Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday
April 17, 2011
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66

 Year after year we hear the Passion of the Lord proclaimed to us on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday. The story is worth hearing repeatedly because we hear a different detail each time. It is good to pay attention to the small details because something larger is communicated. In this cycle, we get Matthew's version of the Passion and he has included finer details than Mark's original story. His Jewish-Christian audience want to hear of the cosmic details Matthew inserts, like the earthquakes, the angels, and the Temple's torn veil. Dramatic events punctuate Matthew's story to signify God's involvement.

The story opens with Judas' agreement to betray Jesus, which is set up in contrast to the woman's loyal love at Bethany when she excessively anointed the feet of Jesus. Jesus is in charge of the details in Matthew's story and the loyal disciples obediently follow his command. The meal as a whole is presented as a reinterpreted Passover supper. He stresses the covenant that links all of salvation history to this moment. In the Garden of Gethsemane, God has tested his Son to see what was in his heart. Matthew's climax in the story is the arrest of Jesus for it is the hour of his tragic destiny. The Pharisees, who were a constant source of irritation for Jesus, are exonerated from his death. The temple authorities and the Romans bear the responsibility. At the arrest, a disciples cuts off the earlobe of the high priest's servant. This was not a casual incident, but highly symbolic. The servant was a high ranking official and was the representative of the high priest. A mutilated ear disqualifies one in Jewish law from serving as high priest. Thus the one who arrested Jesus, God's emissary, was spiritually bankrupt and unfit for office. Jesus is then brought before the Sanhedrin.

Peter is last mentioned in Matthew at the point of his betrayal. The death of Judas is fulfilled by linking him with the historical "field of blood." It is the last of the fulfillment citations. Jesus appears before Pilate in a formal juridical Roman trial and he halfway confirms Pilate's question, but if no one brings a specific charge, no trial can be conducted. In the customary amnesty, a prisoner at Passover is released. Barsabbas (son of the father) is released as a contrast to Jesus. A contrast is set up between Pilate's claim to be innocent and the priests, lay elders, and crowds claim to be responsible for his death, but Pilate remains ultimately responsible by handing him over to the cross.

The soldiers mock Jesus as king as a gesture of momentary moral chaos associated with Roman saturnalia festivals. Jesus goes to his death with a humiliating, inglorious excruciating death as he is derided by passers-by, the authorities, and robbers. His death is bitter, not mythic. Even the devil is brought in to deride Jesus. "If you are the Son of God," elevates the theological level of the derision. At his death, Jesus feels abandoned, not despair. For Matthew, Jesus voluntarily went to his death, however ignoble. The burial of Jesus is dignified to underline the reality of death and guards are placed around the tomb to secure it by the legitimate, responsible authorities.

I suggest that you reflect upon the way you will listen to the story proclaimed this week. There's a lot in the story so I further suggest that you give voice to your emotions as you hear it proclaimed. If you still have energy, pay great attention to the emotions of Jesus. When we do that, we naturally want to console him. This is a good instinct. Just be present to him as he relives his last moments on earth. Comfort him if you can.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

 Monday of Holy Week: We hear from Isaiah 42 in the First Oracle of the Servant of the Lord in which God’s servant will suffer silently, but will bring justice to the world. In the Gospel, Lazarus’ sister, Mary, anoints Jesus’ feet with costly oil in preparation for his funeral.

Tuesday of Holy Week: In the Second Oracle of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49), he cries out that I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth. In deep hurt, distress and grief, Jesus tells his closest friends at supper that one of them will betray him and another will deny him three times before the cock crows.

(Spy) Wednesday of Holy Week: In the Third Oracle of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 50), the suffering servant does not turn away from the ridicule and torture of his persecutors and tormentors. The time has come.
Matthew’s account shows Judas eating during the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread with Jesus and their good friends after he had already arranged to hand him over to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. The Son of Man will be handed over by Judas, one of the Twelve, who sets the terms of Jesus’ arrest.

Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday: Only an evening Mass can be said today and we let our bells ring freely during the Gloria that has been absent all Lent. In Exodus, we hear the laws and customs about eating the Passover meal prior to God’s deliverance of the people through Moses from the Egyptians. Paul tells us of the custom by early Christians that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. In John’s Gospel, Jesus loves us to the end giving us a mandate to wash one another’s feet.

Good Friday: No Mass is celebrated today though there may be a service of veneration of the cross and a Stations of the Cross service. In Isaiah, we hear the Fourth Oracle of the Servant of the Lord who was wounded for our sins. In Hebrews, we are told that Jesus learned obedience through his faith and thus became the source of salvation for all. The Passion of our Lord is proclaimed from John’s Gospel.

Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil: No Mass, baptisms, or confirmations can be celebrated before the Vigil to honor the Lord who has been buried in the tomb. The Old Testament readings point to God’s vision of the world and the deliverance of the people from sin and death. All of Scripture points to the coming of the Righteous One who will bring about salvation for all. The Old Testament is relished during the Vigil of the Word as God’s story of salvation is told to us again. The New Testament epistle from Romans tells us that Christ, who was raised from the dead, dies no more. Matthew's Gospel finds Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at dawn arriving at the tomb only to find it empty. After a great earthquake that made the guards tremble, and angel appears telling the women, "Do not be afraid." The angel instructs them to go to the Twelve to tell them, "Jesus has been raised from the dead, and is going before you to Galilee."

 Saints of the Week

No saints are remembered on the calendar during this solemn week of our Lord's Passion.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Apr 17, 1540. The arrival in Lisbon of St Francis Xavier and Fr. Simon Rodriguez. Both were destined for India, but the latter was retained in Portugal by the King.
·         Apr 18, 1906. At Rome, the death of Rev Fr. Luis Martin, twenty-fourth General of the Society. Pope Pius X spoke of him as a saint, a martyr, a man of extraordinary ability and prudence.
·         Apr 19, 1602. At Tyburn, Ven. James Ducket, a layman, suffered death for publishing a work written by Robert Southwell.
·         Apr 20, 1864. Father Peter de Smet left St Louis to evangelize the Sioux Indians.
·         Apr 21, 1926. Fr. General Ledochowski sent out a letter De Usu Machinae Photographicae. It stated that cameras should belong to the house, not the individual. Further, they should not be used for recreation or time spent on trifles rather than for the greater glory of God.
·         Apr 22, 1541. Ignatius and his first companions made their solemn profession of vows in the basilica of St Paul Outside-the-Walls.
·         Apr 23, 1644. A General Chapter of the Benedictines condemned the calumny that St Ignatius was not the real author of the Spiritual Exercises. A monk had earlier claimed that the matter was borrowed from a work by Garzia Cisneros.