Sunday, 20 March 2016

Palm Sunday: The New Solomon

As practicing Catholic’s we have all attended countless Palm Sunday’s. We go to church as per usual, yet this time we’re given a palm or olive branch. We then take our seats and just as we’re getting comfortable we are usually ushered out of the church where we hear the first of two Gospel’s read aloud. We then make a procession –or at least something resembling a procession, into the church. Mass then proceeds as usual except for the fact that the Passion Narrative is read as the Gospel. We carry out these motions with generally a vague understanding that we are commemorating the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem; where the crowds welcomed him, hailing Him as king, as He rode upon the back of a donkey. In the Gospel of Mark we read:

And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:8-10).

Indeed how easy it is to go through the liturgical celebrations of Advent and Lent, even Mass every weekday or Sunday, without ever entering into the Spirit, the inner meaning and spiritual reality behind all the hymns and postures. What meaning can we draw from this Palm Sunday’s celebration? Something spiritual and practical; something insightful and intriguing. Let’s explore a few such meanings that may enrich our interior-life, and deepen our inner-participation in the Palm Sunday celebration –whether we have already been this year or not; and for Holy Week which lies ahead of us.

The Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem Foreshadowed by Solomon

We often treat the Old Testament as if it were nothing but an unwanted leftover freezer-meal. We take out the Psalms and defrost them, but we deal as little as we can with the rest of ‘that old thing’. Yet as the Catechism puts it, drawing from Augustine: “the New Testament lies hidden in the Old and the Old Testament is unveiled in the New” (CCC 129). So it is that in reality the New Testament is like a main meal, and the Old Testament like an entrée which embellishes and accentuates the flavours of this meal. These two are so inseparable that if we were to divide them, the main meal of the New Testament would be tasteless and bland in comparison to the delight we would draw if we kept the entrée of the Old Testament in its rightful place. After all, doesn’t an entrée whet one’s appetite for the meal that follows? And does not one’s restaurant experience lack if an entrée is forgone?

King Solomon
This is made readily apparent to us when we take a look at the First Book of Kings. The context of this particular passage is that King David is at the end of his days. After a long reign of forty years, of defeating enemies, writing psalms and dealing with a few hiccups of his own; the time comes for a new king, a replacement king to be announced. David himself had intended and had promised to his wife Bathsheba that their son Solomon, although not his eldest, would be his heir to the throne. However Adonijah -the fourth son of David and older than Solomon- had other plans since he himself wanted to be king; and so he gathered supporters and held a feast where those present shouted: “Long live King Adonijah!” (1 Kings 1:25). However Adonijah “did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the mighty men or Solomon his brother.” (1 Kings 1:10). When the prophet Nathan heard what was happening he informed Bathshebda the wife of David, and together in a round-about way addressed the king so that he would be urged to act swiftly in making Solomon king, before he himself had even passed away, so that Adonijah’s kingship would be blotted out and exposed as illegitimate according to King David’s decree. It is at this point which David speaks, giving his commands which were to be carried out for Solomon’s anointing and enthronement as the new King of the Kingdom of Israel.

“Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon; and let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon! … So Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and the Cher'ethites and the Pel'ethites, went down and caused Solomon to ride on King David's mule, and brought him to Gihon. There Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent, and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, ‘Long live King Solomon!’ And all the people went up after him, playing on pipes, and rejoicing with great joy, so that the earth was split by their noise. (1 Kings 1: 33-34, 38-40)

With the spectacles of our Christian faith we can clearly see how this Old Testament event is a foreshadowing and prefigurement of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. Often we hear it said: ‘despite Christ coming on a donkey the people clapped and welcomed Him as their king in the line of David, and thus as the promised Messiah’. However considering that the Jewish people would have been well aware of the story of Solomon and how he had ridden on a donkey; it would not be farfetched to believe that at least some of the Jews might have put two and two together. Thus with His reputation as a miracle worker (Jn 12:18), seeing Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem could have been one of the very factors instigating the people to acclaim Him as their king. Yet despite this possibility, the actual disciples of Jesus were not aware since in John’s Gospel we read: “His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.” (Jn 12:16).

Reading the Gospel accounts of Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-11; Mk 11:1-11; Lk 19:28-40; Jn 12:12-19) in the light of Solomon’s rite of coronation reveals to us great insights.

The main purpose of Solomon becoming king, besides continuing the Royal House (lineage) of David -which God promised would endure forever (2 Sam 7:11-16); was in order to build the house of God, that is, the temple for God. Since concerning Solomon, God said to David:

“When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.” (2 Sam 7:12-13).

Solomon's Temple
This promise made to David was partly fulfilled in Solomon, but not fully, since Solomon, the temple he built and his reign was only temporal. Yet the Fathers of the Church teach that this Scripture was totally fulfilled in Jesus – a descendant in the flesh of King David; for Jesus’s heavenly kingdom is eternal, and so is His reign and the Temple which is His Body – both literally, and mystically which is the Church. What does Jesus do the first thing after He arrives in Jerusalem? “And he entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple” (Mk 11:11a). It is there in the temple that he “began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.’” (Lk 19:45). This clearing of the temple is the second time Jesus cleanses the temple, and is connected with the first time Jesus cleansed the temple at the beginning of His three-year ministry. Following the first cleansing we read in the Gospel of John:

“The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign have you to show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days? But he spoke of the temple of his body.” (Jn 2:18-21).

 Jesus the New Solomon

The Risen Lord
Linking these various portions of Scripture together we come to learn that Jesus is the New Solomon; and so whilst Solomon became king in order to continue the lineage of David and to build a physical and temporal Temple for God; Christ has come in order to continue and fulfill God’s promise made with David, since our Lord is the King of Heaven and Earth who has established the everlasting Kingdom of David, an allegorical title for the Kingdom of God. Christ has also come in order to build an eternal and spiritual Temple. This Temple is His Body which was raised from the dead; and includes the mystery of the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ, since we are “living stones” that have been “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:5). This after all is what Christ really meant when He said: “My house shall be a house of prayer” and that the time is coming “when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.” (Jn 4:21, 23).

The Kingly Anointing and Coronation of Christ and Solomon

In ancient Israel/Judah the king had to be anointed in order to be a legitimate king. In Israel/Judah this anointing had to be carried out by a prophet and/or the high priest. Solomon was first led on a donkey, anointed by Zadok the priest and then he was enthroned on the throne of David his father (1 Kings 1:33-35, 38-39). Thus Solomon’s anointing came after he had rode upon the donkey to Gihon. However Christ was anointed before He rode upon the donkey to Jerusalem, after which followed His enthronement on the throne of the Cross at Calvary, whilst wearing the crown of thorns. Yet how do we know Jesus was anointed before riding triumphantly into Jerusalem amidst the crowd’s Hosannas? Because immediately before this takes place we read in the text that Jesus is anointed by Mary, and this is recorded as taking place the day before Jesus rides into Jerusalem (Jn 12:12-13).

Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair… [Judas then retorts and Jesus begins His response by saying:] "Let her alone, let her keep it [the ointment] for the day of my burial. (Jn 12:3,7).

This same very account is described in the Gospel of Matthew, where we read that not only did Mary (whom tradition has associated with Mary Magdalene) anoint Jesus’ feet, but also His head:

a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head (Mt 26:7).

Mary Anoints Jesus' Feet
Unlike Solomon who was anointed by a high priest, Jesus was anointed by a repentant woman. Solomon is anointed by Zadok the High Priest and it is this anointing that makes him king, yet Jesus (the Eternal Great High Priest) is anointed by a repentant woman because this anointing doesn’t make Him King, but is a sign of His inherent Kingship which He possessed before all time as God, and which was manifested in His manhood at His baptism when the Holy Spirit anointed Him in the form of a dove alighting above His head. Not only this, but Jesus’ anointing by Mary is a sign of the type of coronation which Jesus will undergo – a coronation which is at once an execution and which will lead to His death and burial. Jesus alludes to this fact quite plainly when He says: “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial.”

Another contrast is that whilst Solomon rode out of Jerusalem on a donkey to Gihon, and was then anointed king; Jesus was anointed and then rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus’ fulfillment of what is foreshadowed by Solomon eight hundred to a thousand years earlier is thus an inversion of the events that took place. Perhaps such an inversion of events is a sign and indicator that what Solomon is not (i.e. an eternal king, the one who is to establish the kingdom of God, and build the eternal Temple), Jesus is.

The Royal Throne

Once the coronation of any king takes place, the king then sits on the throne as a sign of the consolidation of His kingship, and of His power over, and guardianship of, His kingdom. Following Solomon’s anointing, he is led amidst jubilant shouts into Jerusalem where he then sits on the throne, concerning which the Scripture reads: “Solomon sits upon the royal throne.” (1 Kings 1:46). Likewise with Christ, shortly after His triumphant entry into Jerusalem He, like Solomon, takes His place at the Throne of His Kingdom. Yet whilst Solomon’s throne was a majestic and comfortable seat, Jesus’ throne was the Cross: "And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, 'This is Jesus the King of the Jews'" (Mt 27:37). 

Jesus the King, Mary the Queen Mother, and the Princes and Princesses

When Solomon became King he appointed his mother Bathsheba as the Queen, so that she became ‘the Queen Mother’. We read of this in the First Book of Kings: “then he [Solomon] sat on his throne, and had a seat brought for the king's mother [Bathsheba]; and she sat on his right.” (1 Kings 2:19). This same very passage allegorically refers to when Jesus was nailed to the Cross, and when Mary was there with Him, sharing and participating in Her Son’s primal role as Redeemer, with Mary acting as Co-Redemptrix. Thus we can read: “then he [Jesus] sat on his throne [the Cross], and had a seat brought for the king's mother [Mary]; and she sat on his right.” (1 Kings 2:19). For although Mary was not literally nailed to the Cross to Jesus’ right, indeed Mary was spiritually nailed to the Cross on Jesus’ right – the ‘right hand side’ in Judaism representing the key place of honour. Hence just as Bathsheba participated in Solomon’s running of the united Kingdom of Israel, so too Mary participated in Jesus’ running of the spiritual Kingdom of Israel – the Church, in the past, present, and future.

For indeed on the Cross Jesus carried out His kingly role of judge – excusing everyone of their faults – “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Lk 23:34). Mary, as the Queen Mother of the Kingdom of God, the Church, shared in this role of Christ, by suffering in, with and through Him – orchestrating from Her place, beside the enthroned Crucified Christ, Her role of dispensing the redeeming blood of forgiveness to all souls, past, present and future – begging each and every soul to accept this royal gift.

Those who do accept this gift of Christ’s Royal Blood from Mary, become themselves royal as God’s adopted children in Christ (Eph 1:5). For by accepting the forgiveness of Jesus in prayer and Confession, and by taking His Blood, which the Catholic can receive through desire and sacramentally in Holy Communion, the believer undergoes a divine blood transfusion as it were, by which peasant blood is replaced with royal blood. So that what is Jesus’ by Divine Right as Eternal King, becomes the inheritance of the believer who has become in Christ a King in Him, or if you would, a prince (or princess) destined for the royal court of heaven.

Hosanna in the Highest

Jerusalem and its crowd were fickle – lauding Jesus as King one moment, by shouting “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and “Crucify Him, crucify Him” only a few days later. On an allegorical level Jerusalem is often employed as referring to Mary or to the individual soul. The Jerusalem who is Mary, received Jesus as a King into her womb at the Incarnation, and She never turned on Him unlike the people of Jerusalem. The Jerusalem of our own souls has been fashioned in order to receive the King of Kings. “Lift up your gates, O ye princes, and be ye lifted up, O eternal gates: and the King of Glory shall enter in.” (Ps 24:7). That is, open your hearts in desire and thanksgiving, O ye princes and princesses, and take hold of the receptivity of Mary the Immaculate Gate as your own: and the King of Glory, the Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ, shall enter within your heart, and shall establish His Kingdom therein – so that a peace and joy that the world cannot give will be established within.

As the people of Jerusalem laid down their garments and palm branches, so too we must lay down our agendas and affections before the Lord. As He rode on an ordinary donkey into Jerusalem, so too He rides hidden beneath the ordinary appearance of bread and wine when He comes into our souls in Holy Communion; and so too He rides hidden beneath the ordinariness of everyday and every moment in order to enter more deeply within us. Ultimately Jesus wants to bring us with Him to be there at Calvary, side by side with His Queen Mother, so as to join Him in making reparation for sins and in labouring for the salvation of souls, so that all might come to taste the heavenly bliss of the Eternal Easter Morning.