Day 40: What Does Your Palm Branch Mean?

BY DENNIS HAMM, S.J. | March 29, 2015
Today’s Reading

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Readings for Today

3-29-15Two symbols clash this Sunday—the palms and the donkey.

For Jews in Jesus’ time, waving palms was something like waving the national flag. Two centuries before, when the Maccabees and their followers were victorious over the Syrian tyrant Antiochus and cleansed the temple, they cut down palms to wave as they made their victory march around Jerusalem. Thereafter, palms were a sign of Israelite independence and a memorial of their revolutionary victory. So when the crowds greeted Jesus with palms raised high, they meant, “Hail to the Son of David, who will lead us to regain our freedom from the Romans, the way the Maccabees led the revolution against the Syrian tyrant!” Jesus anticipated that false understanding by choosing to enter on a donkey, reminding them of the peacemaking king celebrated in Zechariah 9:9. Matthew and John help us get the point by quoting Zechariah. John clarifies by adding the detail of the palm branches. In his version, Jesus answers the palm waving by choosing the donkey (not a warhorse!) as his vehicle. This Sunday, when we raise our palms, let’s keep Jesus’ correction in mind. We, who know the whole story, welcome Jesus as another kind of king, one who is our King by virtue of his death and resurrection, who gives us the Holy Spirit to help us bless the world as a nonviolent community promoting the universal common good, trumping the temptation to dominate the earth with imperial power. Let’s wave our palms with the wisdom of Easter!

Reflection Images:

  • Do I allow my commitment to the kingdom of God to supersede my nationalism?
  • Does my sense of Christ the king influence my use of the resources of the earth?
  • When I pray “thy kingdom come, they will be done on earth,” do I think of the connection between kingdom and earth?

Dennis Hamm, S.J., is Professor Emeritus of theology at Creighton University, Omaha, where he continues to research and write.

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