March 20, 2016
A “triumph” in the Roman Empire was actually a bit like a “ticker tape parade” a city holds for Super Bowl champions or when the hometown team returns with “the pennant” or the Stanley Cup. In ancient times, the City of Rome held public celebrations to honor a general and his army returning home after a major land or sea battle. There were established rules and regulations as to who was entitled to a “triumph” as well as how it was to be celebrated. Typically, there was a solemn procession along a defined route that came to be known as “the sacred way.” The streets would be lined with crowds of citizens who were enjoying a day off work, and at the same time, sharing vicariously in the victory that was being celebrated. The “triumph” was also a display of Roman strength and a warning to those who would challenge the power of the Empire.
During the Passover, the population of Jerusalem swelled with pilgrims visiting the Holy City. Anticipating the need for a more obvious military presence in hopes of keeping the peace, Pilate arranged for a dramatic entry. While this was certainly not a “triumph,” it was definitely intended to be a warning not to challenge Roman occupation of Judea.
Coming into the Holy City through another gate, maybe at the very same time, Jesus was as deliberate in planning His entry as the Romans were in preparing for their “triumph.” The Lord purposefully and intentionally orchestrated the day, at the beginning of which would be His final week “in the Flesh.” He did so in order to fulfill the Scriptures, but also to establish a vivid contrast between the Reign of God and the reign of Caesar.
It truly was both the celebration of many victories against a vile enemy as well as a show of strength. Moreover, the crowds embraced the moment and responded with great enthusiasm, celebrating Jesus’s victory over demons, storms, illness, and even death.
But the show of force was in stark contrast to what was on display on the other side of Jerusalem. By His triumphal entrance into the Holy City, Jesus put on display the power of God…a power that is not based on the number of swords, spears, horses, or arrows at a general’s command. The Power of God is not measured in terms of the number of boots on the ground, or missiles on the launch pad, or nuclear warheads in the waiting. The Power of God is rooted in unconditional love.
St. Paul puts it this way: Our strength is in our weakness. Not “weakness” in the sense of being without power; rather, “weakness” in the sense of giving over all control…emptying ourselves and laying down all “arms”…so as to rely totally and completely on our God…The Source of all Love! And what we gained from Jesus’s triumphal entry and the week He made Holy is that the truly “sacred way”… in fact, the only “way” entitled to be called “sacred”…is THE WAY OF THE CROSS!
If we have planned and executed a proper Lent through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, then this Penitential Season has been a bit like a 40-day long “triumphal entry” into the Easter Season. By laying down all of our defenses and emptying ourselves of all that weighs us down, surrendering to the power of God’s Love…we are ensuring that, someday, we will be given a triumphal entry into the heavenly Jerusalem…where the Sacred Way…leading us to the Throne of the Almighty…will be lined with angels and saints cheering our victory over the enemy!