April 1, 2023 // Perspective
Look for the Deeper Meaning in the Passion Narrative
Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Palm Sunday) Matthew 26:14-27:66
This weekend observes Palm Sunday, recalling with such great reverence the Lord’s traditional entry into Jerusalem, beginning the drama of Holy Week.
The liturgy includes two readings from the Gospels. The first, occurring at the blessing of the palms, and as the procession of the faithful bearing the palms begins, reveals both the Lord’s divine power, seen through knowing that an ass and colt are in the village ahead, and the Lord’s mission as messiah. He was 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, and is, the center of Jewish faith and worship. It would be the site of the culmination of the Lord’s mission.
The crowd proclaimed the Lord as “son of David.” They greeted 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 biblical scholars call the “Songs of the Suffering Servants.” Poetic and descriptive, these four songs laud an unflinchingly faithful servant of God, who despite abuse and persecution remained steadfastly loyal. Christians always have seen Jesus prefigured in these beautiful poems.
In the next reading, from the Epistle to the Philippians, highlighted again is Jesus, 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 clear and compelling.
Finally, the Passion Narrative of St. Matthew gives a presentation of Jesus, in the horrifying circumstances of the Passion, and conveys powerful lessons.
Even at this fearful time, Jesus was the Christ. Far from being overwhelmed and helpless, the Lord was majestic and totally in control. He is the victim but a victim completely complying in free will, committed to the Savior’s mission.
While the Apostles do not come across as heroic in their loyalty, to say the least, Jesus never repudiated 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, but they can return. Sin cancels no vocation. The Lord’s call is forever.
Finally, all the intrigue, conspiracy, and prejudice that surrounded Jesus collapses before the fact that the Lord triumphed. He always reigns as King, the son of David.
Matthew’s Passion Narrative is the centerpiece of this weekend’s Liturgy of the Word. It is easy to lose its deeper meaning by being overwhelmed by the awfulness of all that was brought to bear upon Jesus.
Certainly, the treachery and cruelty cannot be dismissed or understated. These elements recall the evil in the world, then and now.
Jesus entered Jerusalem through a gate that some traditions said would receive the Messiah into the Holy City. Jesus died, rose, and promised to come again. One pagan overlord of the Holy Land ordered that the gate be eliminated, to prevent this predicted Second Coming. The gate today still is a solid wall.
Over the centuries, no blocked gates, no walls, no powerful ruler, have kept the Lord from entering human hearts yearning for hope and peace.
In twenty centuries, no one, or no philosophy, has equaled the Lord Jesus in bringing goodness to the world and hope to untold billions of people.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the Lord’s love for us, the salvation won in Jerusalem, and the gifts that Jesus so abundantly gives us.
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