This weekend observes Palm Sunday, recalling with such great reverence the Lord’s traditional entry into Jerusalem, beginning the drama and depth of Holy Week.
The liturgy includes two readings from the Gospels. The first occurs at the blessing of the palms and as the procession of the faithful bearing the palms assembles. It reveals both the Lord’s divine power, seen through the knowledge that an ass and colt are in the village ahead, and the Lord’s mission as Messiah. He is approaching Jerusalem, more than just a city in pious Jewish minds, but the holy place in which God’s temple stands, where David once reigned as king, and where the prophets spoke in the name of God. It was, as it is, the center of Jewish faith and worship. It was to be the site of the culmination of the Lord’s mission.
The crowd proclaims the Lord as “Son of David.” They greet the Messiah as their own legitimate King, David’s heir, not the detested Roman emperor.
For its next reading, the Church gives us a passage from the third part of Isaiah, one of those eloquent and expressive sections of Isaiah called by biblical scholars the “Songs of the Suffering Servants.” Poetic and descriptive, these four songs laud an unflinchingly faithful servant of God, who despite abuse and persecution remains steadfastly loyal. Christians always have seen Jesus prefigured in these beautiful poems.
In the next reading, from the Epistle to the Philippians, the stress again is on Jesus and again in the literary genre of poetry. Experts now believe, in fact, that this passage was an early Christian liturgical hymn. Its deep understanding of the person and place of Christ is both clear and compelling.
Finally, the liturgy presents the Passion Narrative of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Matthew’s presentation of Jesus, even in the horrifying circumstances of the Passion, conveys powerful lessons.
First, even at this time, Jesus is the Christ. Far from being overwhelmed and helpless, the Lord is majestic and in control. He is the victim but a victim completely complying in free will and committed to the Savior’s mission.
While the Apostles do not come across as heroic in their loyalty, to say the least, Jesus never repudiates them. He called them. Despite their fear and cowardice, especially in Peter’s case, their call endures. Thus it is for all called to discipleship. Believers sin and fall. However, they can return. Their vocation is not canceled, at least not by the Lord.
Finally, all the intrigue, conspiracy and prejudice that surrounded Jesus fall away before the fact that the Lord triumphs. He is always in control.
Matthew’s Passion Narrative is the centerpiece of this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word. It is easy to lose its deep meaning by concentrating on the awfulness of all that was brought to bear upon Jesus.
Certainly the treachery and cruelty cannot be dismissed or understated. These elements underscore the evil that genuinely exists in the world, and that overtakes many people.
In a week the Church will celebrate Easter. Jesus rose. However, even in the dark hours of Good Friday, the Lord was almighty and victorious. Nothing then occurred without ultimately lending itself to the fulfillment of the divine plan of salvation.
The praise of the people who acclaimed Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem does not illustrate fickleness just on their part. We all are fickle.
Yet, the reading from Philippians illustrates not only that Jesus is Lord, but that we can be good disciples, even if we fall. Christ awaits us with forgiveness. No sin breaks our relationship with God, unless we choose to reject God ultimately and finally. The Lord, living and victorious, always offers us mercy, if simply we ask.
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