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.”