Lectionary Readings: (From the Biblical Meditations of Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP)
- Matthew 21:1-11. (Gospel for the Procession) This account of Palm Sunday emphasizes the divinity of Jesus, the fulfillment of prophecy, the messianic acclamation: “he who comes.”
- Isaiah 50: 4-7. Within this prophecy of Isaiah, the third song of the Suffering Servant quietly establishes the strength and dignity of a disgraced but righteous person.
- Philippians 2: 5-11. Jesus emptied himself of his divine dignity to be incarnated in our midst and suffer the humiliation of the cross as a way to glory.
- Matthew 26:14 – 27:66. The Passion according to Matthew more than Mark’s or Luke’s gospel, dramatizes the narrative, i.e., by ending with an earthquake, by providing more details from popular tradition, as the anecdote about Judas and Pilate’s wife and by meeting the catechetical needs through biblical citations.
Thoughts for your consideration: By John Gonzalez
This Sunday celebrates the beginning of Holy Week with Passion (Palm) Sunday. Along with the readings and Passion narrative for this Sunday let us also consider this excerpt from the philosopher Plato in his book “The Republic” which reflects on the social response to the Just Man:
They will tell you that the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound – will have his eyes burned out; and finally, after every extremity of suffering, he will be crucified: Then he will understand that he ought to seem only, and not to be, just. (2: 362)
One of our earliest Christian apologist Justin Martyr was so taken by the wisdom of the philosophers like Plato that he would go on to develop the notion of the “pre-Christian” in which he identifies the divine wisdom of the logos in the writings of certain philosophers and prophets who lived before Christ. In this passage by Plato the “Just Man” is the one who lives a life that fully embodies justice rather than merely appearing to be just. This Just Man is such a challenge to conventional society that the inevitable response is to eliminate him in such a way as to deter others from actually living the virtue of justice.
This week we bear witness to the prophesy of Isaiah and the philosophy of Plato as Christ, the Just Man and Suffering Servant, is placed within the midst of the social forces of his time. The procession reminds us of the triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where Jesus, the itinerant preacher and healer of Galilee, already disturbs the social peace of this city which is the center of power for the Temple and Roman authorities.
And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?” And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”
No sooner do we celebrate this enthusiastic public response to Jesus’ presence that we are confronted with the readings from Isaiah and Paul where Jesus, the Suffering Servant, is described within the paradox of his Divine mission. Jesus shares equality with God and he is given the skills and wisdom to preach the Word but this awesome dignity and prophetic mission will earn him reproach, torture and a horrific death. The dignity that Christ recognizes is that in sharing equality with God Christ also shares the deep love that God has for all creation. This all encompassing love becomes the motive for true justice. That is why the Suffering Servant in Isaiah can bear all the injustice and not suffer personal disgrace. By finding strength in God the Suffering Servant sees his preaching ministry firmly rooted in the desire to bring the people back to God and if this is to be done by bearing their injustice with love then so be it.
In Matthew’s passion narrative we are confronted with the kairos moment that is used in chapter 26:18. What we read as the “appointed time” is originally written with the Greek word kairos which refers to one’s destiny or a decisive moment in history. The stage is set for God to break into human history through the Paschal Mystery. In this decisive moment Jesus will commit himself to the final sacrifice that will testify to God’s great love for us. The Kingdom of God will bear upon our human experience with those who first witnessed the Resurrection. Jesus, the Suffering Servant and Just Man, lives with us and in us through the Kingdom of God that is slowly emerging, bringing forth the redemption of all creation from the power of sin and injustice.
We are invited to share in the paradox of this dignity. No longer can we content with the mere appearance of being just. Justice in truth becomes the standard for us as we follow Christ, the Just Man, in bringing forth the fullness of God’s justice through an all encompassing love that we are to have for one another. God continues to break into our human experience through our own witness of this shared dignity. The challenge of this Christian paradox was described by another Christian apologist who anonymously writes the 2nds century letter to Diognetus.
Christians love all men, but all men persecute them. Condemned because they are not understood, they are put to death, but raised to life again. They live in poverty, but enrich many; they are totally destitute, but possess an abundance of everything. They suffer dishonor, but that is their glory.