“The simple people believed Him in every respect, and did not keep their faith quiet, but began to preach His divinity by deeds and words”

The miracle performed on Lazarus openly proved the one who did it to be God. But whereas the people were convinced and believed, the rulers at that time, that is to say, the scribes and Pharisees, were so far from being persuaded that they raged against Him even more, and resolved in their madness to hand Him over to death, although everything He had said and done plainly declared Him to be the Lord of life and death. No one can say that the fact that the Lord lifted up His eyes at that time and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me, was an obstacle to their regarding Him as equal to the Father, since He went on to say, I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they might believe that thou hast sent me (Jn. 11:41-42). So that they might know He was God and came from the Father, and also that He did not work miracles in opposition to God, but in accordance with God’s purpose, He lifted up His eyes to God in front of everybody and spoke to Him in words which make it clear that He who was speaking on earth was equal to the heavenly Father on high. In the beginning when man was to be formed, there was a Counsel beforehand. So now also, in the case of Lazarus, when a man was to be formed anew, there was a Counsel first. When man was to be created the Father said to the Son, Let us make man (Gen. 1:26), the Son listened to the Father, and man was brought into being. Now, by contrast, the Father listened to the Son speaking, and Lazarus was brought to life.

Notice that the Father and the Son are of equal honor and have the same will. The words are in the form of a prayer for the sake of the crowd standing by, but they are not the words of prayer but of lordship and absolute authority. Lazarus come forth (Jn. 11.43). And at once the man who had been dead four days stood before Him alive. Did this come about by the command of the life-giver or His prayer? He cried with a loud voice, again on account of the bystanders, since He could have raised him not only by using His normal voice, but just by His will alone. In the same way, He could have done it from afar and with the stone in place. But instead He came to the grave and spoke to those present, who took away the stone and smelt the stench. Then He cried with a loud voice. He raised him in this manner so that by means of their sight (for they saw Him standing at the grave), their sense of smell (for they were aware of the stench of the man four days dead), their sense of touch (for they used their own hands to take away the stone beforehand from the grave, and afterwards to loose the grave-clothes from his body and the napkin from his face), and their hearing (for the Lord’s voice reached the ears of all), they all might understand and believe that it was He who called everything from non-being into being, who upheld all things by the word of His power, and who in the beginning by His word alone made everything that exists out of nothing.

The simple people believed Him in every respect, and did not keep their faith quiet, but began to preach His divinity by deeds and words. After the raising of Lazarus on the fourth day, the Lord found an ass, and, when His disciples had made it ready, as the evangelist Matthew tells us (Mt. 21:1-11), He sat upon it and entered Jerusalem, as had been foretold in Zechariah’s prophecy: Do not fear, O daughter of Zion: behold thy king cometh unto thee: he is just and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass (Zech. 9:9; Mt. 21:5). The prophet shows by these words that this king in the prophecy is the only true king of Zion. “Your king,” he says, “does not arouse fear in those who see him. Nor is he an oppressor or an evildoer accompanied by shield-bearers and spear men, trailing behind him a host of foot-soldiers and cavalry, passing his life in greed for gain, demanding taxes and tributes, and unpleasant and harmful labors and services. By contrast, His banner is humility, poverty and lowliness, and He enters mounted upon an ass, without any human pretensions at all. He is the only righteous King who righteously saves. He is meek, and meekness is His distinctive work.” The Lord said of Himself, Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart (Mt. 11:29).

So the King who had raised Lazarus from the dead entered Jerusalem sitting upon an ass. Everyone, children, men, old people, immediately spread their garments in the way. They took palm-branches, which are symbols of victory, and went to meet Him as the life-giver and victor over death. They fell at His feet and escorted Him in procession, singing together, not just outside but also inside the precincts of the Temple, Hosanna to the Son of David, Hosanna in the highest (Mt. 21:9). “Hosanna” is a song of praise directed to God, which means, “Save us.” The additional words “in the highest” show that He is not only praised on earth, nor only by men, but also by the heavenly angels on high.

The people not only sang His praises and called Him God, but they subsequently opposed the scribes and Pharisees’ evil purpose against God and their murderous allegations. For the latter were mad enough to say of Him, “This man is not of God, and since he doeth many miracles, if we let him thus alone and do not put him to death, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation” (compare Jn. 9:16 and 11:47-48). But what did the people say? Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh (Mk. 11:9-10). By saying, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord,” they showed that He was from God the Father and that He came in the name of the Father. As the Lord said of Himself, I came in the name of my Father (compare Jn. 5:43) and I proceeded forth and came from God (Jn. 8:42). On the other hand, by saying, “Blessed be the kingdom of our father David that cometh,” they showed that this was the kingdom in which, according to prophecy, the Gentiles too, and indeed the Romans, were to believe. For this king was not just Israel’s hope, but also the expectation of the Gentiles, according to Jacob’s prophecy: Binding his foal unto the vine, where “foal” refers to the Jewish people who were subject to Him, and his ass’s colt unto the branch of the vine (Gen. 49:11). The branch of the vine is the Lord’s disciples, for the Lord said to them, I am the vine, ye are the branches (Jn. 15.5). By this branch, the Lord binds to Himself His “ass’s colt,” namely the New Israel of the Gentiles, who become sons of Abraham by grace. If, asked the people, this kingdom in which we have put our faith is the hope of the Gentiles too, why should we fear the Romans?

St Gregory Palamas

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