‘Relevance’ and humility (Palm Sunday)

palm sundayIt is no accident that the key figure of honesty and morality in the movie Shrek is not the prince (Lord Farquaad) or princess (Fiona) or even the muscly strong ogre (Shrek): the most honest and truly humble character in the film is a donkey named, appropriately, Donkey.  Neither is it any accident that the animal Jesus chooses to ride into Jerusalem is not a stallion or an Elephant – or in today’s terms, a Ferrari or a Hummer.  These kinds of things are for people who have so little inner gravitas that they need an outside vehicle to give them a bit of substance.  Jesus has nothing to prove, he delights in who the Father has given him to be.  Jesus is truly humble.  

And this humility, this acceptance of the truth, makes him free.  Jesus is not bound by what others think, even the powerful, even his friends.  He does the right thing regardless of the situation.  Jesus is truly free because he is humble.  So this is how each of us becomes free.  Freedom is not found in rejecting God’s law, or financial security, or special courses or treatments, or having special things.  Freedom is only found in humility: in accepting the truth of the gift we are from God.

But what about all the worldly glory?  The acclamation of the crowds, their bowing to him, him being carried in on an animal rather than walking – it doesn’t sound humble.  But if humility is being in the truth, well then it is very appropriate!  Because this is not just a prophet entering Jerusalem: it is the author of the cosmos, our personal creator and judge and God.  This is why glory for Jesus on earth is a just thing.  This is why it was appropriate that the baby Jesus received gifts normally given to members of the royal family.  This is also why we vest the priest in the finest vestments, why our churches normally are made with the finest materials, and why on Sunday we wear our Sunday best.  Because that is justice.  Because every Sunday mass is an appointment with the Almighty Mystery, an anniversary of our marriage to our Redeemer, and uniquely perfect lover.

That said, Jesus clearly points out the cruel difference between the worldly glory due to him, and popularity.  This is a crucial lesson for us as we can be tempted to attract people to the Church by becoming more ‘relevant’ and taking out some of the less popular stuff – re-examining our teaching on sexuality, changing from apostolic to democratic, and so on.  Jesus in his own body shows us today what popularity is and why it is of no importance to Christians:- it is a coward – because where were all these palm-wavers when he was in trouble?; and it is a bully – Jesus wouldn’t give in to pressure to deny who he was, and so the crowd crucified him.  This is why pursuing ‘relevance’, rather than Christ, is the surest way of shrinking the Church.  While of course our expression of the beauty of Church teaching is always developing as we grow, and, if we are truly humble, we always acknowledge and try to rectify the mistakes we have made, our essential relevance to the heart of Man has never been stronger.  Only Jesus, through the Church, offers freedom, communion with the Father, liberation from all evil, and eternal life.

But that is the future.  Today we are at Palm Sunday – followers of Jesus, but worried about him.  What will happen to him?  Also: will we stick by his side as he endures his passion?  Let us decide in this Eucharist to really live each day of this Holy Week at his side, watching and reflecting.  Amen.