We have followed our Lenten journey from the far north up to the gates of Jerusalem, and now the Great Week begins. At each stop on the road - at each Gospel reading at daily mass - we have witnessed, like the disciples, the sayings and doings of the master. We watched the young man go sadly away 'for he was a man of great wealth'; we watched the poor, the sick and the despised welcomed and healed. Jesus has taught us many things: to forgive our brother more than seventy times seven; to pray constantly and simply and humbly; to search for justice and to work for peace.
Above all, we have come to marvel at the man himself as the embodiment of all that he teaches. Out of the depth of the ancient faith he proclaimed that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our strength, and that each must love his neighbour as himself. Now, in this last week, we shall see him fulfil this double commandment faithfully. He wil die, with the same love with which he lived, praying 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit', and, with his arms outstretched on the cross for his neighbour, he will say 'Today you will be with me in paradise' and 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do'.
He enters the royal city as the King. St Luke, who is our guide this week, makes this explicit:
'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.'
On Friday, King Herod and Procurator Pilate will dress him as a mock king with their own trashy splendour. Here Jesus clothes himself in the royalty of the Word of God passed down by the People of God:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion,
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.
Lo, your king comes to you,
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zech 9:9)
Having journeyed on foot from the north, he now rides into the city as a king. Here he will raise the royal standard of the kingdom of God: the cross. His kingship is that of the Suffering Servant prophesied in Isaiah in readings which are read at daily mass this week (Isa 42:1-4;49:1-6;50:4-9;52:13-53:12).
But as a servant he also acts with the majesty of the kingdom of God. In his royal dignity he confronts all the programmes and policies within the city. His own manifesto was given in the synagogue at Nazara (Luke 4:18) and in the sermon on the plain (Luke 6:20). Each day in Jerusalem, in this coming week, he will live out his own teachings:
- if anyone slaps you on the cheek, offer the other also;
- if they ask for your cloak, give your shirt as well;
- blessed are you who weep;
- pray for those who mock you;
- be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful.
This city, and the Church, reveal that Jewish and Christian paradox of a kingdom community holding together in solemn covenant God-for-us and us-against-God. But the royal shepherd is still searching for the lost sheep. The prophet Joel, demanding more than token repentance, has warned Jerusalem:
Let you hearts be broken, not your garments torn. (2:13)
When Jesus dies on the cross, St Luke does not direct our attention to the torn fabric of the Temple curtain, but to the change of heart of the Gentile centurion, of 'those who stood afar off', and of the crowd returning home, like prodigal sons, beating their breats.
This king, blood-red on the cross, liberates by awakening repentance and conversion of life. The same suffering and glorified king presides over our daily eucharists.
This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all, so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in remembrance of me.
This 'this' refers not only to the sacrament but to the whole on-going life of being a servant of the kingdom of God, serving God and our neighbour. We servants are not greater than our master, and he has said: 'Go thou and do likewise.'(Luke 10:37)