Sunday Reflection, Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014): A Literary Journey Through Matthew’s Passion



Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. — Phil 2:6-8

This weekend is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.  The readings can be found here.

This week’s reflection is from James Predmore, S.J. who does an excellent job of highlighting some of the details from Passion narrative found in Matthew, which was written for a Jewish audience. You can find the full reflection and other resources here, but set forth below is an extended excerpt:

“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.”


James Predmore Site
Creighton Online Ministries

Living Space
Friar Musings Blog
Prepare for Mass

About William Ockham

I am a father of two with eclectic interests in theology, philosophy and sports. I chose the pseudonym William Ockham in honor of his contributions to philosophy, specifically Occam's Razor, and its contributions to modern scientific theory. My blog ( explores Ignatian Spirituality and the intersection of faith, science and reason through the life and writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (pictured above).
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5 Responses to Sunday Reflection, Palm Sunday (April 13, 2014): A Literary Journey Through Matthew’s Passion

  1. ptero9 says:

    What has always struck me about Jesus’ passion was his willingness to die. Lately, having been pondering the difficulty of this willingness, it occurs to me that a willingness to die very much corresponds to our willingness to live.

    The ritual of Holy week is perhaps the biggest thing I miss about my catholic practice. It can be a very intense and emotional journey.

    Blessed Holy week to you WIlliam,

    • Hi Debra:

      Thank you for your insightful comments (as usual). I absolutely agree with you on the beauty of the emotional journey during Easter Week. I vividly recall an Easter Vigil service a few years ago when I was in my journey back to the Faith. We started Mass outside, just after sunset. The priest lit a big fire and then used the Easter Candle to light small candles that each one of had. We had a procession of candles into the Church for the opening prayers. Then we extinguished the candles for the readings from the Hebrew Bible.

      The stories resonated with me in a manner they had not previously: Adam and Eve putting their own pride and desires first, Jacob wresting with God, the Exodus from Egypt were not just a combination of ancient myth and history, they were actual reality that had been going on in my soul. The stories of those ancient people written over 2,500 years ago (based upon oral traditions much older) were as real to me as anything I had experienced in my lifetime. When we read the Easter Vigil Gospel the lights came on a flood of emotions overcame me that were simply indescribable.

      I realize that that this experience was part of my individuation process as my ego was integrating itself with my subconscious. It is possible that is the entire explanation for my experience. However, I deeply felt and believed (and still do) that this process is reflective of a realm of reality that is much deeper and greater than mere psychological explanations (although they are a powerful medium through which the Divine can communicate with us). I have no idea where my journey will lead but I am enjoying the process.

      Also, I find your comments about Jesus willingness to die compared to a willingness to live very interesting. My interpretation was that Jesus certainly wanted to live rather than die (the scene of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane) but that he in such a spiritual and psychological state that, while he had a desire, he was detached from the ultimate outcome if it served a broader purpose.

      Thank you again for your thoughts Debra. I wish you a blessed and peaceful week!

      W. Ockham

      • ptero9 says:

        Hi William,

        “Adam and Eve putting their own pride and desires first, Jacob wresting with God, the Exodus from Egypt were not just a combination of ancient myth and history, they were actual reality that had been going on in my soul.”

        That really resonates with me too. Thanks for putting it into words though. It’s as if the entire story of man lives through each of us, and yet we all have our unique time in history to relive the story in a new way.

        Yes, I think Jesus wanted to live, but not only knew he had to die, but also that we die to be born to something bigger than we know here in our limited earthbound perspective.


    • Debra / William

      The week is most certainly always an emotional journey of a week for me… I review the events and the deeper meaning is ever deeper within.

      May your journey by prayer and contemplation draw you ever closer to His will.

      ~ Eric

      note… I reply here because wordpress is un-evolved to allow a reply to many and to even to add a member that isn’t part of the thread

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