Christ Enters Jerusalem, Coptic Icon, Modern
Transcription of Homily
All of Matthew’s Gospel, up until this point of the entry, on a donkey, into Jerusalem, has been something of a didactic preparation/explanation of the Kingdom of Christ. And from Chapter 21, through the rest, all of this Gospel takes place in Jerusalem. And now it transforms itself; it becomes a sacramental presentation of the Kingdom of Christ. And so there’s this transformation that happens when Christ enters Jerusalem on a donkey.
And how does this happen? He sends two of His Apostles to go collect the donkey and a colt, and He tells them where they’re going to be tied up, where they’re located, and what to say to the owner. And what they are to say to the owner is, the Lord has need of them. He is the Lord of the universe. They belong to Him. And He’s taking what is His, and this need that He has is not the need that we have of things. It’s not a dependency, rather it’s a usage; He wants to reveal something about Himself. And He has, especially in the Paschal Mystery, this use of created non-human things to reveal all sorts of truths about Himself, such as the palms, and they mean victory. He uses a fig tree. He uses water to wash the Apostles feet. Bread. Wine. A rooster crowing. An eclipse sun. A ground, earth, that soak up His precious blood. Thorns. Steel for nails. Wood for a cross. A hyssop, stick sponge.
But today, in particular, we focus on this beast of burden. This donkey upon which He rides to enter into the Holy City. Matthew uses two words to call it; one is the particular name, He calls it a donkey. And another usage, he says, a beast of burden. And this beast of burden carries upon himself the one who carries all of our burdens; every sin from Adam till the last man is foisted upon Christ. And so, He enters into the Holy City on this humble and faithful animal as a symbol of His own humble fidelity. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart. My yoke is easy and My burden is light. If the yoke isn’t easy, and the burden isn’t light for us, perhaps we carry the wrong burden, or we don’t carry it well.
Isaiah says, Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we esteemed Him stricken, struck down by God and afflicted. Earlier, in his Gospel, Matthew will say, “That evening they brought to Him many who are possessed with demons and He cast out the spirits with the Word and healed all who are sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases“. And finally, in bearing the burden of our sins, He bears the Cross, which has the cumulative weight of all of our sins upon it. This encounter between the love of God and our misery, and His love has the last word.
And so Christ riding on a donkey, this beast of burden reveals something we otherwise never would have known about Divine Mercy; He’s also the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. In Leviticus, we see Aaron is instructed to, as a high priest, to lay his hands on the head of the scapegoat, pronounce the sins of the people of God, and then send the scapegoat out into the desert to die carrying the sins of the people of God. And so Christ is now turned into a scapegoat Christ is turned into a beast of burden. Christ is represented in all of those creatures.
Peter refers to this in his First Letter, he says, Christ, Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds, you have been healed. So Christ is not a magician, who magically makes our sins go away. Rather He takes them upon Himself and transforms them into mercy.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, the Holy Ghost, Amen.