"Palm Sunday is a feast of rejoicing, a feast of anticipation, and yet, a bitter time when we know the end of the story that is unfolding. Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead, and the entire community of Jerusalem is abuzz with the miracle. They want to see Lazarus; but especially they want to see Jesus, to hear his words, to touch him, to receive his blessing, to see another miracle, to maybe be healed by Him. They realize that He is the Messiah, the King who was to come, to establish the Kingdom. They put all their earthly hopes in Jesus, the Son of David, and shout “Hosanna” as they line the streets and crowd around Him as they lead Him into the Temple, “Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord!”
"In the midst of the chaos, the scribes and the Pharisees, the chief priests and their minions, plot against Jesus and Lazarus, watching their power and control slip from their fingers. “The whole world has gone after Him” they complain. The seeds of jealousy and resentment, envy and anger, began to blossom into betrayal. They saw their world slipping away, their control and their power evaporating, and their positions and agendas threatened. They had no choice but murder.
"The people, the simple people of the Hebrews, saw the miracle of the raising of Lazarus and believed. Yet their belief was not really faith, but rather, a hope that Jesus would fulfill their expectations. It was an earthly hope, that Jesus would be the political ruler who would restore the Kingdom of David, banish the Roman occupiers, and free them from oppression. It was an earthly hope, to see a miracle, to have a miracle happen to them, to be healed. It was a hope for earthly glory, wealth, power and prosperity for their nation, and a release from the sufferings of this life. None of this was bad; but it was limited. It was not the kind of king Jesus is, nor the Kingdom He would inaugurate. He did not come to give simple bread, but the Bread of Heaven. He did not come to give political freedom, but freedom from the power of sin and the devil. He did not come to raise the dead to temporal earthly life only to die again, but to destroy death and to bring eternal life. The people had no conception of the divine and heavenly dimension; only their own self-centered agenda. How quickly they went from shouting “Hosanna,” to “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
"The chief priests and the Pharisees understood clearly what Jesus meant: He threatened their entire power structure and control over the people. Religion had become an end in itself, a means for them to propagate their own selfish agendas, for the sake of their own personal power and enrichment. Truly Jesus called them “whitened sepulchers,” beautiful on the outside, but full of death and corruption. The religious leaders of the Jews lacked faith. They were blinded by their own lust for power, their legalism, their hypocrisy. Having the outer form of piety, all dressed up, they were functionally atheists, in denial of God, seeking only themselves.
"They too wanted a worldly messiah, who would banish the Romans and install them in positions of authority, who would do their will. Jesus was not “their” man, whom they could control. And they feared that He and his uprising would provoke the Romans, to take away their power.
"Even the apostles themselves did not understand, only that Jesus was going to get into trouble. They also lacked real faith, the conscious awareness that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Peter had confessed that faith, but how shallow it was. Otherwise, how could they have all betrayed him? Martha’s sister, Mary, knew, she saw, she had faith. Yet, the sweet fragrance of the perfume, which Mary had used to anoint Jesus’ feet, must have been a stench to Judas, who lamented the money thus wasted that he could have stolen. Even the apostles wanted Jesus on their own terms, to fulfill their expectations, to conform to their desires. And when He did not, they left him alone.
"How often is our own faith conditional, how often do we assent to belief in God because we think we can get something out of it? And how often do we waver when our expectations are not met, when our will is not done, or desire fulfilled? How often do we abandon God when something hard or bitter happens, and we feel He has let us down? How often do we betray God, deny Him, refuse to believe in Him, when something else will fulfill our desires, or gratify our senses? Or on a more earthly level, how often do we betray another, when he or she does not satisfy our expectations? Much less, if he threatens our comfortable little world that we have created for ourselves?
"Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. He knew, as a man, that God would hear Him, and do as He prayed. He stood before the tomb of his friend, and wept; He knew that death was not the will of God for man, but life. And so He called out, “Lazarus, come forth.” And he did, restored to life. We are called to that same kind of faith as Jesus. He gives us that faith, if we can accept it. (“And you will do miracles even greater than I,” He said.) Look at where it got Him: a moment of earthly glory fading to rejection, betrayal, torture and death on the cross. But He remained faithful to God, despite it all; obedient even to the point of death. This kind of faith is unconditional, a self-abandonment to God and His Will, no matter what. It is a faith that overcomes disappointment and betrayal, a faith that overcomes despair, and a living faith that overcomes death itself. It is true faith, living communion with the Living God.
"Lent has brought us to this moment of judgment. It has been the time to come to clearly see the selfish agendas and sins which keep us entrapped in a conditional belief. It helps us clearly realize our hypocrisy: that having the form of religion, we lack real faith. Will we one day shout “Hosanna,” and the next, “crucify him!” Or will we like Mary and the women, or John at the foot of the cross, strive for that living faith which overcomes death, and enables us to shout “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord” no matter what comes. Amen."
Homily delivered by His Beatitude, Metropolitan JONAH at the Primatial Cathedral of St Nicholas in Washington, DC, during the Divine Liturgy on Palm Sunday, 17, 2011.