Homily for Palm Sunday

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.  Glory to Jesus Christ, glory forever!

          In today’s Gospel, as always, in fact, we are given the chance to see ourselves.  Several different types of people are shown to us as examples.  Some of them for good and some could be a warning for us to avoid their ways.  In Martha we see humility and service.  In Mary we see extravagant love and devotion to the Lord as well as humility.  In Judas we see mock love and false piety married to cynicism.  Finally in the crowds we see several types; some worthy of emulation and others not.

          Once again we are given another image of Mary and Martha.  The differences are not so explicitly spelled out here as when Martha complains to the Lord and Mary sits at His feet, but the difference is there.  Martha, we are told, is serving the dinner and guests while Mary anoints the Lord’s feet.  Blessed Theophylact writes:

“By noting that Martha served, the Evangelist indicates that the dinner was held in her house.  His brief statement reveals Martha’s faith and humility; she did not permit the servants to do anything, and performed the duty herself.  This reminds us of how Paul praises the widows who are well reported for good works, and says that they wash the feet of the saints [1 Tim. 5:10].  But while Martha was serving everyone, Mary focused her attention on honoring Christ.”

          Mary truly loved the Lord and she was not afraid to show that love and devotion.  She was not going to let the social customs of her day get in the way of showing that love.  Letting down her hair to wipe the Lord’s feet was an outrageous or audacious act.  Common modesty of that day said that a woman should always cover her hair.  Letting her hair down to wipe the excess of ointment from Jesus’ feet was outrageous because it was something that would immediately lower her in the eyes of those around her.   She actually humbles herself by her open affection and immodest act.  She does not mind the scorn that others might heap on her because of her love for the Lord.  Jesus sees this anointing as her preparation for his burial.  He knows he is going to die soon.  He uses her act of love as preparation for His disciples to accept this fact.  It also shows that our personal devotion and love for the Lord is pleasing in His eyes. 

          There is always, it seems a debate about which is the greater devotion to the Lord, the contemplative or the service oriented.  Mary and Martha often figure into this debate.  People are often labeled as “Marys” or “Marthas.”  The Desert Fathers took many different views on this subject.  Here are a couple of the answers that they gave:

If there are three monks living together, of whom one remains in silent prayer at all times, and another is ailing and gives thanks for it, and the third waits on them both with sincere good will, these three are equal as if they were performing the same work.

Another story tells us:  in describing the various good works of the Patriarchs:  David was humble, Elias loved solitary prayer, Abraham was hospitable….an elder said, “whatever you see your soul desire according to God, do that thing, and you shall keep your heart safe.”

          So we see here that both Mary and Martha were performing deeds of great love.  Martha served everyone in the house and that would be seen as taking care of the Lord and the brethren and would be pleasing to the Lord.  Mary poured out her overflowing devotion just as she poured out the ointment.  This is also a good work as well.  In fact St. Bede, a great medieval commentator on the Scriptures, saw in her act a type of the whole Church and the good acts her members are called to perform.  When we hear that the house was filled with fragrance we can remember the Venerable Bede’s words:

In accord with our capacity will the world be filled with the renown of our devotion, by which we prove that we venerate and love God and our neighbors with a simple and pure heart….Here it is clearly shown that what Mary once did as a type, the entire Church and every perfect soul should do always. (Homily II.4)

          Judas puts forth an image of piety and outrage at what Mary has done.  He justifies himself by claiming to be concerned for the poor, but he was more interested in the money, not any actual love expressed by Mary.  Judas was right that the money could have gone to the poor, but his heart was actually darkened by love of money.  He wanted the money for himself, not for the poor.  Christ shuts his criticism down quickly.  He who said “do this unto the least of these and you do it unto me”…and encouraged feeding and clothing the poor did not agree with Judas about Mary’s extravagance.    He, as was said before, He saw it as foreshadowing His own death and burial which was to come very soon.   He also shows us that our personal devotion to the Lord, our heartfelt love for Him is also important.         We can learn from Judas’ reaction and look to ourselves concerning any indignation we may feel about an issue in the Church.  We may have a valid argument at some times, but at other times we may be operating out of our own egos, pride…or other sinfulness.  If we become embarrassed or put off by the piety of another…even if we think it is too showy or extravagant…we should refrain from judging and ask ourselves instead why something bothers us.  Why would we even be paying attention to how someone else comports themselves?   The same could be said about judging those whom we think do not have enough outward piety.  We cannot judge the hearts of another and it is best not to try.  Better is to love all as best we are able and let God work things out as He will.

          Finally, we come to the crowd:  this has various facets to it.  We have those who are thrill-seekers or those who look out for the next big thing!  They came to see Jesus both at the house in Bethany and in Jerusalem, we are told, because of the miracle that happened to Lazarus.  They wanted to see a miracle.  These are like the people who would go to see St. John Chrysostom because he was a good speaker…not because they wanted to put his teaching into use, but rather to hear a good turn of a phrase.  They wanted entertainment.  This is a warning to us as well.  It would serve us well to ask ourselves why we come to Church.  Do we like the “smells and bells” the pageantry, the color and the drama?  Do we like a particular priest’s style of serving or preaching?  Is this why we come to a particular Church or denomination?  Do we come because it’s where all our friends are and the coffee hour is a great time for socialization?  Are we there to meet people?  None of the above reasons are bad in and of themselves for liking a particular Church, but the main reason a person should go to Church is have their soul fed.  The only persons we need worry about meeting at Church are Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

          In the Crowd at the Entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem there were also those who saw in Jesus, the nationalist figure who was going to liberate them and bring about the destruction of the Romans and usher in a new government.  They did not understand who the Messiah is.  This is like those who support the modern state of Israel hoping to usher in the Second Coming….they want to move things along at their pace and according to their own plans…not the Lord’s.  It is these people’s image of the who and what the Messiah should be, that made it impossible for them to accept the Messiah as the Lord said He was (and is), it is these people who cried Hosanna to the highest and then a little while later, “Crucify Him.”  We can ask ourselves, then, do we expect the Church to follow our politics?  What if we’re the only Republican or Democrat in our parish?  Does that mean one should not belong to that parish?  No, the question should still be “is my soul being fed?”  We sing every Sunday, “Put not your trust in princes in the sons of men in whom there is no salvation.”  The Church is big enough for all political persuasions as long as they do not attack Her as Communism did…and yet the Church could survive even in Communist regimes.

          There is another group of people who were in the crowds.  These were the truly faithful and the children.  These are the people that we are called to emulate.       Though not specifically mentioned in the text of today’s reading, the Tradition of the Church recalls that there were many children in the crowd who were acclaiming the Lord.  The icons of the Feast often show the little children waving palm branches or placing their cloaks in the way for Christ to ride over.  These also represent who we are supposed to be like.  We are told by the Lord that we must be like one of them: 

“Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3-4 NKJV)


In our Church’s hymnody for this feast we hear a call to follow the Children’s example:

Let us also come today, all the new Israel, the Church of the Gentiles, and let us cry with the Prophet Zechariah; Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; for behold, thy King comes unto thee; He is meek and brings salvation, and He rides upon the colt of an ass, the foal of a beast of burden.  Keep the feast with the children, and holding branches in your hands sing His praises:  Hosanna to the highest; blessed is He that comes, the King of Israel. (From the Triodion: Lord I have Cried, vespers of Palm Sunday)


          It is the Children and those who could become like them who find the kingdom of Heaven within.  May God grant that we too, beginning right now, emulate the innocent and heartfelt love of these Children of God, these godly children and cry with them, “Hosanna to the highest!  Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.”

In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.  Glory to Jesus Christ, glory forever!












©2009 Fr. Philip Kontos