Palm Sunday A20 5 April 2020
Matt 27:32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene namedSimon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Matt 27:38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and 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.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. Matt 27:45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Matt 27:55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Matt 27:57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus.
There is a core similarity between the
four accounts of the death of Jesus in
the New Testament. However, they differ
in sequence and in details, allowing
various understandings of the cross to
unfold. Thus both Mark and Matthew
treat the death as tragedy, the tragic outcome
of the ministry of Jesus, rejected
by his people and abandoned by his followers.
Luke, in contrast, treats the
death of Jesus as that of a martyrprophet,
on the model of OT prophets,
who suffered for the their preaching and
in anticipation of the death of Stephen
in the Acts (by Luke also). In the Fourth
Gospel, the portrayal is that of a triumph,
which brings together the lifting
up, the hour and the glorification of
Jesus. Because the death of Jesus was
and is such a deeply mysterious and indeed
perplexing event, different dimensions
are explored and laid bare by different
NT writers, the earliest being Paul.
KIND OF WRITING
The scenes recounted belong to the
genre of biography, dealing with the
tragic end of Jesus’ ministry. Using narrative
“adjustments”, it offers its own
OLD TESTAMENT BACKGROUND
(i) In all the accounts, there is an underlay
of reference to the Psalms and the
Prophets. By delving into the Hebrew
Bible, the first generation of Christians
hoped to understand what had happened
on the cross as somehow in continuity
with God’s earlier word. Ps 22, in
italics below, is especially rich in resonance.
Ps 69:21 They gave me poison for food,
and for my thirst they gave me vinegar
to drink. Ps 22:18 they divide my clothes
among themselves, and for my clothing they cast
lots. Ps 22:7 All who see me mock at me; they
make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
109:25 I am an object of scorn to my
accusers; when they see me, they shake
their heads. Lam. 2:15 All who pass
along the way clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads at daughter
Jerusalem; “Is this the city that was
called the perfection of beauty, the joy
This is the King of the Jews Thought for the day
Official memorial celebrations are
familiar to us, marking wars or national
events. Often, these are
coloured by a mixture of sadness and
gratitude. The Christian memorial of
the last week of Jesus’ life is entirely
different. First of all, we tell the whole
story again because he is risen from the
dead. Secondly, this memorial is an
effective one: as we do this in memory
of him, the very same gifts of compassion,
forgiveness, love and healing are
offered again to all present, precisely
because Jesus is risen from the dead. Our
Christian memory is not a dead remembering
but an effective bringing
into the present of the great events
that gave us new life in Christ.
Saving God, as we recall in word and
gesture the great events of salvation,
let us know your healing love once
HEARERS OF THE WORD
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22 (21); Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66
Palm Sunday A20 5 April 2020
of all the earth?” Ps 22:8 “Commit your
cause to the Lord; let him deliver—let him rescue
the one in whom he delights!” Wis. 2:18
for if the righteous man is God’s child,
he will help him, and will deliver him
from the hand of his adversaries. 19 Let
us test him with insult and torture, so
that we may find out how gentle he is,
and make trial of his forbearance. 20
Let us condemn him to a shameful
death, for, according to what he says, he
will be protected.” Amos 8:9 On that
day, says the Lord God, I will make the
sun go down at noon, and darken the
earth in broad daylight. Ps 22:1 My God,
my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are
you so far from helping me, from the words of
my groaning? Ps 69:21 They gave me poison
for food, and for my thirst they gave
me vinegar to drink. Ezek. 37:12 Therefore
prophesy, and say to them, Thus
says the Lord God: I am going to open
your graves, and bring you up from your
graves, O my people; and I will bring
you back to the land of Israel. Deut.
21:22 When someone is convicted of a
crime punishable by death and is executed,
and you hang him on a tree, 23
his corpse must not remain all night
upon the tree; you shall bury him that
same day, for anyone hung on a tree is
under God’s curse. You must not defile
the land that the Lord your God is giving
you for possession.
(ii) An especially rich resource for early
Christian reflection were the Suffering
Servant Songs in Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6;
50:4-9 and 52:13-53:12). In the historical
context the Servant is, perhaps, Israel.
The early Christians saw here passages
which helped them come to grips
with the crucifixion. The links are as
First Song: Is 42:1-4; Mt 12:18.
Second Song: Is 49:1-6: Mt 12:18.
Third Song: Is 50:4-9; Mt 5:39
Fourth Song: Is 52:13-53:12. See below for
the detailed reference.
Surely he has borne our infirmities and
carried our diseases; yet we accounted
him stricken, struck down by God, and
afflicted. (Isa 53:4 = Mt 8:17)
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth; like a
lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like
a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. (Isa 53:7
= Mt 26:63)
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush
him with pain. When you make his life
an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring,
and shall prolong his days;
through him the will of the LORD shall
prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see
light; he shall find satisfaction through
his knowledge. The righteous one, my
servant, shall make many righteous, and
he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I
will allot him a portion with the great,
and he shall divide the spoil with the
strong; because he poured out himself to
death, and was numbered with the
transgressors; yet he bore the sin of
many, and made intercession for the
transgressors. (Isa 53:10–12 = Mt 20:28;
for v. 12 see all Mt 26:28, 27:38)
NEW TESTAMENT FOREGROUND
i) The Passion Predictions help us see the
theology of the writer and, perhaps,
something of the understanding of Jesus
himself: Matt 16:21; 17:22; 20:17-19.
(ii) The words at the Supper also interpret
the death: Matt 26:26-29.
(iii) Earthquakes are introduced to indicate
God’s presence and action.
For as often as you eat this bread and
drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s
death until he comes. (1Corinthians
Verse 32 Simon, a historical fi gure,
here models authentic discipleship: Matt
Verse 37 Cruelly ironic in the light of
the rejection at 27:25.
Verse 39 A combination of the important
temple saying with the temptations
at the beginning of the ministry. Jesus
confronts evil as such.
Verse 45 Symbolic darkness, signalling
that the cross is an end-time event.
Verse 46 The fi rst words of Ps 22,
placing the death of Jesus in the context
of a psalm of lament, which itself returns
at the end to deep confi dence in
Verse 47 Elijah was expected at the end
(Mal 4:5); his mention tells us that something
to do with the God’s fi nal, endtime
purpose is unfolding here.
Verse 50 The actual death is a wordless
Verses 51f. The curtain stands for the
mother religion of Judaism, represented
by the curtain which veiled God’s presence.
The earthquake is symbolic. Matt,
Lk and Jn bring the consequences of the
death forward, in a symbolic way.
Verse 54 A profound Gentile confession,
matching Peter’s at 16:13ff.
Verse 55 The women at a distance contrast
with the women John 19. Some of
them will be witness to the resurrection
Verse 57 Probably a historical recollection;
the burial is dignifi ed and matterof-
POINTERS FOR PRAYER
The account of the Passion is a vivid story with
a variety of characters and much action. To
enter into the passage we can read the story
slowly and see if we can identify with different
characters in the story. Also any one scene within
the story can provide us with much food for
reflection and prayer. Keep in mind that one of
the aims in reflecting on the passage is to discover
the GOOD NEWS the story has for us. Here
are just a few general pointers for prayer.
1. The identity of Jesus is revealed as
the Messiah and the Son of God, not
with a display of human power, but as
one who was prepared to suffer unto
death to show us how our God loves us.
How does the Passion story speak to you
as a revelation of how God loves you?
2. Jesus gives us an example of patient
endurance and faithfulness in suffering.
Suffering is something we all encounter.
It is not something that anyone likes but
sometimes we cope with it better than
others. What have you found helps you
to cope better with suffering?
3. As you read through the narrative of
the Passion where do you fi nd yourself
resonating with a character in the action?
Is there any message there for you
that is life-giving?
O God of eternal glory, you anointed
Jesus your servant to bear our sins, to
encourage the weary, to raise up and
restore the fallen. Keep before our eyes
the splendour of the paschal mystery of
Christ and, by our sharing in the passion
and resurrection, seal our lives with the
victorious sign of his obedience and exaltation.
We ask this through Christ, our liberator
from sin, who lives with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit, holy and mighty God
for ever and ever. Amen.
Palm Sunday A20 5 April 2020
Phil 2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was
in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in
the form of God, did not regard equality
with God as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself, taking the form
of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 8 he
humbled himself and became obedient
to the point of death— even death on a
Phil 2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted
him and gave him the name t h a t
is above every name, 10 so that at the
name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the
earth, 11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory
of God the Father.
Where did Paul get his information on
the Christian tradition? Even before his
encounter with Christ, he knew the basics
of what the Christians were saying.
No doubt the time in Damascus included
a great deal of initiation. In the
undisputed letters we find traces of acclamation,
credal formulae and hymns.
Of these hymns, none is more famous
than our reading today.
KIND OF WRITING
Philippians is a real letter, with the following
1:1-2 Letter opening
1:12-26 Paul’s own story
2:17-3:1a Paul’s own story
4:21-23 Letter Conclusion
Our passage comes from the first set of
exhortations and the whole section
should read to see why and how Paul
makes use of the hymn at this point.
CONTEXT IN THE COMMUNITY
The letter is addressed to the first Christian
community founded by Paul in Europe.
The letter mentions that Paul was
in prison. The identification of the locations
also determines the date: Ephesus
(54-55), Caesarea (57-59), Rome (60-61).
The occasion of writing to express gratitude
for the gift sent with Epaphroditus.
There are several practical issues. Overall,
the letter is very personal, with a
good deal of autobiography and great
affection for the Philippians. There are
issues about conduct and behaviour,
which bear directly on the use of the
More than that, I regard everything as
loss because of the surpassing value of
knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his
sake I have suffered the loss of all things,
and I regard them as rubbish, in order
that I may gain Christ and be found in
him, not having a righteousness of my
own that comes from the law, but one
that comes through faith in Christ, the
righteousness from God based on faith. I
want to know Christ and the power of
his resurrection and the sharing of his
sufferings by becoming like him in his
death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection
from the dead. (Philippians
Let those of us then who are mature be
of the same mind; and if you think differently
about anything, this too God
will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to
what we have attained. (Philippians
For you know the generous act of our
Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was
rich, yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become
rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9
But what does it say? “The word is near
you, on your lips and in your heart” (that
is, the word of faith that we proclaim);
because if you confess with your lips that
Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart
that God raised him from the dead, you
will be saved. (Romans 10:8–9)
The overall pattern in the hymn is preexistence,
existence and post-existence.
Given that the hymn in non-Pauline, it
may represent early Christian worship.
Verse 5 The introduction “stitches” the
hymn into the ethical persuasion.
“Mind” in Greek is really the verb to
think. A good parallel in Paul would be
Verse 6 Form (morphē) is difficult. Current
in classical and Hellenistic Greek,
with a wide range of meanings
—“stature, form, condition, feature,
external appearance, reproduction”—
morphē is used relatively little in the Bible.
Exploited is also difficult: It may mean
not only ‘to grasp something forcefully
which one does not have’ but also ‘to
retain by force what one possesses.’
Thus, it is possible to translate 2:6 in two
quite different ways.
Verse 7 “Emptied” in relation to the
cross comes up in 1 Cor 1:17. Again, the
form—morphē—of a slave.
Verse 8 Humble is found in the teaching
of Jesus (Matt 18:4; 23:12; Luke 3:5;
14:11; 18:14). Obedient to death—cf.
Hebrews 2:10-18. V. 8c could be an addition
by Paul, refl ecting his own emphasis
on the cross (Phil 1:29, 3:10, 18
and 1Cor 1:23; 2:2).
Verse 9 Exalted: the simple form is
found in John and Luke-Acts to refer to
the resurrection (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32,
34; Acts 2:33; 5:31). The complex form
is found only here in the NT and in the
LXX only once: “For you, O Lord, are
most high over all the earth; you are
exalted far above all gods.” (LXX Ps
Verse 10 There is a suggestion that this
verse may be a liturgical instruction.
Verse 11 Confess (homologeō) is a foundational
Christian word, both as verb and
as noun (Matt 7:23; 10:32; 14:7; Luke
12:8; John 1:20; 9:22; 12:42; Acts 7:17;
23:8; 24:14 etc.)
POINTERS FOR PRAYER
1. Working and living with others is always
diffi cult. Even among Christians,
the risk is that we “read” this reality politically
and not, like Paul, spiritually,
that is as part of discipleship.
2. Jesus emptied himself: perhaps I have
know people like that myself or have
been called myself to some extraordinary
3. When I did I fi rst say “Jesus is Lord”
and mean it from the heart?
On the path of discipleship, you call us
loving God to follow and imitate your
Give to us the generosity to give our all,
to lose our lives, that we be true followers
of Jesus, who made himself poor that
we might be rich.
Jesus emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave
Palm Sunday A20 5 April 2020
Is. 50:4 The Lord GOD has given me the
tongue of a teacher, that I may know
how to sustain the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens— wakens
my ear to listen as those who are
5 The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious, I did not turn
6 I gave my back to those who struck
me, and my cheeks to those who pulled
out the beard; I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
7 The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I
have not been disgraced; therefore I
have set my face like flint, and I know
that I shall not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near. Who will
contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who
are my adversaries? Let them confront me.
9 It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will
declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like
a garment; the moth will eat them up.
There are four so-called “Suffering Servant
Songs” taken from the prophet
known to scholarship as Second Isaiah:
42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12. The
most substantial of these poems is the
last one, read in its entirety on Good
Friday. The verses omitted by the lectionary
are included here to complete
KIND OF WRITING
This is poetry, in which the writer responds
to the sufferings of Israel. The
images used are always significant and in
these few verses, note the extensive use
of the part of the body: tongue, ear,
back, cheeks, beard, faces. In contrast to
earlier generations, this Israelite has an
open ear. This is really a psalm of confidence.
This particular song is notable for its
repeated use of the full name of God in
a quite emphatic and personal way:
“Lord GOD” translates ʾădōnāy YHWH
ORIGIN OF THE READING
Isaiah 40-55 comes from teachings proclaimed
towards the end of the great
Exile in Babylon, when hope of homecoming
and return was beginning to
dawn. The exile was understood in part
to be a consequence of infidelity on the
part of the priests and the people. The
“servant” is called upon to undergo the
pain of exile in an exemplary fashion to
that all Israel can use the bitter experience
for spiritual purification.
OLD TESTAMENT BACKGROUND
It is good for one to bear the yoke in
youth, …to give one’s cheek to the
smiter, and be filled with insults.
(Lamentations 3:27, 30)
Verse 4a The prophet pays attention to
older prophetic texts and learns from
them. Cf. Jer 1:4-10; Is 42:3; 49:5-6. The
weary are the disheartened exiles.
Teacher = lit. one taught. Cf. Bind up the
testimony, seal the teaching among my disciples.
Verses 4b-5 The prophet is fully open
to God’s word. Compare and contrast
with Is 6:10-11 (above). Contrast also
Isaiah 48 (closed ears).
Verse 6 In an exemplary fashion, and
in contrast to Israel as a whole, the
prophet undergoes the just punishment
and humiliation. His opponents this time
seem to include fellow Israelites (cf. Jer
Verse 7 The sufferings of the prophet
are endured in view of a later vindication
by God. Cf. Ezek 3:8-9. He is able
to endure because of the help from God.
Verse 8 The call for a just hearing (a
“riv”) resembles Job at this point, perfectly
appropriately. The rhetorical questions
are more open than usual.
Verse 9 God alone vindicates; all human
oppression has a sell-by date (using
the traditional metaphor of the moth).
POINTERS FOR PRAYER
1. We are called to “hearers of the
word,” open to the voice of God. How
do I respond, day by day?
2. No one escapes suffering and we all
“deal” with it in different ways. What
has my experience been?
3. Has it ever been that some good came
from unjust suffering?
God of all, we are hearers of the word.
On our own path of suffering, give us
constant faith in you, the author of all
that is good. Amen.
READINGS 1 AND 3
Second Isaiah and especially these poems
were a great resource for the understanding
the cross of Christ.
THE RESPONSORIAL PSALM
Ps 22 (21) responds very fully to the first
reading, with the same concern for suffering
and confidence in vindication.
The crucifixion of Jesus was a real challenge
to the first Christians. When trying
to understand the “what” and the
“why”, they went back to their bible (our
“Old Testament”). Four poems in Isaiah,
called today the Songs of the Suffering
Servant, were very helpful to them and
today we hear the third of these poems.
Like the first reading, this is poetry, really
a kind of hymn. In it, we hear the
sentiments of the very first generation of
Christians as they reflected on the death
and resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospels were written because the
evangelist believed in Jesus, risen from
the dead. Even today, we retell the Passion
precisely because of our faith in Jesus,
who is our resurrection. Matthew makes
this clear with the extraordinary addition
of the story about the earthquake.
Already, the effects of salvation are
brought forward for dramatic and didactic
I gave my back to those who struck
me, and my cheeks to those who
pulled out the beard
Fr. Kieran O’Mahony, OSA.