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Your king is coming to you, humble…

For Palm Sunday, our reflection is written by Br Alain Ragneneau, who lives in Kangemi, a poor neighbourhood outside Nairobi, Kenya, and who worked for many years with the parish AIDS programme there.

Today Jesus is entering Jerusalem accompanying by rejoicing crowds.

This beautiful Gospel passage (Mt 21; 1- 11) reminds me of an impressive liturgy celebrated a few months ago, in the cathedral of Nairobi. The Cardinal, preceded by 50 priests, proceeded in dignified manner down the main aisle, gravely blessing 1800 religious who were bowing in reverence. The Cardinal dispensed incense abundantly while the young assembly sang joyfully to the rhythm of the tamtams. All the young people were happy to gather around their bishop to celebrate together this consecration that gave meaning to their life. A positive sign, according to Dorothy Day, who once said: “You will know your vocation from the joy it gives you.” As the Eucharistic liturgy continued, the prophetic words of our pope resonated in me, to “go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.”

Today, Jesus is coming from Beth-phagé, the house where he was given figs, where they immediately gave him a donkey. He will sleep in Bethany, at his great friend, Lazarus, who according to Jean Vanier must have had a disability, because he never talked. In the city, a different welcome awaits. For the first time, Jesus presents himself as ‘Lord’ and ‘king’ but mounted on ‘a beast of burden’ and ‘full of meekness’. With the arrival of the ‘prophet Jesus, of Nazareth in Galilee’, all the city of Jerusalem ‘was full of turmoil’. If Nazareth represents the periphery, with villagers uneducated but connected, with ‘liturgies without priests’ but attentive to the Word, then Jerusalem is the centre, with its Temple, its priests who alone can enter the Holy of Holies, its doctors of the Law with their obligations and exclusions, and with the Roman Power for whom religion matters little, but for whom Order is paramount. And, rightly, the meek king comes to change this order. He enters the Temple and throws out the traders and the money changers (v.13). In his Kingdom, the order is different, ‘blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth.’ The word ‘meek’ has also been translated as the ‘powerless’, the ‘little people’, the ‘oppressed’, the ‘humble’, the ‘non-violent’, the ‘gentle-men’, the ‘poor in spirit’. Immediately, Jesus allows those forbidden to enter the Temple to come to him: “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them.”  (v.14)

In all the peripheries of our society, I have met those who celebrated with the Cardinal that day: active in programmes for the sick, for refugees, for prisoners, for victims of drugs and prostitution, and for those living with disabilities. The day after this big meeting, I participated in a daily ‘adoration’ with people who live on the streets. I meet them regularly in my neighbourhood, carrying big bags where they collect bottles and plastics. People avoid them and even dogs chase them away (Ps 22:17).  

Some 50 adults entered noisily into the chapel, greeting one another. Their faded clothes carried a strong smell, their shoes (for those who had them) were torn, dusty and ill-matched. The singing was not as melodious but nonetheless as joyful as what I’d heard the day before. The tamtam drummer raised his middle finger (not a very liturgical gesture) at a singer who was failing to follow the rhythm. And two strong women passed among the people to sit between two neighbours who had become too aggressive or to delicately lift someone who had laid down in the aisle.

Some words were said about the Gospel: “Don’t listen to other voices other than that of your Father who tells you, ‘You are my beloved Child.’ Then, to my great surprise, everyone stayed in silence for a good 20 minutes, in an atmosphere of recollection. We went towards the altar where the priest blessed us with the monstrance, slowly, with great ceremony, with great attention for each one, men with elderly faces, skinny women, and three or four children born in the basement of history and grown up near dustbins. Some seemed to be fascinated by Jesus in the Eucharist who was whispering to them: “I am meek and humble of heart and I will console you, I will be with you in your solitude.” As an offering, they brought what they had with them: bottles of glue that they inhaled to bear the pain of their daily life, a strong smell that expressed the cry of the poor.

After the prayer, as happened every evening, food was distributed and medical care dispensed; those who are living with HIV urgently need more food. But wasn’t the most precious thing to hear what God had to say to them? “I love you as if you were the only human beings on the earth… I love you, this is why I hung on a cross for you. You count for me, you, you, and you: I know you by name.” (Mgr Desmond Tutu to the Nicaraguans).

Today we welcome in our churches ‘the king full of meekness’. Can people from the street, those who are marginalised, also enter without fear of being pushed aside?

Even in the peripheries, there are those who are marginalised by others. Among those living with HIV, who are the ones whom our programmes struggle to reach?

May the humble Nazarene open for us ways that lead us to them.


To read this reflection in French: Ton roi vient vers toi plein de douceur

Reflection for fifth Sunday of Lent: Life in the spirit

Reflection for fourth Sunday of Lent: Live as children of the light

Reflection for third Sunday of Lent: It all starts with a conversation

Reflection for second Sunday of Lent: Joyful transformation in AIDS ministry

Reflection for first Sunday of Lent: Come back to me with all your heart

Reflection for Ash Wednesday: Making choices with Christ


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