Breaking Open the Word
April 2, 2023
Palm Sunday, there is a lot to this week’s gospels so let’s just get to it.
Isaiah 50: 4-7
Philippians 2: 6-11
Procession of Palms: Matthew 21: 1-11
Matthew 26 – 27:66
We essentially have two gospels today. The first is Matthew’s description of Jesus entering Jerusalem, the second is the Passion of our Lord. There are books written about these gospel verses but let’s focus on a few. Our gospel passages contain fulfillment of several prophesies.
The very first verse of our gospel passages notes Jesus first visits Bethpage, a town just to the east of Jerusalem and near the Mount of Olives which is spoken of in the book of Zechariah 14:4 “On that day God’s feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem to the east. The Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west by a very deep valley, and half of the mountain will move to the north and half of it to the south.” The process of the crucifixion and salvation is now underway.
Matthew notes that Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, another fulfillment of prophesy, and He will be arriving on a donkey or an ass. In the book of Zechariah 9:9 we see the prophesy: “Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king* is coming to you, a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Riding on a donkey or colt is a sign of humility and peace, and likely reflects Matthew’s intent of showing the Jewish people, the initial audience for his gospel writings, the fulfillment of prophesy.
In Matthew 21:10, Matthew notes the whole city was shaken. This is unique to Matthew’s account, but also underscores the incredible nature of the event. There are other places where Matthew notes the ground shakes like an earthquake; the others being at the crucifixion of Jesus and at the tomb as the soldiers stood guard and an angel appeared.
Institution of the Eucharist,
Mass and Priesthood
The Passion is the second gospel we have this weekend and is initiated with the planned betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot. Judas is accepts thirty pieces of silver for his deed, the fulfillment of the prophesy of Zechariah 11:12 as the price of betraying a shepherd. At the festive Passover meal, we see the betrayal of Jesus by Judas being revealed to the other Apostles, and it is Judas himself who does the revealing.
This Last Supper of Jesus cements the greatest Sacrament of relationship with Jesus: the Eucharist. It is here at this meal that Jesus shares the bread as His body, and the cup of wine as His blood. The blood of Christ reflects the fulfillment of prophesy from Leviticus where we are told that the placing of blood on an altar is a gift of sacrifice. Pay careful attention to the words used by Jesus, the use of the words “…this is my body…this is my blood…” We must never, ever substitute the words “represent” or “symbol” for the word “is”. Not in any translation of the Hebrew or Greek can such a leap be made. These words of Jesus gives us an understanding of Jesus as the sacrifice, in the Eucharist, and as the high priest, by the presentation of the blood at the altar of sacrifice.
In Exodus 24:8, God makes a covenant with the Jewish people through the blood sprinkled on them, Jesus tells us He is the new covenant that is made through the sacrifice of His body and blood. The act of ingesting blood was absolutely forbidden under the old Law. However, Jesus now makes a covenant with His blood and invites us to join Him in that covenant as He told the Apostles that every time they do this.
After the Supper, the Apostles and Jesus sing traditional Passover hymns, followed by Jesus telling the Apostles they will run from Him. This is the fulfillment of prophesy in Zechariah 13:7 which speaks of striking the shepherd and scattering the sheep. We then have the discussion of Peter and his betrayals. Jesus tells Peter he will deny Jesus three times before the cock crows. This reference to cock crowing may actually have been a rooster crowing as morning breaks, or may be a reference to the Roman bugle that sounded at 3:00am.
The Betrayal and
the Will of the Father
Jesus, Peter, James and John then retreat to Gethsemane. This is the third occurrence of the three Apostles joining Jesus by themselves; the others being at the raising of Jarius’ daughter from death and the Transfiguration. At Gethsemane, we see satan’s most aggressive attack on Jesus, however, the attack fails as Jesus declares that which we all must declare “…Your will be done…”
The great betrayal of Jesus is completed by a kiss from Judas, Peter attempts to protect Jesus but Jesus rebukes Peter to put away the sword, and Jesus tells the soldiers that in the speaking of a single word the Father would send 72,000 angels – the will of the Father must be completed and nothing at all can come between the Father and the fulfillment of the numerous prophesies that Jesus references.
There is still one more betrayal ahead – that of Peter as referenced above. As the cock crows the third time we see all of our sin in that betrayal and the cock crowing represents the reminder to us of our sins and the impact that sin has on others. The betrayal though does not end with Peter and Judas, the other Apostles, except John, run away and hide leaving Jesus to fend for himself.
The Refusal to Avert the Inevitable
Jesus is brought before the Sanhedrin which was the body charged with adjudicating the Mosaic Law, with Caiaphas as its Chief Priest. The Pharisees had grown increasingly afraid of Jesus, of all those feeling threatened by Jesus the most noteworthy was Caiaphas. Jesus was seen to be a threat to the power, intellect, influence, and values of Caiaphas. If the people left the ways of the Pharisees and Caiaphas and moved to Jesus, Caiaphas would have lost a great deal financially along with a great blow to his ego. The intensity of the feelings of Caiaphas are reflected in the tearing of his robes. Clothing was of great value at the time, people did not have a lot of clothes, so when Caiaphas tears his robes it is significant.
Because the Jews could not crucify Jesus, they brought Him to Pilate. Matthew’s account of the Passion is the only one that includes the dreams of Pilate’s wife who warns Pilate to do nothing to Jesus. Dreams are seen time and again in scripture to foresee the future of divine warnings. Pilate was not a nice guy. He ruled Judea for 10 years, at the start of his appointment by Tiberius, Pilate could have named any High Priest of his choosing. Pilate kept Caiaphas in place which demonstrates the relationship between the two. Pilate was dislike by the Jews because of the terror with which he ruled and because he brought images of Caesar into Jerusalem, a sacred city.
Pilate refuses to take responsibility for his own actions and tries to quell the actions of the Jews. Pilate had just put down a large insurrection and did not need the attention another mob action would bring with it. Pilate could have stopped the crucifixion by offering another Jew, Barnabas – the Jews and Pilate refuse to stop the crucifixion from moving forward.
The Way of the Cross
Jesus is taken away after He is scourged, an act so vicious it normally killed people undergoing it, and then crowned with thorns. The thorns were likely very long and pointed upward in the way that a Hellenistic, or Greek, gods would have been shown wearing them. The intent of the crown was more mockery than torture but would have been torturous none the less – consider how incredibly painful that would have been and yet Jesus never stops.
The cross is placed on the shoulder of Jesus. Because Pilate routinely used crucifixion against the Jews, it is likely they already had a crucifix ready for Him to carry. As Jesus walks the way toward Golgotha, the soldiers enlist Simon of Cyrene to help Jesus carry the cross. Cyrene was a Roman province on the north coast of Africa. Simon was likely in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. We know that after the crucifixion, Simon returned to Cyrene and preached the gospel. He had two sons, Rufus and Alexander. Rufus is believed to be the same Rufus referenced by St. Paul in Romans 16:13.
On Golgotha, Jesus is lifted high on the cross and offered a mixture of herbs and myrrh, which becomes a narcotic to help deaden the pain but Jesus would not drink it. Jesus must have wanted the full experience of destroying our sins – again, nothing can come between the Father and completing His will – our own personal sufferings are many times just that, a means by which the will of the Father will be achieved.
The prophesy of Amos 8:8-10 comes about: at the sixth hour, which was noon, darkness would come over the land on the day the Lord will judge His enemies and sinners. Matthew tells us there was darkness from noon to 3:00pm. Historical records support a great eclipse did in fact take place.
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” These words of Jesus are not words of the Father abandoning Jesus, but rather the fulfillment of prophesy – the weight of our sins is so great that they separate us from God and we are called to lament that suffering of separation.
Jesus dies. The curtain of the Temple is torn in two from top to bottom. There were two curtains in the Temple. One separates the people from the Holy Place and the second led into the Holy of Holies where only the priest was allowed. The tearing from top to bottom is reference to the complete destruction of sin and the open access to heaven that Jesus offers. The earthquake Matthew mentions can be historically proven to have taken place.
Not The End of the Story
There at the foot of the cross was our Holy Mother, Mary Magdeline, Mary the mother of James and Joseph…no mention here of the Apostle John but we know he was there from other gospel accounts. Where were His other Apostle friends who could have declared Jesus the Son of God. Instead, who is the first to declare Jesus as the true Son of God? A centurion, a Roman, a pagan Gentile. There is great significance in that declaration coming from a Gentile – the love of God is for all people, for anyone who wants it.
As the body of Jesus is taken off the cross we know that our Holy Mother was there. It is significant what our Holy Mother did not do…she never asked Jesus to stop. Imagine watching your own son, or anyone you love, go through all of this. Would you not have tried to talk them out of it? Mary loves us so very, very much. Mary full of grace…ABSOLUTELY! There was no room for anything else in her – no doubt, no distrust, just love for us. How beautiful she is!!
The body of Jesus is placed in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea, the Son of God will be placed in the tomb of a wealthy man fulfills the prophesy of Isaiah 53:9. St. Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin and a devoted Pharisee who would not have wanted the Mosaic Law to be violated by leaving the body of Jesus on the Cross. Joseph went on to preach in Glastonbury, England where his own tomb now exists.
This is certainly not the end of the story, but rather, the strength for our journey in this world. There is a great sense of loneliness as we hear the last words of The Passion, and we long for more as if to say directly to Jesus “Don’t leave me here!” That sense of loneliness and desire for more is called love…embrace it.
To Prepare for this Sunday
To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following…wait, don’t just consider it, DO IT:
Get to Reconciliation
The great travesty of Judas was not selling Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, it was getting stuck in remorse and not moving to reconciliation. We pray Judas is in heaven.
You and I turn on Jesus every day – go fix that relationship through Reconciliation…and then give God a great big ‘ol smile