Palm & Passion Sunday – Year A.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Jesus Gives Up His Life”.
The evangelists are not reporting the Passion and Death of Jesus to move us. They are showing us Christ who freely gives up his life for love of all people. The first reading tells us what happens to each ‘servant’ who wants to be faithful to the mission that God has entrusted to him or her. The Gospel presents the only One who has fully realized in Himself the image of the
‘Suffering Servant’. The second reading describes the journey of this ‘Servant’: from the glory of the Father to the humiliation of Death on the Cross, and to the glorification of his Resurrection. This is also the course proposed to every Christian. Introductory Note: 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.
“In the Old Testament the ‘New’ is hidden.
In the New Testament the ‘Old’ is laid open”.
Isaiah 50: 4-7. One of the four ‘servant songs’ in the book of Isaiah; this song 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. 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. This passage reminds us of what Pilate’s soldiers did to Jesus (Mt 27:27-31). But we can also recognize in what happened to this “Servant” is the story of every person who wants to practice and proclaim truth and justice… Jesus is the true, the ideal Israelite, the new Abraham, the new Moses, the new Jeremiah, the founder of a whole new people whose suffering for the sake of others would bring them a new life and a new identity. Everything that we hear each year from the various proclamations of God’s Palm & Passion Sunday and throughout the rest of Holy Week are an exposition, a clarification, and a development of what we hear in this overture. 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). Its descriptions of mocking bystanders and divided garments describe his sufferings. The ending, in which God is praised and the sufferer is vindicated, anticipates Jesus’ Resurrection.
Philippians 2:6-11. The Christian community of Philippi was indeed faithful and Paul was proud of it; but a problem arose, something that happens even in the best communities today. Some Christians began to be envious of each other. Each thought he or she was more important or greater than the others. They wanted to exercise some ministry, which they believed would win them respect and honour. In other words all wanted to have some kind of authority over the others.
Paul uses an early Christian hymn to help the Philippians understand the truth about success. Jesus was made in the image of God (like Adam and all human beings), but unlike Adam and us, “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.”
Incarnation did not deprive Jesus of his divine nature, which becomes hidden under a humble appearance. He gave up making a name for himself. He did not see his own life as his own personal property to be spent to further his own interests, but he put it at the service of God and of others, renouncing every form of power and status. We must not be indifferent to the example of Jesus. We must let him penetrate deeply into our hearts, particularly during the days when we celebrate his most profound humiliation (His death on a Cross) and his greatest glorification (His Resurrection).
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66. Palm & Passion Sunday brings us to the last phase of our Lenten journey that we began on Ash Wednesday. The Passion story is probably the oldest part of Christian ‘oral tradition’ and the core of the Gospel. It is very similar in all four Gospels, although each Gospel writer tells the story in his own way. Jesus is not taken unawares by the Passion. He knows it will come as a result of his faithfulness to his mission. He is faithful to the end at the cost of his life. Today’s reading, from the Passion narrative in the Gospel of Matthew, tells us how Jesus accepted ‘Death on the Cross’. Jesus clearly teaches us through his Passion that true success comes from emptying ourselves of all pretensions to worldly greatness and devoting our lives to bring about God’s plan of love and justice for all humanity.
Such high devotion causes consternation to the vested interests of this world. They oppose it, even to a point of inflicting suffering and death on those who support God’s plans. Neither suffering nor death can thwart God’s purpose. Indeed, they become the very stuff of victory. They lead people to God as nothing else would. True success, then, comes from a type of failure – foolishness indeed to the world, but wisdom in the eyes of God.
Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s great plan of salvation for his people. It is not to say that every word and every detail of Scripture ally to him. Even Jesus’ death shows that God is so great that he brings good out of evil for those who reject him. As the proverb says, “God writes straight on a crooked line”. Our lives might seem full of the unimportant and the trivial. When we see the events of our life in the
light of faith we will discover how God is leading us through them. God’s plan unfolds slowly but surely. The physical sufferings of Jesus ended long ago, and they took place in a faraway country. It’s easy for us to therefore to distance ourselves from them. On the first day of Holy Week, the Lord is inviting us all to stand at the foot of the Cross and see there the crosses of all the world’s poor and suffering people. We see Jesus’ outstretched arms, reaching to embrace all of them. We see the Blood pouring from his Body, symbolizing his total giving of himself in an outpouring of infinite love and compassion. At the foot of the Cross we must learn love and practice compassion too. In these last weeks and hours of his life, Jesus learned what it meant to be fully human – to be sad, to be afraid, to ask for human companionship, to need friends and, because of that, his humanity has become for us the source of New Life. As long as we continue to hide our humanity from each other, we will continue acting as if we don’t need God and each other, and God will not be able to come into our hearts and become ‘one’ in us. Jesus lived from day to day in total dependence on his Father, and he wasn’t afraid to acknowledge his human needs. In the same way, it is only when we acknowledge our humanity – our pain, our fear, our loneliness, our need for love – it’s only then that God can touch us, and lift us up, and make us instruments of his compassion and healing love for each other and for our broken and violent world. We remember the death of Jesus not as an arbitrary, heedless act of violence; rather, we honour his death as the supreme act of love. The love of one who ‘did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself’ to become as we are; and as we are to show that in spite of our sins and stupidities, God loves us. Reading the ‘Passion Story’ draws our attention to the sufferings and the death of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Palm & Passion Sunday expresses his triumphant entry into Jerusalem and our singing of the Hosanna anticipates his Ascension into heaven. The events of this week form a story, which must be read on two levels: ‘Human Suffering’ and ‘Divine Triumph’. That is the heart of the Passion Story. All else is mere commentary.
Today’s Palms will be burnt later for next Lent’s ashes.
Repentance like our faith is an ongoing process.
‘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:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following
Palm and Passion Sunday Year A, we reflect on …
Sun. …The ‘suffering servant songs’ are poetic productions of extraordinary intensity. They speak of a unique Israelite, completely consecrated to God’s will who, though innocent, is called to suffer as part of his vocation. Some say it is the prophet Isaiah himself who is suffering rebuff from his own people. Others say that the servant is God’s people seen as a collective, who although pardoned of their sinfulness, are nonetheless called to suffer for the sake of others. Are we prepared to suffer for others for Jesus’ sake? Mon. …Whatever the significance of the ‘suffering servant songs’ may be in their original context, Christians 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). Tue. … The use of the third portion of the third song as the First Reading for Palm and Passion Sunday is to provide a preview for the whole of Holy Week. In these verses the Church invites us to recall the ministry of Christ, a ministry of teaching and giving comfort to the weary. Let us this week imitate Christ and from now on walk in his Way, in his Truth and the Life. Wed. …Paul burst forth with energetic enthusiasm in this Hymn to Christ. Jesus is humbled in this world to be exalted by the ‘One’ who sent him. So too are we called to humbly bend a knee in the exaltation of that proclamation that rings from here to eternity: Jesus Christ and none other is Lord. Thur. …All disciples come to this same dark night when our faith in the Lord is shaken. There may be spiritual earthquakes and explicit denials, troubling dreams and our choice of profitable betrayals. Or we may simply fall asleep when our presence is needed. Whatever our failings may have been, Jesus has asked the Father to forgive us. We in true contrition and repentance need to come to Jesus and open our hearts totally to him. Frid. …The night when our faith is shaken is the bleakest night our soul can know. The disciples survive it to become the apostles, turning shame of desertion into courage of martyrdom. The only one who is not transformed is the one who condemned himself for his failure, fearing God’s justice and forgetting God’s mercy and love. Sat. …Let us meditate on the question Pilate put to the crowds, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you, Jesus or Barabbus?” The only opinion poll in Scripture favoured the release of a criminal and the condemnation of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. We may even at times join with the crowds and call for Barabbus over Jesus when it suits our purposes. Truth is far too important to be left to polls and votes. By our Baptism Truth has been embedded into our hearts.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, when we come to our ‘Dark Night’ when our faith is also shaken, grant to us Your grace to always make the right choices. The right choice can only be the truth and to always do Your will however difficult it may be for us.
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”.