Dear beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Each Sunday leading to the great feast of the Resurrection of our Lord prepares us in some way for partaking of the communion cup that is offered to all Orthodox Christians. On Palm Sunday we are taught many other lessons which are important for our bodily and spiritual progress.
Two major themes occur in the Gospel reading of John chapter 12 (verses 1 to 18). Firstly, that of the anointing of Jesus feet by the sister of Lazarus, and secondly the entry of Jesus as king into the great city of Jerusalem. Furthermore, this Gospel reading informs us that six days before the Jewish Passover, Jesus , on His way to Jerusalem for the final time, was invited to stay in Bethany where Lazarus lived, who was recently raised from the dead by Jesus.
It was here that Lazarus sister called Mary anointed the feet of Jesus with a bottle of very expensive ointment and wiped them with her hair. We are told that Mary generously used the ointment on His feet, and that an extremely pleasant odour spread throughout the house.
Judas Iscariot however was not pleased, in fact he became infuriated. He did not realise what was going on, and was blinded by deceit and selfish greed and exclaimed "Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" However, he did not care for the poor but his own purse. St John tells us "he was a thief, since he had the money box, and he used to take what was put into it".
Nevertheless, Jesus demanded austerely, "Leave her alone!" (John 12:7), because he knew that Judass thoughts appeared to be good outside but were not the will of God. Jesus also knew that this selfless act of love by Mary would be recorded in the Bible for all to hear and learn for many years to come.
Beloved Brethren how many times do we all do righteous acts that are not done with good intentions, but for our own personal gain. Here we learn that an act done out of selfless love is supported and never rejected by God, but a good act done out of force or personal gain is despised by God.
So we see two types of people, the one who seeks to do good out of selfish gain, and the one who seeks to please God out of selfless love.
It is important to note that anointing with such expensive oil was the traditional practice reserved for the dead, but Jesus was very much alive. Then why did all this happen now, you may ask? Mary was foretelling the crucifixion of our Lord, and His burial in the tomb by her simple actions motivated purely by love. Our Lord specifically states that "she (Mary) has kept this for the day of My burial." (John 12:7). Here the actions of Mary teach us that Jesus was already dead to this world and to His human temptations. We too who attempt to live a life in Christ must also be dead to this world if we ever want to receive Christ.
The next lesson we are taught is not as apparent as the former. The entrance of our Lord as king into the city of Jerusalem marks the beginning of our journey through the eight days of the Great and Holy Week.
When all the Jewish pilgrims were gathered for the great feast of Passover and heard that the Messiah, the Saviour, the King of kings, the one who could resurrect the dead, was coming to their great city, Jerusalem, they all became very ecstatic. They celebrated His coming by going out to greet Him, by quickly breaking off branches of palm trees and throwing them in front of the path of the donkey, which He rode. They yelled out "Hosanna!" which means "save us now" in Hebrew. And they also cried out "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Oh King of Israel"
Jesus however did not come like a tyrant king, a king of war, a king wearing a crown or distinguished clothing, with chariots and bodyguards, or with His own personal army. However, He did come as a humble servant of God fulfilling everything that was prophesied about Him.
The people of Jerusalem expected a lion but received a lamb. They were expecting a king of war yet He came as a king of peace. They were expecting a king who would lead the people to rebellion, yet He taught them obedience to God. They expected to see the blood of their foreign overlords and enemies, yet He spilt His own on the cross. They wanted someone to look up to, yet He lowered His head and let them spit on Him, whip Him, beat Him and torture Him. They were expecting someone on a large valiant horse, yet He came on a small brown donkey.
We are told that in Jewish tradition the donkey was used as a sign that a king was coming in peace. Whereas a decorated horse was often a sign of a king proclaiming war or displaying the pomp of victory over his enemies. The Roman authorities were probably laughing and mocking at the sight of Jesus riding into the City on a small donkey. Yet many Jews were probably angry, disheartened, disappointed and disillusioned to say the least. In only a few days the cheering of the Jews who exclaimed "Hosanna" save us now, would soon change to a wild frenzy of "Crucify Him, Crucify Him!" Jesus however foretold that all this would happen; it was revealed to the prophets of Israel and to Him by His Father in heaven.
How is Jesus entry into Jerusalem relevant to us today? Well dear brethren, we may benefit from this gospel reading by accepting Christ as a lamb, a humble servant of peace and love and not as a lion, a rebellious king of war.
Beloved Brethren today is truly the day of the Lord, so let us rejoice in it. In the same way He entered Jerusalem with great rejoicing let us bring God into our hearts, let us accept His love in our own bodies which are temples of the Holy Spirit. For His Love endures forever.
Finally let everything that we do be done for the glory of God with selfless love and selfless sacrifice having Mary the sister of Lazarus as our example, so that His (Gods) will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia
Parish of St Nektarios, Perth WA