Palm Sunday, which recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, is an opportunity to be in solitary with refugees fleeing Ukraine, to welcome the Afghan refugees newly settled in Australia, and to reflect on hospitality and welcome, writes ANDY HAMILTON SJ.
Palm Sunday recalls Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. For many years, too, it has been the occasion of marches for refugees throughout Australia. The Christian story that underlies Palm Sunday encourages this concern for refugees. At one level it describes what God is doing; at another level it describes what human beings are doing. The Son of God enters the centre of the people whom he has chosen in order to win and to heal them. Jesus, an undefended human being, enters the city only to be rejected and ejected both from city and life.
The week is a reflection on God’s hospitality and human inhospitality.
In the Gospel story Jesus enters Jerusalem with the trappings of royal power – not walking but riding, and attended with people waving branches and singing. The trappings, however, were a mockery and critique of the way power was exercised in human affairs. He had only a few followers. They were unarmed. And he came, not on a horse but on a donkey, a domestic animal on which any rider looked graceless. It was a comic scene. He came to the seat of power as a simple human being, requesting hospitality for his words. The authorities perceived both his lack of power and his insolence and had him killed in a way that erased all traces of his humanity. Yet the event of Jesus’ rising from death showed God’s way of accepting humiliation to be more powerful and life-giving than the way of power.
The story of Palm Sunday speaks to the experience of refugees.
Like Jesus in his entry into Jerusalem, unarmed refugees also seek hospitality in centres of power. Like him, too, they are perceived as a threat, are driven off, imprisoned, maligned and left resourceless. They make us ask what a human being is worth when stripped of power, autonomy and connections.
Palm Sunday and the vindication of Jesus at Easter answers that question. Each human being is worth living and dying for. God has done so.
This year we all have in our minds and hearts people who have been forced to leave Ukraine. They will seek hospitality in European nations that proved inhospitable to earlier Middle Eastern refugees. Palm Sunday is a day to grieve for them and to be in solidarity with them in their need for food, shelter and opportunity to live with dignity.
This year, too, is a day for us Australians to welcome the refugees who have settled in Australia and especially the Afghan people who still await the visas promised them months earlier. It is also a day to remember the suffering of refugees in Australia who are forced to live from hand to mouth on temporary visas. This has been a constant source of pain to refugees and a key advocacy issue for the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), co-convened by Jesuit Social Services and Jesuit Refugee Service Australia. Temporary visas put healthy people on life support, and leaves them unable to live fully. Visas are about enabling life and new beginnings – we know and believe that people, human beings just like you or I, deserve better.
Palm Sunday is about an extravagant hospitality that trumps all human inhospitality. So, this Easter let us all be hospitable, welcoming and kind to others – stranger, neighbour, refugee, person seeking asylum.
Attend your local Palm Sunday Walk for Justice and Freedom for Refugees this Sunday 10 April. Visit the CAPSA website here for more information.