people making a poor offering, Simeon discovered the riches of the world.  Asscreen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-09-52-am this old man held the Child in his arms, he was not like the aged of whom Horace speaks, He did not look back, but forward, and not only to the future of his own people but to the future of all the Gentiles of all the tribes and nations of the earth.  An old man at the sunset of his own life spoke of the sunrise of the world; in the evening of life he told of the promise of a new day.  He had seen the Messias before by faith; now his eyes could close, for there was nothing more beautiful to look upon.  Some flowers open only in the evening.  What he had seen now was “Salvation” –not salvation from poverty, but salvation from sin…

…He saw furthermore that there were sorrows in store for her, not for Joseph.  Simeon said:

Behold, this Child is destined for the fall
And for the rise of many in Israel,
And for a sign that shall be contradicted.

Luke 2:34

It was as if the whole history of the Divine Child were passing before the eyes of the old man.  Every detail of that prophecy was to be fulfilled within the lifetime of the Babe.  Here was a hard fact of the Cross, affirmed even before the tiny arms of the Babe could stretch themselves out straight enough to make the form of a cross.  The Child would create terrible strife between good and evil, stripping the masks from each, thus provoking a terrible hatred.  He would be at once a touchstone that would reveal the motives and dispositions of human hearts.  Men would no longer be the same once they had heard His name and learned of His life. They would be compelled either to accept Him, or reject Him.  About Him there would be no such thing as compromise:  only acceptance or rejection, resurrection or death.  He would, by His very nature, make men reveal their secret attitudes toward God.  His mission would be not to put souls on trial, but to redeem them; and yet, because their souls were sinful, some men would detest His coming.

It would henceforth be His fate to encounter fanatical opposition from mankind even unto death itself, and this would involve Mary in cruel distress.  The angel had told her, “Blessed screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-51-08-amart thou among women,” and Simeon was now telling her that in her blessedness she would be the Mater Dolorosa.  One of the penalties of original sin was that a woman should bring forth her child in sorrow; Simeon was saying that she would continue to live in the sorrow of her Child.  If He was to be the Man of Sorrows, she would be the Mother of Sorrows.  An unsuffering Madonna to the suffering Christ would be a loveless Madonna.  Since Christ loved mankind so much that He wanted to die to expiate its guilt, then He would also will that His mother should be wrapped in the swaddling bands of His own grief.

From the moment she heard Simeon’s words, she would never again lift the Child’s hands without seeing a shadow of nails on them; every sunset would be a blood-red image of His Passion.  Simeon was throwing away the sheath that hid the future from human eyes, and letting the blade of the world’s first sorrow flash in front of her eyes.  Every pulse that she would feel i the tiny wrist would be like an echo of an oncoming hammer.  If He was dedicated to salvation through suffering, so was she.  no sooner was t his young life launched than Simeon, like an old mariner, talked of shipwreck.  No cup of the Father’s bitterness had yet come to the lips of the Babe, and yet a sword was shown to His mother.

The nearer Christ comes to a heart, the more it becomes conscious of its guilt; it will then either ask for His mercy and find peace, or else it will turn against Him because it is not yet ready to give up its sinfulness.  Thus He will separate the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff.  Man’s reaction to this Divine Presence will be the test:  either it will call out all the opposition of egotistic natures, or else galvanize them into a regeneration and a resurrection.screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-55-45-am

Simeon was practically calling Him the “Divine Disturber,” Who would provoke human hearts either to good or evil.  Once confronted with Him, they must subscribe either to light or darkness.  Before everyone else they can be “broadminded”; but His Presence reveals their hearts t one either fertile ground or hard rock.  He cannot come to hearts without clarifying them and dividing them; once in His Presence, a heart discovers both its own thoughts about goodness and its own thoughts about God…

After saying that He was a sign to be contradicted, Simeon turned to the mother, adding:

As for thy own soul, it shall have a
Sword to pierce it.

Luke 2:35

She was told that He would be rejected by the world, and with His Crucifixion there would be her transfixion.  As the Child willed the Cross for Himself, so He willed the Sword of Sorrow for her.  If He chose to be a Man of Sorrows, he also chose her to be a Mother of Sorrows!  God does not always spare the good from grief.  The Father spared not the Son, and the Son spared not the mother.  With His Passion there must be her compassion.  An unsuffering Christ Who did not freely pay the debt of human guilt would be reduced to the level of an ethical guide; and a mother who did not share in His sufferings would be unworthy of her great role.

Simeon not only unsheathed a sword; he also told her where Providence had destined it to screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-53-48-ambe driven.  Later on, the Child would say, “I came to bring the sword.”  Simeon told her that she would feel it in her heart while her Son was hanging on the sign of contradiction and she was standing beneath it transfixed in grief.  The spear that would physically pierce His heart would mystically be run into her own heart.  The Babe came to die, not to live, for His name was “Savior.”

-From Life of Christ, by Fulton J Sheen