Saturday, April 08, 2017

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Catechism Links[1]
CCC 557-560: Christ’s entry into Jerusalem
CCC 602-618: The Passion of Christ
CCC 2816: Christ’s kingship gained through his death and Resurrection
CCC 654, 1067-1068, 1085,1362: The Paschal Mystery and the liturgy

“Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem 
by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1814-20
At the Procession with Palms

Gospel: Matthew 21:1-11
Commentary on Mt 21:1-11
In this selection, Jesus is coming back to Jerusalem. The focus in St. Matthew’s Gospel is that Jesus came in fulfillment of scriptures. In spite of the fact that the cheering crowds must expect the “Royal Messiah” who comes according to the line of David, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” we see the author quoting two distinct Old Testament prophecies: Isaiah 62:11 (Say to daughter Zion), and Zechariah 9:9. The true stature of the Lord is meant to correct the misunderstanding of the crowd as he reminds his Christian audience: “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” The king the Jews expected would have been riding in a royal chariot.
CCC: Mt 21:1-11 559; Mt 21:9 439
At the Mass
Reading I: Isaiah 50:4-7
Commentary on Is 50:4-7
This is the third of four “Servant of the Lord” oracles in Isaiah. God chastises the people for not following the servant who willingly accepts God’s service and even the contempt of the people. The image of humble service is frequently associated with the suffering servant, prophetic of Christ.
“The poem is neatly constructed in three stanzas, each beginning with the words, ‘The Lord God’ (vv. 4, 5, 7), and it has a conclusion containing that same wording (v. 9). The first stanza emphasizes the servant’s docility to the word of God; that is, he is not depicted as a self-taught teacher with original ideas, but as an obedient disciple. The second (vv. 5-6) speaks of the suffering that that docility has brought him, without his uttering a word of complaint. The third (vv. 7-8) shows how determined the servant is: if he suffers in silence, it is not out of cowardice but because God helps him and makes him stronger than his persecutors. The conclusion (v. 9) is like the verdict of a trial: when all is said and done, the servant will stand tall, and all his enemies will be struck down.”[5]
CCC: Is 50:4-10 713; Is 50:4 141
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
R. (2a) My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
The personal lament in Psalm 22 echoes the abuse and ridicule heaped on God’s servants and the faithful. This selection goes further, prophetically describing the Passion of the Lord (“…They have pierced my hands and my feet” and “They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.”)
CCC: Ps 22 304
Reading II: Philippians 2:6-11
Commentary on Phil 2:6-11
This passage from Philippians is known as the Kenotic Hymn, the song of emptying.  Christ empties himself of the complete divinity that is his essence and accepts the human condition.  As true man he suffers the ultimate humiliation of death (on the cross).  The second section of the hymn focuses on God’s resulting actions of exaltation.  The Christian sings of God’s great glory in Christ, proclaiming him Lord and Savior. As part of St. Paul’s instructive letters, this is clearly to be used as a liturgical prayer or song. In the context of the Lord’s passion and resurrection, it provides a counterpoint to the elevated status of Jesus revealed as the Messiah – the Only Begotten Son of God.  The attitude of Christ is one of humility.
CCC: Phil 2:6-11 2641, 2667; Phil 2:6 449; Phil 2:7 472, 602, 705, 713,876, 1224; Phil 2:8-9 908; Phil 2:8 411, 612, 623; Phil 2:9-11 449, 2812; Phil 2:9-10 434; Phil 2:10-11 201; Phil 2:10 633, 635
Longer Form: Matthew 26:14—27:66
Commentary on Mt 26:14—27:66
The passion according to St. Matthew recounts the “Last Supper,” the “Prayer in the Garden,” and Jesus' arrest, trial, conviction, execution, death and burial. (See also commentary on Luke 22:14 – 23:56)
Judas’ Betrayal Mt 26:14-25 
This section begins with Judas striking the bargain with members of the Sanhedrin. The thirty pieces of silver is reminiscent of the price paid for the shepherd of the flock to be slaughtered in Zechariah (Zechariah 11:12). The event is followed by Matthew’s account of the selection of the place for the Last Supper. Jesus again tells the disciples that one of them will betray him. This time Judas, who has already committed to betray Jesus, compounds his sin as he answers, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
The Lord’s Supper Mt 26: 26-30  
St. Matthew’s account of the consecration is very close to that used in the Gospel of St. Mark  and has some differences from the Pauline-Lucan formula (1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 22:19-20) “This short scene, covered also in Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:19-20 and 1 Corinthians 11:23-26, contains the essential truths of faith about the sublime mystery of the Eucharist--1) the institution of this sacrament and Jesus' real presence in it; 2) the institution of the Christian priesthood; and 3) the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the New Testament or the Holy Mass.”[6]
“Matthew's Last Supper account highlights three aspects of the Eucharist (CCC 1339-40). (1) Jesus identifies the unleavened bread and the chalice with his body and blood (Mt 26:-28). Through his spoken words the mystery of "transubstantiation" takes place. His body and blood replace the entire substance of the bread and wine.  Although his presence remains undetected by the senses, the force of the verb "is" (Gk. estin) should not be reduced to "represents" or "symbolizes". The Church's faith rests entirely on Jesus' solemn words (cf John6:68; 2Corinthians 5:7). (2) Jesus links the Eucharist with his forthcoming sacrifice on the Cross (27-35, John19:34). The expression 'poured out' (26:28) recalls how Old Covenant priests poured the blood of sacrificial offerings at the base of the Temple's altar to make atonement for sin (Leviticus4:16-20; cf Deuteronomy 12:26, 27; Isaiah53:12). Shedding his own blood, Jesus is both the high priest and the sacrificial victim of the New Covenant; his priestly offering is present in an unbloody manner in the sacrament and secures for us the forgiveness of sins. (3) Christ's presence in the Eucharist makes the sacrament a true communion with Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:16). The phrase 'blood of the covenant' is drawn from Exodus24:8, where God entered a covenant of love and communion with Israel through sacrifice. The consumption of blood - always forbidden under the Old Covenant (Leviticus17:11-12) - is now enjoined in the New, since it communicates Christ's divine life to the believer (John6:53; CCC 1329,1374,1381).[7]
Following the Lord’s Supper, Jesus and the disciples go to the Mt. of Olives.  Along the way Jesus prophetically tells his closest friends that their faith will soon be tested and they will all run away in fear. He does this using a citation from the Book of the Prophet Zechariah (Zechariah13:7).  Peter’s profession of faith is refuted by the Lord, again predicting his three-fold denial of the Lord: “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.’” (which will be reversed by his three-fold profession of faith on the shores of Sea of Tiberias (John21:15ff).
Gethsemane Mt26:36-46
Jesus and his disciples’ time in the garden at Gethsemane (translated literally meaning “oil press”) is broken into Jesus’ passionate prayer to his Father, and his arrest.
The Lord invites Peter, James and John to join him.  This is the third time they have been selected.  The first was when they witnessed the Lord raise the daughter of Jairus (Mark5:37) and the second at the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1). 
The Lord is fully man and, as such, fears his coming ordeal.  His prayer reflects this fear: My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it,” but in the end, he conforms his will to his Father’s with: “your will be done!” Jesus places perfect trust in the Father (Philippians2:8; Hebrews5:7).
Jesus’ Arrest Mt 26:47-56
Jesus has finished his passionate prayer.  He is just finished chastising his friends for not having the strength to stay awake when Judas ("my betrayer") approaches with a large group, probably temple guards since we are told they were sent by "the chief priests and elders of the people."
In a greeting typical of one between friends and frequently accompanied by "Shalom" (peace), Judas identifies Jesus to those who will arrest him.  In Matthew's Gospel we are told this was a prearranged signal. Unlike Luke's account, Jesus does not express knowledge of this fact.
Jesus is seized by the guards, and one of the disciples (Peter- John 18:10 ) strikes the high priest's servant (Malchus also from John's Gospel).  This is a likely response to a part of the Lord's discourse at the Last Supper captured in Luke 22:35-38 in which the Lord predicts the coming conflict, specifically telling the disciples (in metaphor) to arm themselves with swords. While no mention is made of Jesus healing the servant with a touch (Luke 22:51), here the Lord rebukes those who would defend him, telling them that he is fully capable of calling on heavenly powers to rescue him if it were not the will of his Heavenly Father and to fulfill prophetic scripture. The passage concludes with Jesus pointing out that this deed (his arrest) was predicted *(Isaiah 53:8ff)
The Trials Mt26:57-73; 27:1-33
The real trial by the Sanhedrin (“entire Sanhedrin” 71) plays out in fulfillment of scripture.  Various charges are laid against Jesus and his prophetic words are taken out of context and used against him.
“26:64 You have said so: Jesus breaks silence under oath. According to Mark14:62, Jesus' response to Caiaphas is unambiguous: he accepts fully the charge to be Israel's divine Messiah and king. But I tell you: Jesus appears to be the victim, but he claims to be the victor. Drawing from two OT texts (Psalm110:1 and Daniel7:13), Jesus anticipates his vindication by God. In context, Psalm 110 and Daniel 7 share common images. Both envision a heavenly throne room in God's presence (Psalm 110:1; Daniel 7:9); both depict a royal Messiah who reigns with God (Psalm110:1; Daniel7:14); and both present this figure triumphing over his enemies (Psalm110:2, 5-6; Daniel7:23-27). Jesus here weaves these texts into a self-portrait: he is the royal Son of man soon to be vindicated over his enemies and enthroned at God's right hand. By contrast, the high priest and the council are cast as the Messiah's adversaries seeking his death. Caiaphas in particular is toppled from his high position. As Israel's head representative, he is the only person permitted to enter the Temple's innermost chamber. Jesus claims something still greater for himself: as Messiah, he is now the true head of faithful Israel in the Church and will assume his throne in the inner shrine of God's heavenly presence at his Ascension (Mark16:19; CCC 663-64)."[8]
The trial before Pilate is clearly superficial. Pilate does not want to condemn Jesus.  He seeks to have Barabbas take his place but the Sanhedrin intimidates the crowd to call for Jesus’ death. Pilate, likely not the sentimental leader portrayed in the Gospel, agrees.
Crucifixion Mt 27:33-50
The crucifixion and death of Jesus on the cross is recorded by Matthew. The Way of the Cross described in Luke's Gospel (Luke 23:26ff) leads Jesus to Golgotha "The Place of the Skull." (The later term Calvary comes from the Latin word for skull –calvaria.) The guards attempt to drug Jesus with gall (fulfilling yet another piece of prophecy - Psalm 69:22) but he refuses. The scene plays out as the guards, having crucified Jesus; now cast lots for his clothing, once more recalling the prophetic song of David in Psalm 22:19.
Ironically the charge against Jesus, inscribed on a sign attached to his cross correctly identifies the Lord as Christ the King.  Once more recalling Isaiah 53 "...smitten for the sin of his people, a grave was assigned him among the wicked," Jesus is joined by two others, condemned criminals.  Even these joined passersby and members of the Sanhedrin in mocking the Lord as he hung upon the cross.
Matthew records Jesus calling out his final plea quoting the opening line of Psalm 22. Those attending misunderstood his passion as a call for Elijah to come to his aid. He called out loudly once more and gave up his spirit.
Burial Mt27:62-66
The details related about the nature of Jesus’ tomb and the measures taken to secure it became factors in the acceptance by many converts to Jesus' resurrection.
CCC: Mt 26:17-29 1339; Mt 26:20 610; Mt 26:26 1328, 1329; Mt 26:28 545, 610, 613, 1365, 1846, 2839; Mt 6:29 1403; Mt 26:31 764; Mt 26:36-44 2849; Mt 26:38 363; Mt 26:39 536, 612; Mt 26:40 2719; Mt 26:41 2733, 2846; Mt 26:42 612; Mt 26:52 2262; Mt 26:53 333, 609; Mt 26:54 600; Mt 26:64-66 591; Mt 26:64 443; Mt 26:66 596; Mt 27:25 597; Mt 27:39-40 585; Mt 27:48 515; Mt 27:51 586; Mt 27:52-53 633; Mt 27:54 441; Mt 27:56 500
Shorter Form: Matthew 27:11-54
Commentary on Mt 27:11-54
This shorter form of the Passion Narrative omits the events leading up to Jesus’ arrest and begins after the Sanhedrin has already sent him to Pilate so the Roman Governor could be encouraged to execute him (something the Sanhedrin was unwilling to do, claiming that Roman authority precluded them from exacting this punishment).  We note that no such prohibition was mentioned at the stoning of St. Stephen (Acts 7:51ff), presumably under the same government.  We must therefore infer from the narrative that the Sanhedrin acted in this way because there was no popular support for stoning Jesus for his supposed blasphemy in claiming the Messianic mantle. 
CCC: Mt 27:25 597; Mt 27:39-40 585; Mt 27:48 515; Mt 27:51 586; Mt 27:52-53 633; Mt 27:54 441
There is a general rule that the Homily on Palm Sunday be focused on the first Gospel reading from Matthew that tells the story of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem Like the light bulb that flashes brilliantly just before it is extinguished, the Lord enters the holy city on the eve of the great feast of Passover to the cheers, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is the he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”  It is a prayer, this cry of the people. 
And why, we ask, should they not pray?  Jesus would be, by this time, well known to them.  He had been seen performing “signs,” and rumor must have reached them of even greater works attributed to him; feeding the multitudes, casting out demons of every sort.  Here at last was one who preached peace and liberation.  Here was the Messiah who would end their servitude and cast out the Romans. This Jesus was Moses reincarnated, who would lead them out of slavery, rolled up with King David who would return them to “world power and great nation” status they had enjoyed when he was king.
The parts they probably had not heard were his attitude toward his fellow creatures.  They must not have been familiar with the person of Jesus, only his reputation.  Is it any wonder then when their religious leaders brought charges of blasphemy against him, and the story of how he had submitted humbly to them reached the people, they would turn against him?  Is it surprising that, when their hopes were dashed after cheering his entry to the city that they would condemn him and free Barabbas?
Don’t we do the same thing when God does not perform according to our desires?  Don’t we, even fleetingly, cry to God saying, “It’s not fair, why do you abandon me?”  Can we really blame the crowd in Jerusalem for their ignorance?  This is our lesson, the one played out in the Blood of the Lamb.  Rather than weeping for our God who willingly went to his death that we might win life with him, we rejoice that one so great could love us so much.
As an additional resource for your spiritual growth we include this gem from the poet G.K. Chesterton (Thanks to Martin Kochanski of Universalis for reminding us).
The Donkey
When fishes flew and forests walked
  And figs grew upon thorn,
  Some moment when the moon was blood
  Then surely I was born.
With monstrous head and sickening cry
  And ears like errant wings,
  The devil’s walking parody
  On all four-footed things.
The tattered outlaw of the earth,
  Of ancient crooked will;
  Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
  I keep my secret still.
Fools! For I also had my hour;
  One far fierce hour and sweet:
  There was a shout about my ears,
  And palms before my feet.

[1] Catechism links are taken from the Homiletic Directory, Published by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 29 June 2014
[2] The picture used today is “Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem” by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1814-20
[5] The Navarre Bible: “Major Prophets”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp.223
[6] The Navarre Bible, “Gospels and Acts”, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, © 2002, pp. 196
[7] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp. 55
[8] Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, © 2010, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA. pp. 57

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