Palm and Passion Sunday : Year C.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Nobody Ever Loved As Much As He Did.”
For Jesus “to love” means, “to lower oneself”. He descended from his divine condition and became man, living with the poorest among people, reaching all the way down to the least of all.
This is the theme for the first and the second readings, also taken up in the Gospel, where Jesus recommends to his disciples not to seek the first places, but the last.
We say so often that we believe in him. But what does this mean? Does it mean that he is a real and an exceptional man? Yes, he was all this, but the atheists also say so. To have faith, as we learn from the readings of today, means to have courage to follow Jesus in his path that may require even the giving up of one’s life.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation, are from the published works of priests who have, by their Divine inspiration, become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word, we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Allow the Spirit of God to break the chains that keep us from understanding and accepting the word of God.”
The first reading is from one of the four ‘servant songs’ in the book of Isaiah, of which this passage is the third. In these songs Isaiah pictures the true role of Israel as one of redemptive suffering. “I was not rebellious,” the servant says. “I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard…. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced.”
The ‘suffering servant’ (Israel) is meant to conquer evil, not by force, but by loving patience under suffering, confident that in the end God will bring about success. In the first two, the call of the servant is benign and noble sounding. The servant of the Lord will bring forth justice as the world awaits his teaching. Called from birth to serve God, the servant is gentle, unwilling to break a bruised reed. He is a polished arrow in God’s quiver, a light to the nations.
But in the third song, the message turns darker. The servant speaks eloquently, but he is rejected. He does not turn back, even as he receives beatings, is spat upon, and humiliated. In the final oracle, death comes for the servant. The same kings stand speechless, not in honour this time but in horror. The servant is offered as a sacrifice for sin. He is buried in ignominy. Yet that is not all.
The servant will have his reward, and many will be blessed through his surrender. These four songs provide an unpopular sense of what God’s anointed one (Messiah) might do, and were therefore largely rejected by those who awaited redemption. But it is clear that Jesus looked into the portrait of the servant and recognized his own way.
The first Christians recognized that in Jesus the servant songs of Isaiah were fulfilled. Jesus is the true ‘Servant’, faithful to God, who has given up his life to deliver all people. God’s love was manifested through Jesus’ humiliation and death; such was the plan of God, a plan he had revealed through the prophets.
Whatever the significance of the four servant songs may be in their original context, Christian believers have seen them as referring to the suffering of Jesus (and, by implication, to the Christ-like suffering that goes with being a follower of Christ). It is for that reason that they are read on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of Holy Week, all four of them, each year.
They provide a modality in which Christian believers can look upon the sufferings of their Lord; a modality already prepared many centuries before the actual passion and death of Jesus. The use of a portion of the third song in the first reading for Palm/Passion Sunday is to provide a preview for the whole of Holy week. In these verses the Church invites us to recall the themes of the ministry of Christ, which we will encounter in the course of the days that lie ahead in Holy Week.
Jesus, condemned for his teaching, refusing to back away from his faithfulness to the Father, putting up with scorn, pain, and even death without complaint was finally brought to Resurrection in which all the dedication, faithfulness, and suffering are touched with the glory of a new life, a life that all those who open themselves to Christ are called to share in.
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24.
The Psalm, which we shall hear again in the coming week, is what Jesus may have been quoting on the Cross, for it begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Our portion of it concentrates largely on the unpleasantness, and only at the end do we discern a glimmer of hope: “I will proclaim your name to the brothers and sisters… let those who fear YHWH praise him”.
It is a song of the ‘innocent sufferer’. It supplements the ‘Servant Song’ and prepares for the Passion story. Jesus spoke its first words as his last (Mt. 27:46); he may have prayed the rest in silence as he died. Its’ descriptions of mocking bystanders and divided garments describe his sufferings. The ending, in which God is praised and the sufferer is vindicated, anticipates the glory of his Resurrection.
In the second reading, Paul uses an early Christian hymn to help the Philippians understand the truth about humility; and that everyone should give preference to others and not be pursuing their own selfish interests.
Jesus was made in the image of God (like Adam and all human beings), but unlike Adam and the rest of the world, “Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.” And for this, “God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.”
We, who do not empty ourselves, can only marvel at his example. We are invariably very full of our own activities, our self-interests, our plans and ourselves. From time to time something will empty us, one way or another, but we will not voluntarily give much away. But really, nothing is ours; our lives are full of people and things on which we have placed false values and great attachments.
The practice of ‘self-emptying’ may not be easy, but is the path down which all Christians must travel. We should be doing this in a particular way during this time, when we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ greatest humiliation (his death) and his greatest glorification (his Resurrection).
The Gospel of Palm and Passion Sunday is Luke’s version of how Jesus spent the last days of his earthly life. Jesus was arrested and tried; he was unjustly condemned, tortured and executed. Luke does not simply tell us what happened, he brings out the themes that have been important for him throughout his Gospel. Luke shows Jesus’ concern and compassion to all he meets on his road of suffering, from the officer who has his ear cut off to the thief on the Cross. Jesus’ Passion and death in Luke’s Gospel become a moving revelation of the never-ending mercy of the Father.
The story proclaims that Jesus is the Messiah and King of the Jews, Son of Man and Son of God. Jesus foretells his forthcoming death. He invites his friends to live a life of service to each other and to stop fighting for positions of honour and self-esteem. Luke weaves these typical elements of a farewell speech into the context of a farewell meal and so gives a very special meaning to the Eucharist. It is the total gift of Jesus to his disciples for all times.
Like at other moments of his life, what Jesus says with words he acts out with his very life. This final meal with his disciples is a tangible sign that in Jesus, God himself loves them and us. They are about to be entrusted with the most important expression of that love in his gift of his very self for them, the ‘Body and Blood of Christ’, the Eucharist.
Through the Passion story, Luke shows his readers how to follow Jesus, particularly in times of suffering. What Jesus always taught by words and action, he now keeps on doing in these last hours of extreme suffering. The whole Passion becomes one great act of love for all people. Physical suffering may dehumanize and deform the person but it can never destroy the person’s freedom in the heart to love others and do good. Luke is very careful not to give the impression that the Jewish people are responsible for the death of Jesus. They are shown as passive onlookers or as being manipulated by others. The group of people that Luke holds responsible for plotting to kill Jesus are the religious leaders. Their motives may have been mixed: preserving the traditional structures and their personal interests. They failed to see that in and through Jesus, God was doing something never done before.
As Christians, we learn the true spirituality of the Cross when we begin to make the transition from our own unfaithfulness, both great and small, into a life-giving awareness of God’s love for us and for the world. The Cross is life, and the ‘Way of the Cross’ is our spiritual journey. We must travel that way in order to pass from self-preoccupation to compassion, from helplessness to strength, from apathy to the unjust treatment of others to solidarity with the suffering people of our world. By our acceptance of the suffering that comes our way, and not running away from it, we will enter into our own inner depths and find compassion.
Just as Jesus promised a share in his Kingdom to the criminal on the cross, he will also share it with all who stand up for him as well as for the innocent in critical moments.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following Palm and Passion Sunday of Lent Year C, we reflect on …
Sun. … “The ‘Suffering Servant’ speaks eloquently, but he is rejected. He does not turn back, even as he receives his beatings, is spat upon and humiliated”. Jesus was condemned for his teachings. Do we, too, condemn him when his message of the ‘truth’ challenges and possibly offends us and expects us to turn our comfortable lives upside down for others?
Mon. … In the final oracle, death comes for the ‘Servant’. The ‘Servant’ is offered as a sacrifice for sin, our sin. The ‘Servant’ will have his reward by many being blessed through his surrender. Has God’s plan of salvation, revealed through the prophets, been accepted into our lives and into our hearts?
Tues. … Jesus’ refusal to back away from his faithfulness to the Father’s plan will be finally brought to ‘Resurrection’ with the glory of a new life, a life that all those who open themselves to Christ are called to share in. Will we die to ‘self and sin’ and rise to new life with the ‘Risen’ Lord?
Wed. … In Psalm 22, we hear the cry of anguish in ‘The Prayer of an Innocent Person’, to which the Psalm refers. God never forsakes us. It is ‘us’ who forsake God when we create idols in our lives, which take precedence over God’s will and when we reject his plan of salvation.
Thur. … Our lives are full of people and things we have placed false values on and have great attachments for. We seem to be totally consumed by our personal activities, our self-interests and our future plans for an easy life; in short, ‘It’s all about ourselves’. Paul, in today’s second reading, urges the Philippians and us to understand the truth about humility. Let us strive to give preference to others instead pursuing just our own selfish interests from now on. Let us always put God first in our lives, our neighbour second and ourselves last.
Frid. … In anticipation of his forthcoming death, Jesus invites his disciples (and all people) to live a life of service to each other and to stop fighting for positions of honour. This is the same message of humility and love for each other that Paul gives to his Philippians. At this final meal with his disciples, Jesus’ actions are a tangible sign that in Jesus, God himself loves them and us. We are entrusted with the most important expression of that love in the gift of his ‘Body and Blood’, the Eucharist. How much do we value that expression of his love?
Sat. … Sharing in the ‘Eucharistic Meal’ is sharing in Jesus’ death and a new life. Just as Jesus promised a share in his kingdom to the criminal on the Cross, he will also offer it to all who stand up for him and for the innocence and sufferings of others in critical moments. In sacrificing ourselves to God’s will, we will rise up with Jesus into ‘New Life’.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, may we, through Your grace and blessings, come to understand that for us, too, ‘to love’ means to lower ourselves and to put You first in our lives and all others ahead of our selfish whims and desires for self-fulfilment. We pray that You grant us the courage to follow Jesus in his ‘Way’ even if it requires great sacrifices and turning our lives upside down. May we continue to be blessed in sharing Your expression of love in the Eucharistic Feast by becoming ‘One’ with Christ.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.
Compliments: Bible Discussion Group. Our Lady of the Wayside, Maryvale.
“Discovering the Truth through God’s living Word”.