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Benedict XVI's Homily on Palm Sunday

4/11/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"The Cross Is the Authentic Tree of Life"

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 11, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of Benedict XVI's homily during the Mass on Palm Sunday, 21st World Day of Youth, whose theme was "Thy Word Is a Lamp to My Feet and a Light to My Path" (Psalm 118[119]:105).

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For 20 years, thanks to Pope John Paul II, Palm Sunday has become in a particular way the Day of Youth, the day that young people around the world go out to meet Christ, wishing to accompany him in their cities and countries so that he will be among us and be able to establish his peace in the world. If we want to go out to encounter Jesus and then walk with him on his way, we must ask: On what path does he wish to guide us? What do we expect from him? What does he expect from us?

To understand what occurred on Palm Sunday and to know what it meant not only for that time but for all times, a detail is important, which became for his disciples the key to understand that event when, after Easter, they recalled those tumultuous days with a new look.

Jesus entered the Holy City riding on a donkey, that is, the animal of simple country people and, moreover, a donkey that did not belong to him, that he had been loaned for this occasion. He did not arrive in a luxurious royal carriage, or on horseback as the world's great, but on a borrowed donkey. John tells us initially that the disciples did not understand this.

Only after Passover did they realize that in this way Jesus was fulfilling the prophets' proclamations; he showed that his action derived from the Word of God and led to its fulfillment. They remembered, says John, that one reads in the prophet Zechariah: "Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on an ass's colt" (John 12:15; cf. Zechariah 9:9).

To understand the meaning of the prophecy and thus Jesus' action, we must listen to the whole text of Zechariah, who continues saying: "He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth" (9:10).

In this way, the prophet makes three affirmations about the future king.

First, he says he will be a king of the poor, a poor man among the poor and for the poor. Poverty is understood in this case in the sense of the "anawim" of Israel, of those believing and humble souls that we see around Jesus, in the perspective of the first beatitude of the Sermon on the Mount.

One can be materially poor but have a heart full of anxiety for wealth and power, which comes from wealth. The fact that one lives in envy and avarice shows that, in one's heart, one is part of the rich. One wishes to reverse the distribution of goods, but only so that oneself will be in the situation that the rich occupied before. Poverty in Jesus' sense -- in the prophets' sense -- presupposes above all interior freedom from avarice and the will to power.

It is about a much greater reality than a different distribution of goods, which would be limited to the material realm, and which make hearts even harder. Above all, it is about the purification of the heart, thanks to which one recognizes that possession is responsibility before others which, in the sight of God, allows itself to be guided by Jesus who, being rich, became poor for us (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

Interior freedom presupposes the surmounting of corruption and avarice which at this point devastate the world; this freedom may be found only if God becomes our wealth, it may be found only in the patience of daily renunciations, in which it develops as authentic freedom. On Palm Sunday we acclaim Jesus, the king who points out to us the way to this goal, and we ask him to take us with him on his path.

Second, the prophet shows us that this king will be a king of peace: He will make the chariots of battle and war horses disappear, will cut off the bow and command peace. In the figure of Jesus, this is concretized with the sign of the cross. It is the broken bow, in a certain sense the new, authentic rainbow of God, which unites heaven and earth and builds bridges between continents over the abysses. The new weapon Jesus puts in our hands is the cross, sign of reconciliation, of love that is stronger than death. Every time we make the sign of the cross, we must remember not to respond to an injustice with more injustice, to violence with more violence; we must remember that we can only overcome evil with good, without returning evil for evil.

The prophet's third affirmation is the pre-announcement of universality: The kingdom of the king of peace extends "from sea to sea ... to the ends of the earth." The former promise of land is replaced with a new vision: The space of the messianic king is no longer ...

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