Palm Sunday — a reflection on the pain of betrayal

Patricia Holbrook

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Patricia Holbrook

Historians offer us a glimpse of the appearance of Jerusalem and its vicinity at the time Jesus entered the city on “Palm Sunday.” It was Passover season, therefore open grounds and perhaps the side of every hill Jesus passed by on his way from Bethany were covered with tents and temporarily erected structures. Even early in the week, every available inn and house inside the city walls would have been full.

History is not left without certain data which give us a fair estimate of the actual number of people flooding Jerusalem for the most anticipated annual Jewish feast. According to the Roman historian Josephus, 256,500 lambs were sacrificed that year. Even at the very low estimate of 10 people to each lamb, the number of people assembled would have amounted to almost 2,700,000. That number does not even include the people who were present, but unable to be partakers in the sacrifice due to impurities ascribed by ceremonial laws.

Indeed, the astounding crowd represented nearly half of the population of Galilee and Judea. In other words, a large representation of the Jewish nation witnessed the popular, yet controversial prophet entering the capital, riding, not upon a war-horse, but on a donkey, which was a symbol of peace.

The men and women who followed Jesus and witnessed his many miracles recognized the incident as a fulfillment of messianic prophecy. They responded by reciting the famous words: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Shouts of joy echoed throughout the hills and valleys of Jerusalem in response to Jesus’ presentation of himself as king. However, as one studies the gospels, Jesus’ reaction as he saw the city from a distance looks nothing like the portray of a joyous king. Rather, according to Luke’s account in his gospel, when Jesus approached Jerusalem, where he would be crucified that Friday, he was moved to tears.

“He saw the city and wept over it,” Scripture says. He wept because the people received none of the spiritual blessings that he had come to offer and thus, judgment would come. While wailing in anguish, Christ delivered the prophecy concerning the destruction of his beautiful Jerusalem. The prophecy was fulfilled less than 40 years later, when the Romans besieged the city under the leadership of Tyrus, leveling buildings, the holy temple and most of the city wall. Over than 600,000 Jews died in the aftermath.

But I imagine Jesus’ sadness as he entered Jerusalem was also in response to a more personal understanding. He knew that the multitudes that waved palm leaves and praised God for the long-awaited Messiah would soon be shouting “Crucify him!”

Close friends — witnesses and recipients of many miracles, who feasted on the bread of life he offered — would soon desert, betray or deny him. And many of those who welcomed him would soon cast the votes which would send him to the cross.

The foreknowledge of the pain of betrayal by those he loved… Could that have been yet a deeper sorrow, hidden behind the tears shed by the Christ? Could the emotional pain be what pierced his heart deeper than the nails driven into his hands and feet?

I believe so. Anyone who has experienced severe physical pain, as well as deep emotional sorrow, understands this truth: Nothing hurts quite as deep as the pain of betrayal. Whether it is the betrayal of a spouse, friend, sibling or child, nothing hurts quite as much or leaves uglier scars.

The knife in our back, driven by someone whom we shared our deepest secrets with…

The physical or emotional abuse promulgated by the most unnatural source – a parent or a spouse…

Things that leave us with scars that never disappear, much like the ones the resurrected Savior showed his disciples on his nail-pierced hands.

And yet, as he hung on the cross, he cried: “Forgive them, Father. For they know not what they are doing.”

His heart released the betrayer, even before Judas kissed his cheek. His loving eyes reached Peter, even before the rooster crowed that third time.

And as Palm Sunday arrives tomorrow, and I gladly join the crowd singing Hosanna to my king, his tears on Jerusalem’s hilltop serve as a reminder that the Man of Sorrows understands each time our hearts are broken, and offers us the grace and strength to forgive those who hurt us, yet again.

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Patricia Holbrook is a columnist, author, blogger and international speaker. Find out about her upcoming Women’s Conference in Woodstock on April 27 at For speaking engagements and comments, email