April 9, 2023

First Homily for Palm Sunday (St. Luke of Simferopol)

The Letter Kills, but the Spirit Gives Life

By St. Luke, Archbishop of Simferopol and All Crimea

Today we are celebrating one of the greatest events in the earthly life of our Lord Jesus Christ - His solemn entry into Jerusalem. In those days, this city was full of people who came from everywhere for the great feast of Passover. It was buzzing with rumors about the great Prophet and Wonderworker from Nazareth, who had just performed the greatest of His countless miracles - the resurrection of Lazarus, who had been lying in a tomb for four days, and was waiting for His arrival, and was preparing for a solemn entrance.

Christ always rejected all honors for Himself, forbidding the demons whom He cast out to divulge that He is the Son of God, forbidding the healed to tell about the miracle of healing. But now the time has come to reveal His dignity as Christ to the people, and the purpose of entering Jerusalem was precisely this: to announce to everyone the coming of the Messiah.

However, He did not come to become an earthly king or to put the people of Israel above all other nations, although that was the kind of king the Jews expected. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and His glory could have nothing to do with the triumphal tinsel of earthly kings.

He appears in Jerusalem in a seemingly poor and humble form. There are no magnificent horses, no chariots, no external brilliance. But all earthly glory is insignificant and disappears like smoke. However, there is another glory, immeasurably higher - the glory of valiant humility, meekness, virtue, for these great spiritual qualities are immeasurably higher than all external attributes of strength and power.

The Kingdom of Christ is not of this world, and His glory had to be different, transcendental, Divine. And this glory He acquired in His humble procession. He sat on a donkey, not proudly raising his head, but lowering it low and watering His holy cheeks with streams of tears. He revealed Himself to the people of Israel as a humble and suffering Messiah, quiet and meek, who “will not break a bruised reed and will not quench a smoking flax” (Is. 42:3).

What did he weep about? We learn this from His own words: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, if you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes" (Luke 19:41-42). Oh, if you knew that I am the Messiah who came to save you, that I am your King - not on earth, but in Heaven!

The Lord knew that the people who would reject Him would have to endure. He knew that troops would come and lay trenches around Jerusalem, subject it to indescribable horrors of a siege, that the city would be destroyed, and no stone would remain in it, and the temple of Jerusalem would be destroyed, never to be rebuilt. Oh, that Jerusalem knew what served to save her!

It happens when a person follows the wrong path, then the mercy of God stops him with some kind of shock, some kind of misfortune or illness, and then, as it were, says to him: Oh, “if you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace!" It happens to each of us that the Lord stands at the door of our heart and knocks slowly, waiting to be opened and let Him in, knocking like a beggar at the door.

So, the people rejoiced, waved palm branches, shouting: “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” - spreading clothes under the feet of the donkey. The children were shouting, praising God. Obviously, seeing everything that was happening, everyone had to remember the words of the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; he is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). However, the scribes, Pharisees and high priests, who knew about this prophecy, were tormented and indignant, and finally, unable to restrain themselves, said to the Lord: “Rebuke them, don’t you hear what they are shouting?” Jesus answered them: "Have you never read: 'From the mouth of babes and sucklings You have made praise.' If they keep silent, the stones will cry out” (Matt. 21:16 and Luke 19:39-40).

Why did they hate the Lord Jesus? Why was He crucified? We have already said: because they considered Him a violator of the law of Moses, or rather, the letter of the law. The law of Moses was for them an indisputable, absolute and holy truth, but purely outwardly, since they were alien to its spirit, worshiping the letter, and anyone who violated the letter was considered in their eyes the worst criminal.

They were indignant that the Lord Jesus Christ healed the sick on the Sabbath day. What a perversion of the human heart! Instead of tremblingly glorifying God, who works such miracles, they were imbued with terrible malice.

They did not understand that the Lord came “not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it,” i.e., to supplement it; they did not understand that He is the “Lord of the Sabbath.” They did not understand that His teaching does not destroy the law of Moses, but elevates it immeasurably. They were not touched even by the absolutely extraordinary miracle of the resurrection of Lazarus of the Four Days. The holy prophet Isaiah prophesied about them: “The heart of this people is hardened, and they can hardly hear with their ears, and they close their eyes, so they will not see with their eyes, and they will not hear with their ears, and they will not understand with their hearts, and they will not turn to Me that I heal them” (Isaiah 6:10).

The words of the Apostle Paul came true in them: “The letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (II Cor. 3:6). The enemies of Christ perished because they were servants of the deadly letter, while “God gave us the ability to be servants of the New Testament, not of the letter, but of the Spirit” (ibid.). Let us pay close attention to this. Amen.

Source: Translated by john Sanidopoulos.

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