PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION

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WHO IS THIS?

SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ MT 21:1-11;  IS 50:4-7;  PHIL 2:6-11MT 26:14-27:66]

First Reading

ISAIAH 50:4-7

4The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him that is weary. Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. 5The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward. 6I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting. 7For the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame;

RESPONSORIAL PSALM

PSALMS 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24

7All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; 8″He committed his cause to the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!” 16Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet — 17I can count all my bones — they stare and gloat over me; 18they divide my garments among them, and for my raiment they cast lots. 19But thou, O LORD, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid! 22I will tell of thy name to my brethren; in the midst of the congregation I will praise thee: 23You who fear the LORD, praise him! all you sons of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you sons of Israel!

Second Reading

Philippians 2:6-11

6who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.8And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

GOSPEL

MATTHEW  26:14–27:66

2614Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver.16And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. 17Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” 18He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.'” 19And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover.20When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; 21and as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. 24The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.” 26Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; 28for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” 30And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.31Then Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” 33Peter declared to him, “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” 34Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”35Peter said to him, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.36Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsem’ane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go yonder and pray.” 37And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zeb’edee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” 40And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?41Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done.” 43And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” 47While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him.” 49And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Hail, Master!” And he kissed him.50Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, and struck the slave of the high priest, and cut off his ear. 52Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.53Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 55At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.57Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Ca’iaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. 58But Peter followed him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. 59Now the chief priests and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death,60but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward 61and said, “This fellow said, `I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.'” 62And the high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” 63But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” 64Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.”65Then the high priest tore his robes, and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” 67Then they spat in his face, and struck him; and some slapped him, 68saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” 69Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.”71And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.”74Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know the man.” And immediately the cock crowed. 75And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.271When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death; 2and they bound him and led him away and delivered him to Pilate the governor. 3When Judas, his betrayer, saw that he was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5And throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself.6But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7So they took counsel, and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in. 8Therefore that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9Then was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, 10and they gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.” 11Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer. 13Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge; so that the governor wondered greatly. 15Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted.16And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barab’bas. 17So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barab’bas or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.” 20Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barab’bas and destroy Jesus. 21The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barab’bas.” 22Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified.” 23And he said, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified.”24So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26Then he released for them Barab’bas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. 27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the praetorium, and they gathered the whole battalion before him.28And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe upon him, 29and plaiting a crown of thorns they put it on his head, and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”30And they spat upon him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe, and put his own clothes on him, and led him away to crucify him. 32As they went out, they came upon a man of Cyre’ne, Simon by name; this man they compelled to carry his cross.33And when they came to a place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull),34they offered him wine to drink, mingled with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.35And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots;36then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” 38Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.39And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads 40and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, 42″He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, `I am the Son of God.'” 44And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.45Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”47And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “This man is calling Eli’jah.” 48And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink. 49But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Eli’jah will come to save him.” 50And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom; and the earth shook, and the rocks were split; 52the tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised,53and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” 55There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him;56among whom were Mary Mag’dalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zeb’edee. 57When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathe’a, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud, 60and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed. 61Mary Mag’dalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre. 62Next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, `After three days I will rise again.’ 64Therefore order the sepulchre to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away, and tell the people, `He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” 65Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.” 66So they went and made the sepulchre secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

REFLECTION

“And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil. ‘Who is this?’ people asked.”  Today, as we celebrate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the place where He His ministry would culminate, we cannot but also ask this question, “Who is this?”  Undeniably, the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was meant to be Jesus’ challenge to the people regarding His real identity.  He had been healing the sick, teaching them about the love and mercy of God, exorcising evil spirits, performing miracles, multiplying loaves and calming the storms.  In every miracle, the question needed to be asked of the bystander is, “Who is this?”  The clarity and understanding of the truth of this declaration will determine our salvation.  This explains why Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is seen as the judgement of God on the people and also the day of salvation.  Our answer to the identity of Jesus will determine whether we will be saved or not. Our profession of faith in Jesus will define the way we live our lives accordingly.

So, “Who is this?” For the ordinary people, Jesus was just a miracle worker.  He performed many spectacular signs.  Most of all, He was a great healer.  He healed many people with all kinds of infirmities.  So they went to Him for healing.  But did they see that His healing miracles were meant to be signs of His true identity?  We too come to Jesus often. Again, many come for their prayers to be answered, their petitions to be heard and for healing of all kinds of affliction.  But beyond seeing Jesus as our healer, do we see Him as anything more than that?  Is Jesus simply our dispensing machine? Is He simply a great performer, like how Herod was so desperate to see Jesus perform some spectacular miracles for him to see?  But that is what many of us do.  We keep going for visions and apparitions and miracles, one after another.

In truth, in the understanding of the evangelist, in confessing that Jesus is the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee, it means that He is not just any other prophet but He is the Word of God that delivers God’s message to us.  He is the last emissary of God bringing to us the definitive Word.  In Jesus, the word of God has been spoken.   Jesus was not just a teacher, a philosopher, a good man, a miracle worker, a social reformer or a revolutionary, but He brought us God’s final and decisive word.  In Jesus, in His miracles, in His life, and in His death, He mediates to us the Word of God.  This final word was given at His death on the cross and His resurrection.  In Christ, God had said all that could be said.  He is the definitive Word of God in person.

Those who were without faith saw Him as their opponent and competitor, a nuisance who caused social disorder and religious confusion.  In the passion story, we read how Jesus was accused of blasphemy, insulting the name of God.  He was also accused of staging a rebellion to overthrow the political powers.  He was condemned as a political criminal.  Indeed, the offence was listed as, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”

Ironically, this title given to Jesus is correct but wrongly understood.  All throughout the trial, St Matthew portrayed Jesus as a king. The royal characteristic of Jesus was brought out in the triumphal entry, the discourse between Pilate and Jesus about kingship and power, the wearing of the scarlet clothes which is a symbol of royalty, the mocking of the Roman soldiers, the bystanders, and finally in the title given to Him on the cross.   Nevertheless, all these were presented in a paradoxical manner because the royalty of Jesus is not that of the world but of service in humiliation and death.   It is a servant and suffering King.  He is the King of kings because Jesus was faithful to Himself and His mission right to the end.  Unlike Pilate and the religious leaders, He was faithful to the truth.  Truly, He is worthy to be greeted as we do now also at mass, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heavens!”  He was exercising the Kingship of Yahweh as He was the Son of David who was to bring about the establishment of the Kingdom of God.

Only at the cross, was this truth about His identity revealed. In the first place, on the cross, Jesus identified Himself with every man.  He suffered like any man and more.  He had been tempted in every way like us all, with glory, power and self-indulgence.  He carried all our illnesses in Him.  He suffered humiliation, betrayal, rejection, slander, insults and disappointment.  Above all, He suffered the death of a sinner who was alienated from God.   At the cross, He experienced what it meant to be separated from the author and origin of life and love.  That separation between the source of His life resulted in death, not just in the biological sense but in the theological sense of darkness, meaninglessness and emptiness.  Isn’t this what most people go through when they live a sinful life, of anger, restlessness, dissatisfaction, separation from people, depression and self centredness?

But He died not just for us but for God, His Father.  For the love of His Father, Jesus endured the most bitter consequences of sins.   By suffering with us in our sins and pain including death, Jesus overcame sin and the power of death.  That is why it is said that the cry of Jesus on the cross is the central redemptive event.  “Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you deserted me?’”  This cry enhances the scandal of the cross.  In these words, He revealed the Father’s love and mercy for us.  God emptied Himself by crossing to the side of sinners, to experience what the sinner is going through so that He could save them by being identified with them in their struggles and pain.  This is what St Paul said, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  (2 Cor 5:21)  By His death, Jesus liberates us from eternal death because in Christ, God forgives us all our sins, for He knows our weakness and our folly.

Most of all, the passion did not end up simply with His death but with the resurrection.  The letter of St Paul to the Philippians situates the death of Jesus in context.  Christ emptied Himself twice, first of His divinity at the incarnation and then of His life in death.  But this passage of self-emptying will lead to final exaltation. Christ ultimately triumphed over sin and death.  He is exalted above all creation.  The cross truly exemplifies the culmination of the self-emptying of God in humiliation, beginning with the incarnation, and continuing throughout His life in obedience to His Father’s will even unto death.   The final conclusion that we will need to arrive at is that Jesus exalted above all is now acclaimed and worshipped “as Lord to the glory of God the Father.”   With the centurion, we say, “In truth this was a son of God.”

Having heard the Passion Story, what about us? Are we ready to profess that Jesus is our King and our Lord?  Are our hearts converted?  The gauntlet is thrown at us. “Who is this?”  If He were the Son of God and our Saviour, then are we to stand by Him?  Or will we be like the apostles who betrayed Jesus.  One sold Him for material gain.  Another denied Him before a maid and some servants.  Many abandoned Him in His time of loneliness and need.  Many even put Him down by slandering Him, accusing Him of being helpless and useless.   Are we fair weather friends of Jesus, like the crowd, coming to Him only when He can give us what we need?

If we say that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, then we must follow Him in His passion of self-emptying and humility. We must be ready to forgive our enemies, die to our sins, live in the truth and be faithful to the gospel values taught by our Lord.  It means also being ready to do His will, which would entail carrying the cross of service, being misunderstood and unappreciated.  Like the suffering servant, are we ready to proclaim the truth in and out of season, even when people no longer wish to believe in us or hear us?

Today, we must show that Jesus is our king by pledging our loyalty to Him, not just by carrying palms but by living out His life of self-emptying and identifying with the sufferings and struggles of our fellowmen.  With Christ, we are called to give hope and courage to those who are hopeless and helpless in their lives.  We have no excuse, unlike the apostles, because then they had not seen the resurrection. We have the benefit of the hindsight of His resurrection.  So we must now make up our mind and choose to be with Jesus our king, in His death and in His resurrection.

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