Sunday Homily – April 5, 2020
Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (Passion Sunday) by Fr. Claude Perera
at the Procession with Palms: Matthew 21:1-11
Jesus entered Jerusalem as the crowd waved palm branches, shouting, “Hosanna!”
The Suffering Servant of the Lord will stand firm, even when persecuted.
A cry for help to the Lord in the face of evildoers
Christ was obedient even unto death, and therefore, God exalted him.
26:14—27:66 (shorter form: Matthew 27:11-54)
Jesus suffered, was crucified, and his body was placed in the tomb.
Today we begin Holy Week, the days during which we journey with Jesus on his way of the cross and we anticipate his Resurrection as the people gave him a royal welcome acclaiming him king or the son of David. Today’s liturgy begins with the procession with palms to remind us of Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. With Jesus the Son of Man, let us enter life’s Jerusalem carrying the crosses of the whole human race which is miserably confronting the Covid 19 pandemic.
The events of Jesus’ Passion are proclaimed in their entirety in today’s Liturgy of the Word. Those events will be celebrated at the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum, namely Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion, and the Easter Vigil. These liturgies take on a special significance because they invite the catechumens and the Christian community to enter the central mysteries of our faith, namely the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Hence, these days are indeed profoundly meaningful and holy.
The first reading of today contains the third song of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. In the second part of the Book of Isaiah (= Deutero Isaiah) there are four such songs of the Suffering Servant which will be used as our first reading during the Holy Week. They are the First Song of the Suffering Servant in Is 42:1-9 (on Monday), the Second Song in Is 49: 1-7 (on Tuesday), the Third Song in Is 50:4-9a (on Wednesday) and the Fourth Song in Is 52:13 – 53:12 (on Good Friday). This Suffering Servant is a prophet or even the entire community, being subdued to atrocious torture of a vicarious nature, i.e. suffering for others’ sake in order to atone for their sins. This OT type or figure prefigures the passion of Jesus and finds its highest realization in the passion of Jesus. So, Jesus is the real Suffering Servant of God in the NT. The first reading of today will be read on coming Wednesday also as the first reading. It speaks of how the Suffering Servant of the Lord meekly endures his ordeal. While enduring enormous sufferings inflicted on him, his mission was to comfort the demoralized and dejected exiles. Despite all his sufferings, he placed his trust in God who would vindicate him at the end. In the intimate union he had with God fostered by his persevering obedience, he learned to be a faithful listener and disciple everyday.
In our second reading today, St. Paul writing to the Philippians spoke of Jesus’ kenosis (meaning ‘emptying’). Although Jesus was the Son of God, he emptied himself or humbled himself like a slave to the lowest possible degree and submitted himself to the shameful death on the cross that God exalted him and gave him the highest glory. This humiliation was possible because of his filial obedience to the Father’s will.
In the Cycle A Sunday reading followed this year, on Palm (Passion) Sunday, we read the Passion of Jesus as found in the Gospel of Matthew. (On Good Friday, we shall read the Passion of Jesus according to the Gospel of John). In the Matthean Passion Narrative the focus falls on the obedience of Jesus to the will of his Father. While sending his disciples to prepare for Passover, he indicates in Matthew 26:18 that his time is near. This time which he refers to is the time of his death and glory as willed by his Father. At Gethsemane, he prays to the Father thrice asking him to take away the cup of suffering, but each time, Jesus does so by affirming his obedience to the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39-44).
Jesus as fulfilling the OT Scripture is an important theme in the Gospel of Matthew. Right through the Matthean Passion narrative, he quotes and alludes to Old Testament verses to show that the events of Jesus’ Passion and death accord with all that was foretold in the OT. It means that all what was happening to Jesus was in line with the divine plan and he was obeying God’s will. It shows that God is in full control of what was happening. Matthew takes extra care to show that Jesus is the Suffering Servant foretold in the Old Testament. Just as the agonies of the Suffering Servant were vicarious, so also Jesus’ passion was in view of forgiveness of our sins. That is why he says during the last supper, “. . . for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
Matthew attributes the responsibility for Jesus’ death on the Sanhedrin, the chief priests and elders. This reflects the life situation of tensions that existed between the Jews and Christians in the Matthean community. The Church teaches us that the evangelists were sometimes conditioned by the life situations that existed in their respective communities. However, Matthew’s placing of the responsibility of Jesus’ death is not to be interpreted as putting the blame on Jewish people alone for Jesus’ death. Second Vatican Council specifically maintained that all sinners share the responsibility for the suffering and death of Jesus and, therefore, it is wrong to put the blame for Jesus’ Passion exclusively on the Jewish contemporaries of Jesus or their descendants i.e. the Jewish people today. Besides, all these events had to necessarily take place in the unfolding of the divine plan of salvation.
We can easily identify ourselves with one or the other character in the passion drama. Sometimes, we are like Judas, who betrayed Jesus and later regretted. Sometimes, we are like Peter, who denied Jesus when he needed him the most. Sometimes, we are like the disciples, who could not stay awake with him at a time when his soul was deeply troubled in agony. Sometimes, we are like Simon of Cyrene, who was forced to help Jesus carry his cross. We are like the leaders who sought to kill Jesus who was a threat to their religious and social security or like Pontius Pilate, who washed his hands of the whole affair. So, because of our sins we too are responsible for his death.
As we contemplate on the events related to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus during this week, we are left with one final task—to change our sinful ways and seek forgiveness so that the redemption which Jesus’ obedience won for us becomes effective in our lives.