Sunday, March 16, 2008
Pope Benedict's Homily for Palm Sunday
~translation by Teresa Benedetta of Papa Ratzinger Forum
Dear brothers and sisters,
Every year, the Gospel passage on Palm Sunday tells us about Jesus's entry into Jerusalem. Together with his disciples and growing ranks of pilgrims, he had come from the plains of Galilee to the Holy City.
Like steps along this ascent, the evangelists have transmitted to us three announcements Jesus made about his Passion, indicating at the same time the interior ascent taking place with this pilgrimage.
Jesus is on his way to the Temple - to the place where God, as it says in Deuteronomy, had chosen to be 'the dwelling place of hus name'(cfr 12, 11; 14, 23). The God who had created heaven and earth had given himself a name, he had made himself invocable, or better yet, he had made himself tangible to men.
No place can contain him, and yet - or precisely because of this - he gave himself a place and a name so that he, personally, the true God, could be venerated as God in our midst.
From the story of Jesus as a twelve-year-old, we know that he loved the Temple as the house of his Father, as his paternal home. Now he comes again to this temple, but this trip would take him beyond it. The final end of his ascent to Jerusalem is the Cross.
This is the ascent that the Letter to the Hebreews describes as the ascent towards the 'tent not made by human hands', towards the presence of God. The ascent towards the presence of God passes through the way of the Cross. It is the ascent towards 'love to the very end' (cfr Jn 13,1), which is the true mount of God, the definitive place of contact between God and man.
During the entry to Jerusalem, the people paid homage to Jesus as the son of David with the pilgrims' words from Psalm 118(117): "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest" (Mt 21,9).
Then he arrives at the Temple. But there, in a space meant for the encounter between God and man, he finds vendors of beasts and money changers plying their trade in the space for prayer.
Of course, the animals on sale were intended to be sacrificed by immolating them at the temple. And since coins bearing the likenesss of the Roman emperors who opposed the true God could not be used in the temple, money had to be changed into currency that did not bear these idolatrous images.
However, all these trading could be done elsewhere. The space where it was now taking place was intended to be the atrium for pagans. The God of Israel was, in fact, the one God of all peoples. So even if pagans do not enter, so to speak, within Revelation, they could still associate themselves with prayer to the one God in this atrium of faith.
The God of Israel, the God of all men, is always waiting for their prayers, their searching, their invocations. But now, the place was dominated by business - business which had been authorized by competent (temple) authorities who shared in the merchants' profits. The merchants behaved correctly according to the prevailing order, but it was the order itself that was corrupted.
"Greed is idolatry", says the Letter to the Colossians (cfr 3,5). This is the idolatry that Jesus encountered and before which he quoted Isaiah: "My house shall be a house of prayer' (Mt 21,13; cfr Is 56,7) and Jeremiah: "But you are making it a den of theives" (Mt 21,13; cfr Jer 7,11). Against a badly misrepresented order, Jesus with his prophetic action, defended the true order found in the Law and the Prophets.
All this should make even us today think, as Christians: Is our faith pure and open enough so that from it, even 'pagans', persons who are in search and have questions, may catch intuitively the light of the one God, associate themselves in the atriums of faith to our prayers, and with their questions, become worshippers themselves?
Has the awareness that greed is idolatry reached our own hearts and our way of life? Are we not perhaps allowing idols to enter the world of our faith in various ways? Are we willing to let ourselves be purified ever anew by the Lord, allowing him to drive out from us and from the Church all that is against him?
But the purification of the temple meant more than just fighting the abuses. A new hour in history was foretold. It was the start of what Jesus had told the Samaritan woman about true adoration: "The hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him" (Jn 4,23).
The time had ended for sacrificing animals to God. The sacrifice of animals had always been a poor substitute, a nostalgic gesture, for true worship of God. The Letter to the Hebrews, on the life of Jesus and his actions, used a passage from Psalm 40 as a motto: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me" (Heb 10,5).
In place of the bloody sacrifices and offerings of food, the Body of Christ himself is offered. Only 'a love to the very end' - a love that gives itself totally to God in behalf of man, is true worship and true sacrifice. To adore in the spirit and in truth means to adore in communion with he who is the Truth - to adore in communion with his Body, to which the Holy Spirit unites us.
The evangelists tell us that in the trial of Jesus, false witnesses wre presented who said they heard Jesus say, "I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it" (mt 26, 61).
In front of Christ hanging on the Cross, some mockers referred to the same words saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, (and) come down from the cross!" (Mt 27,40)
The right version of the words, as they had come out of Jesus's mouth himself, is given to us by John in his account of the cleansing of the temple. Having been asked to give a sign by which he could legitimize his actions [driving out the vendors and money changers], the Lord answered: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up" (Jn 2,18f).
John adds that, rethinking that event after the Resurrection, the disciples understood that Jesus was speaking of the Temple of his Body (cfr 2,21f). It is not Jesus who destroys the temple; it is abandoned to destruction by the attitude of those who have transformed a place of encounter of all peoples with God into a 'den of thieves', in a place to run their business.
As always, since the fall of Adam, man's failings become the occasion for an even greater commitment of God's love in our behalf. The time of stone temples, of animal sacrifices, was now past. The fact that the Lord now drove out the merchants not only prevented abuse but indicated God's new activity.
The new Temple had been built: Jesus Christ himself, in whom God's love bends down to mankind. He, in his life, is the the new and living Temple. He, who died through the Cross and rose again, is the living space of spirit and life, in which correct worship is achieved.
Thus the purification of the temple as the culmination of Jesus's entry into Jerusalem, is at the same time an omen of the impending destruction of the (actual) edifice and a promise of a new Temple - a promise of the kingdom of reconciliation and love which, in communion with Christ, will be established beyond every frontier.
St. Matthew, whose Gospel we are listening to this year, cites at the end of his account of Palm Sunday, after the purification of the temple, two more small incidents that once again have a prophetic character, and once again makes clear to us what Jesus's true intentions were.
Immediately after the words of Jesus about a house of prayer for all peoples, the evangelist continues: "The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them" (Mt 21, 14f).
Matthew also tells us that the children in the temple area repeated the acclamation by the pilgrims when Jesus entered the city: "Hosanna to the son of David" (Mt 21,15f).
Jesus countered the trade in animals and the affairs of the money changers with his healing goodness. This is the true purification of the temple.
He did not come as a destroyer, he did not come with the sword of a revolutionary. He dedicated himself to those who are pushed to the extremes of life and the margins of society by their weakness and infirmity. Jesus showed God as He who loves, and his power as the power of love. Thus he tells us what will always be part of true worship of God: healing, serving, goodness that heals.
Then there were the children who rendered homage to Jesus as son of David and acclaimed him with Hosannas. Jesus had told his disciples that in order to enter into the Kingdom of God, one must be like little children. He himself, who embraces the whole world, became s baby to come to us and lead us to God.
In order to recognize God, we should abandon pride which blinds us, which would drive us away from God as if God were a rival. We should learn to see with a young heart, unhindered by prejudices and not blinded by selfish interests. Thus, the Church through time has seen in the 'small' people, who with childlike hearts freely and openly recognize God, the image of believers in all times, its own image.
Dear friends, today we associate ourselves with the procession of young people then - a procession which passes through all of history. Together with the young people all over the world, let us go forth to meet Jesus. Let us allow ourslelves to be led by him towards God, to learn from God himself the right way to be men.
With him we thank God because in Jesus, son of David, he gave us a space of peace and reconciliation which encompasses the whole world. Let us pray that we, too, may become with him and through him, messengers of his peace, so that in us and around us, his Kingdom may grow. Amen.