In his Palm Sunday homily, Pope Francis said that Jesus was warmly welcomed by those who felt “left behind” by society, while inciting anger among the elites of his day.
All those who felt “left behind and overlooked” were moved to cry out in songs of “spontaneous joy” when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the pope said during his morning Mass in Saint Peter’s Square, while for the reigning religious establishment he was “a source of anger and irritation.”
For Christians, Palm Sunday commemorates the day that Christ triumphantly entered Jerusalem on a donkey, marking the beginning of Holy Week.
“The liturgy invites us to share in the joy and celebration of the people who cry out in praise of their Lord; a joy that will fade and leaves a bitter and sorrowful taste by the end of the account of the Passion,” Francis said in his homily.
In what reads like a list of the “basket of deplorables” of first-century Palestine, Francis enumerated the marginalized groups that welcomed Jesus as a savior in the midst of a “cacophony of singing and shouting.”
We can imagine that amid the outcry as Jesus enters the city, “we hear the voice of the forgiven son, the healed leper, or the bleating of the lost sheep. Then too, the song of the publican and the unclean man; the cry of those living on the edges of the city,” he said.
On the other hand, we also see clearly throughout the Gospel account that the joy Jesus awakens is, for some, “a source of anger and irritation,” Francis said.
“All this joy and praise is a source of unease, scandal and upset for those who consider themselves righteous and ‘faithful’ to the law and its ritual precepts,” he added.
“How hard it is for the comfortable and the self-righteous to understand the joy and the celebration of God’s mercy!” he said. “How hard it is for those who trust only in themselves, and look down on others, to share in this joy.”
Francis said that Jesus was a victim of a protest that was not grass-roots in origin, but the result of a campaign of slander by the establishment who wanted to see him dead.
The fierce cry of those who shout out for Jesus to be crucified “is not spontaneous but already armed with disparagement, slander and false witness,” he said. “It is the voice of those who twist reality and invent stories for their own benefit, without concern for the good name of others.”
This campaign involved “‘spinning’ facts and painting them such that they disfigure the face of Jesus and turn him into a ‘criminal,’” Francis said. “It is the voice of those who want to defend their own position, especially by discrediting the defenceless. It is the cry born of the show of self-sufficiency, pride and arrogance, which sees no problem in shouting: ‘Crucify him, crucify him.’”
Yet despite this vicious campaign against Christ and his gospel, we “have been saved by his cross, and no one can repress the joy of the Gospel,” he said, and “no one, in any situation whatsoever, is far from the Father’s merciful gaze.”
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