Coptic Icon by Stephane Rene
There is an obvious contrast between the first and the second part of today’s liturgy. By the procession of palms, we have commemorated the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem; at the Mass, we are celebrating the sorrowful passion of the Lord. We have abruptly passed from the “Hosanna” of the jubilant crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem to the “Let him be crucified” of the people gathered in front of the praetorium. This unexpected U-turn is often used to emphasize the mental instability of the masses, ready to change their mind suddenly, according to the circumstances. More probably, they were not the same people. Or, at least, we hope so.
Anyway, it is surprising that the one who had been welcomed triumphantly, just few days later is condemned to death. How is this possible? Actually, on second thoughts, it is not so strange; between the two events there is a relation of cause and effect: Jesus is sentenced to death exactly because he has been recognized by the crowds as the Messiah. Until now, people wondered whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. Now, for the first time Jesus is hailed as the Son of David.
When Jesus is led to Caiaphas, the high priest asks him if he is the Christ. When he appears before Pilate, the governor questions him: “Are you the king of the Jews?” The charge, for which Jesus was condemned to death, is his claim that he was the Messiah. This charge was placed over his head on the cross: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
What is really surprising is that those who have been awaiting the Messiah for ages, now that he has arrived at last, they kill him. Such is life! But what is interesting for us is that, as long as Jesus is considered a simple prophet, however he can be a source of trouble, he is tolerated; but when he is recognized as a king, he is to be eliminated. It is the realization of the parable of the ten gold coins: “We do not want this man to be our king.” People do not want Jesus to reign over them. It had already happened soon after his birth: when the magi came to pay homage to the king of the Jews, Herod caused a massacre. It is what has continued to happen over the centuries: whenever it has been claimed that Christ is not only a great prophet, but the king of humankind, immediately a persecution broke out: “We do not want this man to be our king.”
But, although people do not want Jesus as their king, he is king, he is our king, he is king of all. He became so as he endured his passion. He was dressed with a royal mantle (the scarlet military cloak); he was crowned (with a crown of thorns); a scepter was given to him (a reed in his right hand); he ascended the throne (his throne was the cross). So, we can salute him, not as a joke but for real: “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Ave, Rex Judaeorum!).