OSHANA SUNDAY


Qeryana I (Old Testament Reading I): Gen 49: 1-12 + 49: 22-26
Qeryana II (Old Testament Reading II):

Zechariah 4:8-14+7:9-10+8:4-5+12-19+ 9:9-12

Engarta (Epistle Reading): Rom 11: 13-24
Evangalion (Gospel): Mt 20:29–21: 22
Click play to listen the Evangalion (gospel reading) of the day.

OSHANA Sunday re-presents and commemorates the inauguration of the great week of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection, which began in his incarnation or self-emptying (Phil 2:6-9) and has prefigured what were to happen during this great week, namely, the bitter-sweet memories concerning Jesus our Lord. A joyful note is already given in the first (Saturday) evening prayer of Oshana Sunday [1] requesting God the Father to “make us worthy to bless with pure hearts the resurrection of Your only begotten Son, to extol His victory with sacred hymns, and to confess with those in heaven the glorious olive branch of your infinite power.” The main idea here is that Jesus, the Messiah ‘the anointed’ is welcomed  as he is the promised king and enters the holy city of Jerushalem (= city of peace) and the people receive him wholeheartedly in spite of the opposition of the religious establishment. 

 

In the Evening Liturgy the “Anthem Before” invites the faithful to enter into the spirit of the day:
Zion, adorn beautifully
Your bright bridal chamber and
Gladly welcome Christ the Lord,
Your humble, divine Bridegroom.
Go out to meet Him with praise,
 Carrying all your children,
With palms and olive branches,
Call out to your Lord and King! [2]

 

The welcome word Oshana is echoed many times. The typical Syriac bridal symbol expressing the intimate relationship between God/Jesus is remarkable here. The Night Anthem of Leliya [3] tells us that the prophecies are being fulfilled here. The first two readings from the Old Testament shed ample light on the mystery celebrated. Gen 49:1-12, 22-26 speak about the last words and blessing that patriarch Jacob gave to his sons Judah and Joseph. Judah is spoken in royal images at vv.10-12, which point to a time of prosperity as at the time of David who was the ‘anointed of the Lord.’ Judah is compared to a lion which is a metaphor for the mighty God (Am 1:2). Joseph is to become like a fruitful and flourishing tree planted by the side of a spring.  He who ‘was set apart from his brothers’, is given a blessing that goes beyond the present and points to Jesus who was born in the tribe of Judah.

 

The second reading from the Old Testament from Zechariah (= ‘the Lord has remembered’) 4:8-14+7:9-10+8:4-5+12-19+9:9-12. The book having two parts (chs 1-8 and 9-14) is from postexilic time when they were suffering under the rule of the Hellenists. The first part is dependent on the classical prophets with symbolic visions and insists on the inwardness of religion (4:6; 5:5-11).The second part gives us an insight into the Hebrew thinking when they were persecuted by the Hellenistic Seleucids who were the rulers of Syria and Palestine at that time. The faithful were rather desperate but did not leave the hope that the Lord would vindicate them. The prophet saw in Zerubabel a liberator (4:8-10). At 7:9ff., the Lord asks the people through the prophet  to give genuine judgments, with kindness and mercy. They are not to oppress the widows, fatherless, sojourners, and the poor.  Nobody should plan evil against the brothers. Giving hope to the people the prophet tells them that old men and women with staff in their hands will sit in the streets of Jerusalem and boys and girls should be playing there (8:4-5). They will have peace, plenty of vine and good weather.   The people who were a byword of cursing will become one of  blessing. The Lord punished their forefathers for their sin, now he is doing them good. But they are exhorted: “Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make  for peace. Do not devise evil in your heats against one another,  and love no false oath, for all these things I hate, says the Lord” (8:16-17). The prophet proclaims a great message of hope:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
Triumphant victorious is he,
Humble and riding on an ass,
On a colt the foal of an ass (9:9).

 

Zechariah spoke about Jesus the expected Mishiha or the anointed king who is to enter the holy city of Jerusalem triumphant but humble without pomp unlike the other rulers and as that happened on Oshana Sunday as interpreted by  St. Matthew (21:5).

 

In Rom 11:13-24 Paul writes as an apostle to the nations and therefore what he writes goes beyond the confines of Israel as his own people who failed in their mission and the way was made open to all the nations, surely not leaving aside the old people of God. Some branches of the old stock or the Jews were broken away and new branches from the nations were grafted in. Here is a lesson for the new branches that they should not become unfaithful and be abandoned. “For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you” (v.21). Nobody is to take for granted one’s position or role in life, everything is a free gift of God to be received thankfully and used also for the benefit of others. All humans belong to God and are loved by God and related to God; some belong to God in ways not known to us. For Jews and non-Jews there is hope in the one Lord.

 

The Gospel (Mt 20:29-21:22) of the day is the culmination of the above readings: the Gospel tells us that Jesus is the messiah, king whom the Jews expected and that he is at the door of the holy city. Contrary to all human imaginations this king comes not like any earthly king or as a conqueror, but comes as a humble person on a donkey. His kingdom or reign is not territorial, based on population, wealth or military and missiles. It is and it ever remains as one of fraternity, peace, joy, reconciliation and life. “For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Christians today work for the coming of this kingdom among us and pray for its coming as Jesus himself has taught us to pray: “Thy kingdom com!”

 

As Jesus was leaving the city of Jericho to go enter Jerusalem two blind men sitting by the road came to know about it began crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” It is interesting that they addressed him as ‘the Son of David’ which was a popular messianic title. They must have heard about Jesus as a wonder worker. The people wanted to silence them but they continued and Jesus stood still and asked what they wanted and they said they wanted eye-sight and Jesus filled with compassion touched their eyes and granted their wish and they followed him. (Mt 20:29-33). It was the most solemn occasion in the life of Jesus when he was going to enter the city in all humility but also with all dignity and glory; even then, he had the good will and time to listen to and respond to the cry of the poor blind men! Jesus was not scared by the ‘untimely appearance’ of the marginalized and the neglected; truly he came into the world for such people who were in darkness and wished to see light.

 

Jesus began his solemn entry into the holy city of Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-10) from the tiny village of Bethpage (Bethany Jn 12:1) near the Mount of Olives. Matthew commences the narrative with the words of prophet Isaiah 62:11, “Tell the daughter of Zion!” which is continued by the prophet in the words:
Behold, your salvation comes;
Behold, his reward is with him,
And his recompense before him;” which are substituted by Matthew with the words of Zech 9:9:
“Behold, your king is coming to you,
Mounted humbly upon an ass (and)
upon a colt, the foal of an ass” (Mt 21:5).

 

According to Isaiah the one who comes brings salvation and reward and Zechariah describes him as a humble person who comes riding on an ass. He is not to be misunderstood as a political liberator or conquering hero as some zealots expected at that time. It tells us something about the way Jesus the king brings salvation and wholeness to the world. He comes as the suffering servant; he enters into city in the majesty of a king to die as a criminal and then to rise up again as the lord of death and life. 

 

The people spread their garments upon the road and some spread branches from the trees (Jn 12:13) and some scattered palm leaves (1 Mac 13:51) on the way giving Jesus a ‘red carpet’ welcome. The people carried in the right hand the symbols of the feast of tabernacles, the lulab which was a bunch of twigs tied with palm, recalling the desert days when they lived in booths. And they began shouting, “Oshana” [4]to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Oshana in the highest!” ‘Hosanna’ is the Greek transliteration of the Hebrew ‘hoshia’na, which means ‘save us’ as sung at psalm 118:25 which was sung on the feast of the Tabernacles [5]. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is the next verse of this psalm. At the time of Jesus the word oshana as must have pronounced by the people in Aramaic meant ‘welcome.’ Now Jesus the Mishiha, the Messiah and the saviour of humanity, enters the city to complete the mission that the Father had entrusted to him. In the temple blind and lame people approached Jesus and he healed them. Jesus found that the temple, which was to be the house of prayer (Is 56:7), was turned to “a cave of bandits” (Jer 7:9-10), and he drove out the people who were buying and selling sacrificial animals and exchanging Roman currency for the Jewish shekel in the area known as the Court of the gentiles which was open to the public. The human heart which is the dwelling of the Lord needs a thorough purgation; which has to be manifested also in external order and cleanliness.

 

The priests and the scribes who were the authorised and genuine custodians of true religion and worship but were not concerned about the marketing atmosphere of the temple,  raised their voice and protested as they were irritated by hearing, “oshana to the Son of David” and they turned to Jesus and asked if he heard what the people were saying and his response was an emphatic “Yes!” And Jesus asked, ‘have you never read, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings you have brought perfect praise” (Ps 8:2)? Of course, here the shouts came from children who were able to walk around and shout. It was Jesus’ day of glory before his humiliation; he was loved and sung by children, the little ones, the innocent, and the just who were open to God and were able to sense that God was active in him.

 

Jesus is truly the Son of David as also the Son of God and his ‘Anointed One’ whose way nobody can block. After the Oshana experience Jesus moved to Bethany and stayed there not out of fear, or because he was afraid to face the cruel destiny that he was waiting for, but his time had not yet come.

 

The next day, returning to the city Jesus was hungry and looked at a fig tree that was full of leaves having no fruits at all and Jesus cursed the tree which dried up immediately. The barren disappointing tree represented Jerusalem that was spiritually sterile. The famous song of prophet Isaiah 5:1-7 is acted out here. The Jewish nation appeared externally healthy and sound, but it was rotten within. Here is a parabolic action showing that Israel was going to be destroyed. But Jesus assured the disciples that with faith one can perform even greater wonders.

 

Jesus was asked by the religious leaders with what authority he was doing those things. Posing a counter question Jesus said, “I also will ask you a question; and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from Men?” And Matthew notes  that they deliberated among themselves and decided not to answer  as they knew well, if they answered ‘from heaven, that would bring the question, ‘then why they did not believe him’ and if they answered ‘from men’ that would invite the wrath of the common people who held John as a prophet. And so cowardly they said, “We do not know.” Jesus did not say that he did not have the answer to their question, but straight away answered, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.” Some pretend to be ignorant about the matters they know and some say they do not wish to answer, because they fear truth or have hidden vested interests. Jesus knew when to speak and when to be silent and both required courage and conviction.

 

The ceremonies of the day remind us of the Ark of the Covenant, symbolizing the presence of God, being carried into the temple celebrating the kingship of the Lord God as we find in psalm twenty-four. God is the creator and the sustainer of everything and so also the eternal king. The people celebrate and accept his eternal kingship and solemnly receive him into the temple (Ps 24:7-10).This ritual which begins with the evening prayers on Saturday is well solemnised on Oshana Sunday in the Syro-Malabar Church. Many of the prayers point to the fact that the prophecies have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus. The evening prayers remind us how Zion, now the church which is shown as the bride waiting for Jesus the royal bridegroom. We also sing about the different attitudes and reactions of the people at the coming of Jesus into the city in the first anthem,

Through those children, Lord, You showed
To the Hebrews and the nations,
Who You really are, although
Some believed, but some refused.
Make us worthy, then, with them
To cry out to You with love!
Oshana in the highest!
Glory to You, Our Lord!

 

With the palm leaves blessed outside the Church, the community and the celebrants move in procession to the main entrance of the church and knocks at the closed door and sing, “Lift up your heads O gates! Doors! that the king of glory may come in” (Ps 24:7). And a choir responds from inside ask in song “Who is the king of glory?” Again there is the declaration, “The Lord of hosts, he is the king of glory” (v.10). It reminds us of the Ark of the Covenant which represented the presence of God as king and was celebrated by the Hebrews. The Homiletic Hymn in the Night Liturgy beautifully refers to it and applies it to Jesus. We do the same with Jesus in whom everything was created (Col 1:15f.) and who is the king of kings (Rev 19:16). And now comes the decisive question for us all, ‘who is Jesus the anointed for us, for me personally.’ He is a great prophet, great teacher, and above all, he is our brother, our God and saviour, in him and in him alone we find meaning and fulfilment in life. Is it a deciding truth in my life? Jesus is also the suffering messiah who ever sought on earth the will of his Father which was one overshadowed by the cross; through suffering he entered into glory. 

 

We live, suffer and die with Jesus, we shall also rise with him in glory and we shall ever sing oshana (glory) and hallelujah, rejoice in the Lord/ praise the Lord. Many of those who welcomed Jesus with the olive branches and ‘oshanas’ on his royal entry into the holy city  were not found with him when he moved to Calvary as a criminal carrying the cross, despised and abhorred by all except a few women. In our time of power, position and glory people gather around us praising and honouring us to the skies and the same people may be far off from us when we need someone badly. Let us not be puffed up when people praise us or be disheartened and put down when people humiliate and dishonour us.  If we are with Jesus in his moment of humiliation and suffering, we shall be also with him in his moment of glorification. It is not a simple question of welcoming Jesus once into our hearts; it is life-long process that culminates in the last meeting when he comes in the fullness of his glory to judge the living and the dead.  Hence we have the recitation of a few lines from psalm 118: 1-8 (Ps 119 in the Hebrew Bible) in the Noon liturgy. Here, we are told that we shall be blameless and be blessed by God if we walk following his instructions. His ways will keep us from wrong ways; his precepts are to be kept diligently. The psalmist wishes that his ways be steadfast in the statutes of the Lord. If one’s eyes are fixed on the words of the Lord, one will have no reason for being ashamed.  A young man keeps his heart pure by guarding the word of the Lord. One wants to learn the word and proclaim it by mouth and action. The word shall be the object of one’s meditation and delight and has to live by it. This sort of life will make us ever open to Jesus who knocks at the heart of every human person wherein he is to reign as king. In the morning liturgy of the Eucharist we have the ‘Sealing Prayer, Huttamma’:  
As You climbed Jerusalem
And cleansed Your temple, Lord,
so today make us Your own,
Cleanse our hearts and dwell in them….Amen.

 

References

 

1. All references are to the Liturgical Hours are to  Passion Week and Easter Sunday, compiled and edited by V. Pathikulanga, Denha Services, Kottayam, 1999. We have made some minor adjustments in the translations. Here P.64.

2. Passion Week, P.66.

3. Passion Week, p.76, 80.

4. Probably ‘Oshana’ as in Aramaic, which could be taken as a word of greeting or welcome.

5. Parts of this psalm, which is a meditation on the ‘instruction’ or word of God, is recited or sung during the passion week.

6. Royal Anthem of the Evening Prayer,  Passion Week, P.69, The Night Anthem,  Passion Week, P.76 etc.,

7. This is a symbolism very biblical and often found in Syriac tradition.

8. Passion Week, P.66.

9. Passion Week, P.84.Pas

10. Passion Week, P.105-106.

 

Father George Kaniarakath, CMI

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