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Passion Sunday (A)
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Readings for Passion Sunday, Cycle A

Passion Sunday, Cycle A

 

Gospel of the Palms. Matthew 21, 1-9

  • I would like my reading to be upbeat.  Jesus comes to Jerusalem and he is welcomed by the common people.  He intends to be acclaimed by them, and he is.
  • I can’t help noticing the improvisation.  He’s riding a donkey he borrowed, and his disciples are strewing (littering?) the pathway with their clothing and with branches they cut from the trees.
  • Jesus speaks with intent and knowledge of the prophets’ symbolism.  His instructions are clear and sort of make sense, if we imagine that he has a silent sympathizer in high places.  But we’re just enjoying the moment.
  • The climax comes in the last sentence: the Hosanna that I will call out and that the assembly would echo during the procession.
  • Message for our assembly: to fit in with the disciples that give themselves freely to Jesus, to welcome Jesus like the crowd by the city walls shouting in his honor.
  • I will challenge myself: to capture the spontaneity of Jesus, his disciples and the crowd, at the same time suggesting how the authorities would construe such a popular show of support as a provocation.

 

1. Isaiah 50, 4-7

  • I read the third Servant of God passage, a tough testimonial if there was one.  How many of us would – would I – continue in the ministry if they booed us?
  • I might know how to speak to the weary… what?  Soothing words?  An ancient formula from a liturgical book?  Words of conviction from some outsider?  Or perhaps provocative words, wake-up calls, words that will rouse them?  But, you know, this is what I do: urge our assembly to listen and pay heed, not just on Passion Sunday but every Sunday.  So if I really do that, then maybe I should sound like I mean it.  Easter is only a few days away now.
  • I can’t help noticing the opposition generated by this servant.  What is in these words?  Sometimes they rouse people to opposition and violent resistance.  Does my delivery do that?  Does anyone care?  I hope they do.  Or do they just turn their heads in boredom, waiting for the next amateur to step up to the ambo?
  • Central point: the open proclamation of the message and the fierce opposition to it, the beating and humiliation.  The prophet says they go hand in hand.
  • Message for our assembly: all true prophets give us sharp testimonials and a grim reminder that words spoken in frankness are not always well received.
  • I will challenge myself: to capture the sense of boldness and self-assurance of the Servant of God. 

 

2. Philippians 2, 6-11

  • Paul repeats the most famous hymn of the servant of God, and I love to say it, almost sing it.
  • But Paul uses it as an agenda for Christians.  In other words, we don’t just look on him but we adopt his attitude, we become like him! 
  • Central point: the example of Christ during our Holy Week is one of a servant -- though his status was divine -- obedient to the very end, in great humiliation.  And he did it freely to share our own humble existence and the shame of death.
  • The message for our assembly is in the first verse, and it is up to me to remind them to identify with the humble, obedient Christ who rises to exaltation.
  • I will challenge myself: To make these first century images self-evident to the people, so that we understand something more today about the Jesus we proclaim as Lord.

 

Passion according to Matthew 26, 1 to 27, 66

  • The Passion of Matthew may be the best known to those of us who heard it proclaimed every Palm Sunday in the pre-Vatican days, and for those who listen fondly to the oratorio of Bach. 
  • I know that most every church today breaks the story into parts and distributes it to various persons to read.  This custom follows the division of roles in the traditional chanting in Latin.  I have read it alone in the past, and see no reason why a lengthy narrative, if it is well prepared and directed, cannot be done by a single person.  Here’s how I would do it.
  • Matthew presents Jesus as someone well aware of all that would happen to him, because the Scriptures were being fulfilled, and ready to undergo all of it freely.  It did not have to happen, according to Matthew, because God could send twelve legions of angels. 
  • Of the four Passion narratives, Matthew’s carries the most troublesome baggage because it reports in greater detail the betrayal and suicide of Judas, the blood money, a disengagement by Pilate and an involvement of a larger group of Jewish people: His blood be upon us and upon our children.  As I read these events I will soothe the bitterness in the innuendos with a touch of regret and irony.
  • Climax: the soldiers around the cross declare Truly this man was the son of God.
  • Message for our assembly: remember through all the gory details, more deeply than ever on this Passion Sunday, that Jesus died for us and that he died freely.
  • I will challenge myself: not to dwell on the side allegations of the involvement of the Jewish people, but to bring out forcefully the connection to the Law and the Prophets that was Matthew’s main concern.

Word to Eucharist: We do not walk alone in this procession.  Jesus walks in our neighbor and in us.  Let us recognize him.

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