Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023

 

Palm Sunday, April 2, 2023

Mt 21: 1-11; Is 50: 4-7; Phil 2: 6-11; Mt 26: 14 – 27: 66.

 

Theme: Suffering, Death, and Life Belong Together

Our Forty-day Lenten Journey is concluded. I hope each one of us had a chance to strengthen his/her relationship with our Lord through Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. Today, we start the Holy Week with this Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  In this Mass, we commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem before he endures his passion.

Jesus entered his own city of Jerusalem to accomplish the Paschal Mystery that is his Passion, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. Today’s Mass starts with a triumphal entry. This triumphal entry at the beginning of the passion week means that Suffering, Death, and Resurrection belong together.

 

Gospel at the Procession with Palms (Matthew 21: 1-11)

 

Matthew is the only Evangelist who recounts that Jesus enters Jerusalem, riding on an ass and a colt. During our Bible study last Wednesday, we discussed how is it possible that Jesus could ride on two animals at once. Some thought that maybe he rode on one animal only and just touched the second one. Another possibility is that he took turns with each animal. But what does Matthew say? His answer is not on “how” but on “why” of the two animals. Quoting Zechariah 9: 9, he says that this is to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet: “Say to daughter Zion, ‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” (Matthew 21: 5). According to the prediction of Zachariah, a future son of David would enter Jerusalem riding on an ass the same way as Salomon did for his coronation (see 1 Kings 1: 33, 38).  By mentioning two animals here, Matthew intends to tell his audience that Jesus is both a Prophet and the fulfillment of prophecy. Notice how the crowds speak of Jesus, “This is Jesus the prophet.” (Matthew 21: 11a).

The very large crowd spread their cloaks and branches on the road while preceding Jesus. Note that one’s cloak was precious, especially for the poor, as it was used as a coat to keep out the cold and as a sleeping bag. It was very painful for the poor people when the lenders took their clothes as security for a loan. (See Exodus 22: 26; Deuteronomy 24: 13). By mentioning the cloaks here, Matthew wants us to see how these crowds who accompanied Jesus were willing to give all they had to support him in his mission. You and I are gathered here to do the same thing. Let us show Jesus that we too are willing to support the mission of his Church. Holding Branches is the symbol of joy. So, like these crowds, let us process to the Church with the songs of praise: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (v. 9).

 

Readings at Mass

Since we are in liturgical Year A, we read in today’s Gospel the entire account of Jesus’ arrest, passion, and death according to the Gospel of Matthew. This narrative is full of important lessons, so we should not get overwhelmed due to its length. I selected some points to guide our meditation.

First, Matthew tells us that Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. This alludes to the sale of Joseph, the son of Jacob, by his brothers to the Midianites. Joseph ended up in prison in Egypt before he became an important person who saved, not only his family but many people during the period of great famine. By mentioning the sale of Jesus in this account, Matthew, who wrote his Gospel to the Jewish community, intends to let them and each of us know that Jesus is the new Joseph who will save the world through his Holy Cross.

Second, at the Last Supper celebration with his friends, Jesus shared the cup of wine with them and said, “This is my blood of the covenant.” This phrase refers to the solemnization ceremony of the covenant between God and the people of Israel that Moses celebrated on Mount Sinai. He sprinkled the twelve tribes with blood and said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you” (Exodus 24: 8). Jesus repeats these same words to mean that He is the new Moses. His blood that will be shed on the cross this Friday marks a new, better, and last covenant between God and us his children.

Third, Matthew recounts that Jesus prays in the Garden. He feels sorrow and distress. Three times Jesus prayed to his Father, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.” And three times he commanded Peter and the two sons of Zebedee to watch and pray. Three times they were not able to do so as they were falling asleep. Jesus continues to command you and me to watch and pray when we face our own suffering. Let us imitate our Lord. Prayer strengthens our faith and enables us to accept God’s will. I now think of all those who are carrying their crosses of illness, poverty, and different sufferings. May God help them to discern and accept that the will of God be done in their lives.

Fourth, when Judas arrived with the soldiers to arrest Jesus, all the disciples fled. Jesus was abandoned at the time he needed the support of his friends the most. When we attend the stations of the cross, we show Jesus that we support him and want to share his suffering. Are we like these disciples who abandon the “Jesus” of our time? This passage calls us to support Jesus through our fellow humans in hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, and all those who are in need.

Fifth, the crowds are given two options: Do they want Pilate to liberate Jesus or Barabbas? All choose Barabbas and request the condemnation of Jesus. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations in which we need to choose between doing something that testifies to our faith in Jesus and another thing that is bad or that is just for leisure. May God inspire us in our decision-making.

Sixth, on the cross, Jesus pushes a cry of suffering, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Here Jesus quotes Psalm 22. This is not a cry of despair. Rather, it shows us that although God, Jesus is also one hundred percent human who endured this suffering. In our own suffering, let us not despair. Jesus teaches us here to call upon God, our Father.

Through this account of the arrest, passion, and death of Jesus, the Church, our Mother teaches us that Jesus accepted this suffering for the salvation of the world. As Christians, you and I are called to continue to extend this salvation to other people even if it costs us to carry our crosses. Suffering is part of our human life. We are called to keep our faith and continue this mission of the Church amid all the trials that we face. In addition to the example of Jesus that we have learned from the Gospel account, the third song of the Servant of Yahweh we heard in today’s first reading also gives us the courage to accept our own suffering. And, Saint Paul, in today’s second reading, reminds us that suffering and death constitute a passage to exaltation. Good Friday and Easter belong together even in our lives. Amen.

I wish all of you a prayerful Holy Week!

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD


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