Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday and the Peaceable Kingdom

On Palm Sunday, we celebrate a peaceful Messiah.

Jesus enters Jerusalem in triumph, on a donkey. He doesn’t enter on a war horse, but on a donkey, a beast of burden, a humble animal.


But there is more to the Gospel story than meets the eye that reveals, at least in my mind, a vision of the Peaceable Kingdom.

Last year, in a workshop for catechists in a remote part of our parish, I began with a prayerful reading of the Palm Sunday Gospels. Using St. Ignatius’ method of reading the scriptures, I asked them to listen with their whole being, attentive to their senses as well as to their inner feelings. I read the story of the entry into Jerusalem three times, each time from a different Gospel, leaving time for silence after each reading.

After the last period of silence, I asked them to share with one or two people what they had experienced. Then I invited them to share with the group.

Two young men, campesinos, noted that they looked on in fear as Jesus mounted the young donkey “that no one had ever mounted.” They knew, from their work with animals, that you have to break in a donkey before you can sit on it. If no one has ever sat on a donkey, it is liable to try to throw you off.

They were afraid that the donkey would throw Jesus off.

And they were amazed that the donkey calmly carried Jesus into Jerusalem.

I was amazed. I had never heard a comment like that. I know of no biblical scholar who has paid attention to this detail that the people of the time of Jesus and the people who work the land would know.

Last year I shared this story with a group of the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters. They smiled and laughed in recognition. Many of them grew up on farms and realized the truth of this comment from the Honduran campesinos.

As I reflected on this, I realized that there was another dimension to this event.

Where would young donkeys, never mounted, calmly carry a person?

In the Garden of Eden of Genesis and in the Peaceable Kingdom of Isaiah 11: 1-9.

The wolf will dwell with the lamb…
The calf and the lion cub shall feed together,
and a little child will lead them…
They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord…


Jesus, mounted on a peaceful donkey, enters the city of Jerusalem, the holy mountain. Jesus brings the Reign of Peace with His personal presence.

But we reject the peaceful Messiah, the harbinger of the Reign of Peace. We seek power and domination, with weapons of war and all sorts of violence.

But our God comes in peace, willing to sacrifice himself for peace. He does not kill but allows himself to be killed by those who have the power and the violence in their hands.

Will we follow Jesus, our Peace?


The first photo is from the 2015 Palm Sunday procession in the parish of Dulce Nombre de María, Dulce Nombre de Copán, Honduras.

The second photo is of a postcard of a painting of Edward Hicks, Peaceable Kingdom. Note the presence of William Penn making a treaty with the native peoples.

The third photo is from The Cloisters in New York City.


The tamed ass of Palm Sunday

JesusDonkeyPalmToday I led a workshop for the catechists in Zone 4 of the parish. I do like this zone a lot because there are many catechists who have caught our vision of participative catechesis, that helps the children and youth encounter Christ – and not just memorize “facts” about the faith.

I decided to spend part of the time on helping the catechists develop new ways to use the Bible in their classes. I was in for a surprise – and a lesson.

I decided to use the Gospel accounts of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in a communal Ignatian contemplation approach, promoting the use of the imagination. Before we started I explained the use of our senses in imaginatively encountering Christ in the Gospels.

I read three accounts of the events of Palm Sunday, starting with Luke 19: 29-40, followed by Mark and Matthew – leaving time between the readings for prayer and imaginative contemplation. After the last period of silence, I invited them to share what it meant to them in groups of two or three. Then I opened up the prayer to sharing in the group.

Two young men had noted something that I had barely noticed. In Luke’s Gospel, the disciples are told they will find a donkey, a filly, a young ass – πῶλον, “on which no one has ever sat.”

They told me how they were first afraid – as Jesus was about to mount the donkey. If no one has ever mounted a donkey, the donkey will be very frisky and will try to throw the person off. It needs to be broken in before one can safely ride on a young filly. It is dangerous to try to ride on a donkey on which no one has ever sat. You need to get someone to break in the burro before you can ride it or use it to carry burdens.

They found themselves afraid for Jesus.

But then Jesus mounted the donkey and it was as gentle as could be – even carrying him over palms and mantles, in the midst of a noisy crowd, crying out “Hosanna!”

They were amazed.

I was amazed at this incredible insight that most of us who read the scriptures never notice. Jesus rides on a donkey that has not been broken in. In fact, in his gentleness he tames the beast.

Later I spoke with the two men and we reflected that in the Garden of Eden the animals were tame. But when sin comes into the world, we have situations in which donkeys will try to unseat anyone who tries to sit on them. But Jesus, restoring creation to its state of peace before the fall, can sit on this beast that has become tame.

Jesus tames us with his gentleness. He restores peace with his presence.

Later in the workshop I had the catechists break into three groups and work on the Palm Sunday story in three ways – drawings, retelling the story in their own words, and drama.

I ended up making an ass of myself in the drama!


Significantly I ended the workshop with Matthew 11: 25-30 that begins with this verse:

I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, but revealed them to the simple people.


Am I graced!

The emptying of Christ

He emptied Himself…
Philippians 2:7

The second reading for Palm Sunday, Philippians 2:  6-11 (plus the first five verses of the chapter) is central to my understanding of what it means to follow Christ: emptying oneself.

Christ became one with poor humanity, suffering and dying, not just for us – but with us.

The Black Christ

The Black Christ

Christ’s solidarity in our suffering is a call to be in solidarity with the poor. I pray often that the words of Isaiah 50:4 in the first reading might be mine:

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them, a word that will give them strength.

In this light the processions today need to have a spirit of humility. The King comes in solidarity with the poor.

The reading for Vigils in Benedictine Daily Prayer from St. Andrew of Crete puts it well:

 [Christ] comes freely to Jerusalem as he once came from heaven in order to exalt us with himself. But he does not come with pomp and circumstance, like a man ascending a throne. “He shall not dispute or shout aloud, nor shall anyone hear his voice upraised.” He is meek and humble, and goes poorly clad.

Now, off to Dulce Nombre for the procession and Mass for Palm/Passion Sunday