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Sunday:       Passion (Palm) Sunday
Date:         April 17, 2011
Year:         A
The readings: [Mt. 21:1-11; Is. 50:4-7; Phil. 2:6-11; Mt. 26:14-27:66]
The message:  Truly this man was God's Son!
Total words:  1672

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** The readings follow the sermon.

"Truly this Man was God's Son!" [Mt. 27:54] My brothers and sisters in Christ, unless we are prudent, we can be blinded by our pride, only to discover the truth when it is too late. Today's Gospel Reading proves it to us! It was only after Jesus had been crucified that the eyes of some were opened, they realizing that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the King of kings.

When hearing the Word of God, we must embrace a spiritual approach. We must prayerfully ask the Spirit of God to enlighten our hearts so we may perceive the message that is being delivered to us. Today's reading from the Gospel of Matthew has led many in the history of Christianity to take these passages totally out of context, consequently this leading to the persecution of innocent people.

How many times have we heard that "the Jews" were to blame for the death of Jesus? Am I guilty of the sins of my parents? Are you guilty of the sins of your grandparents? Are any of us guilty of the sins of our forefathers? Are we guilty of the sin of disobedience of Adam? Certainly not! Equally, it cannot be said that all the Jewish people of Jesus' time, or any from our time, are responsible for the death of Jesus.

Was Mary, the mother of Jesus, a Jewish maiden, responsible for His death? Was Mary Magdalene responsible for the death of Jesus? How about the disciples who loved Him? Certainly not! Those who were responsible for the death of Jesus consisted of Judas who betrayed the Lord, Pilate who washed his hands, and some members of the sanhedrin. The sanhedrin was a council composed of seventy-two members from the priests, the scribes and the elders. Through the vote of their majority, not all the votes, Jesus was condemned to death. Accordingly, because of the actions of a few dozen, Jesus freely underwent suffering and death because of the sins of all people so that all might attain salvation.

The reason I raise this issue is because as preachers, teachers, parents, we have to guard against the possibility of transmitting prejudice or false interpretation of scripture as we celebrate the important feasts during the Holy Week. We have a responsibility to enlighten the minds of our little children who can easily be influenced into believing something that was not said. Accordingly, this week, I ask all of you who will come in contact with children, and even teenagers, to explore their understanding of who killed Jesus. And if the need be, allocate a moment to explain the truth to them to secure a continued spirit of ecumenism with our Jewish brothers and sisters.

On this last Sunday prior to Easter Sunday, we are celebrating "Passion Sunday" that is also known as "Palm Sunday." Both of the Feast have one thing in common. They present the Divine Kingship of Jesus.

The First Reading from the Gospel of Matthew [Mt. 21:1-11] provided us with the account of the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. This event was in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah who said, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey." [Zech. 9:9; Mt. 21:5]

Indeed, during the last week of His ministry on earth, the Lord Jesus was recognized as the promised Messiah and proclaimed as King by many of the Jewish people who had known Him and who seen the power of God manifested through Him. Spreading their cloaks in the path of the Lord, they imitated the red-carpet treatment that was accorded to royalty in the ancient world.

At the same time, the crowd shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" [Mt. 21:9] What was the crowd saying? It was begging the Lord Jesus to save them. For the word "hosanna" (hosi ah-na) in Hebrew means "save, we pray." The crowd was asking to be saved from the dominion and oppression of the Roman empire.

Summarizing the Gospel Reading [Mt. 26:14-27:66] that gave an account of the Passion of the Lord, we heard of the betrayal of Judas, of Jesus celebrating the Passover with His disciples, of His institution of the Lord's Supper, the foretelling of Peter's denial, the praying of Jesus in Gethsemane and of His arrest. Then there was the appearance of Jesus before the high priest, Peter's denial of the Lord, Jesus appearing before Pilate, the death (suicide) of Judas, Pilate questioning Jesus, the people being given a choice between Barabbas or Jesus, Pilate handing Jesus over to be Crucified, the soldiers mocking Jesus, the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus and the event surrounding the guards at the tomb.

Regarding this reading, I would like to enlighten you on a few subjects. Some have asked in the past if there was a reason why Judas was paid thirty pieces of silver or thirty silver shekels? The origin of 30 shekels of silver is found in Exodus 21:32 where the law concerning property states that if an ox kills a male or female slave, the slave owner is entitled to be compensated with this amount of money. Therefore it appears that the life of Jesus was appraised to be worth the price of a slave.

When reference was made to Judas dipping his hand into the bowl with Jesus, eating together and sharing the same bowl denoted fellowship. This is symbolic of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. When members of the faith community attend the Holy Mass, they are invited to partake in the Sacrament of the Eucharist to denote their fellowship in full communion with the Church.

When reference was made to Jesus taking the cup, giving thanks and drinking from it, He stated that the cup was "His blood of the covenant..." [Mt. 26:27] Those Words had a special meaning, their origin being found in the Book of Exodus. There it is read that after offering burnt offerings and sacrificing oxen as offerings of well- being to the Lord, Moses said to the people, "See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words." [Ex. 24:4-8] The first blood of the covenant represented a covenant between Yahweh and Israel. The second blood of the covenant concluded the offering of sacrifices because the atoning death of Jesus freed us all from the ongoing necessity to perform rituals for sin and guilt.

Next, from Peter's protest that he would never deny knowing Jesus, we learn a lesson. When one shows excessive self-confidence in his abilities to do something, should he fall, this will involve a fall that will be more grievous than the fall of the others.

Going to the next subject, when Jesus was before the chief priests and the whole council, they were looking for false testimony to condemn Him. They had quite a time because the witnesses that came forward could not agree with each other as was required by law. [Mt. 26:59-60] While Jesus was questioned on His ability to destroy the Temple of God and rebuilding it in three days, [Mt. 26:61] this does not appear to be the reason why He was condemned to death. If you recall Pilate's questioning of Jesus, it was regarding His Messiahship and Kingship of the Jews. To claim to be the King of the Jews was a serious matter. It was viewed as treason against the authority of Rome. Such a claim, usually leading to Jewish uprising, resulted in a severe punishment by the Roman authorities.

The next subject concerns the death of Jesus. When Pilate heard that Jesus was dead, he was surprised. [Mk. 15:44] The reason for this reaction was because crucifixion usually resulted in a slow death that should have lasted from two to three days. Crucifixion was an Oriental form of punishment that was adopted by the Romans to be used against slaves, bandits and rebels, but excluding Romans citizens.

Today's Second Reading from the Book of Isaiah [Is. 50:4-7] prophesied that the Lord Jesus would freely accept His sufferings and death so He would not be put to shame. The Third Reading [Phil. 2:6-11] confirmed this, that Jesus "humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." [Phil. 2:8]

In this reading, St. Paul reminds us to be of the same mind as Christ Jesus. We are called to imitate Jesus, His humility and abasement as a model of conduct that should be found in the faith community. Though in the form of God, Jesus having enjoyed Divine pre-existence, He did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited.

In His Divine incarnation, He humbled Himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. Jesus did not empty Himself of His Divinity but He voluntarily gave up the Divine glory to which He was entitled, a glory that would be restored at His exaltation. [Jn. 17:5; Mt. 17:1-8]

Having humbled Himself, even unto death, God super-exalted Jesus, giving Him the Name that is above every name. [Phil. 2:9; Eph. 1:21; Heb. 1:4; 1 Pet. 3:22] At the Name of Jesus, in an act of religious adoration, every knee should bend, in Heaven and on earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. [Phil. 2:10-11; 1 Cor. 12:3; Rom. 10:9; Col. 2:6]

My brothers and sisters in Jesus, Christ died and lived again that He might be Lord both of the dead and living. [Rom. 14:9] As the Son of God, He atoned for your sins, my sins, our sins. He is your King, my King, our King. During the coming week, let us honour Jesus, our Lord and God through our active participation in each and every Holy Day of the Holy Week that will lead us to the celebration of the glorious Resurrection of King Jesus on Easter Sunday.

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The readings...

[The readings were taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (C) 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the United States of America.]

* * * * * * * * * *

First Reading...

"When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, 'Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, "The Lord needs them. And he will send them immediately.'"

This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 'Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, 'Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!"

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, 'Who is this?' The crowds were saying, 'This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.'" [Mt. 21:1-11]

* * * * * * * * * *

Second Reading...

"The servant of the Lord said: '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 taught.

The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward.

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.

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." [Is. 50:4-7]

* * * * * * * * * *

Third Reading...

"Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a salve, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.

Therefore God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." [Phil. 2:6-11]

* * * * * * * * * *

Gospel Reading...

[The passion narrative may be proclaimed by several readers. (N) = narrator; (J) = Jesus; (S) = other speakers.]

(N) The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said,

(S1) What will you give me if I betray him to you?

(N) They paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying

(S1) Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?

(J) Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, 'The Teacher says, 'My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.''

(N) So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.

When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve; and while they were eating, he said,

(J) Truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.

(N) And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another.

(S1) Surely not I, Lord?

(J) The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.

(N) Judas, who betrayed him, said,

(S1) Surely not I, Rabbi?

(J) You have said so.

(N) While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said,

(J) Take, eat; this is my body.

(N) Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying,

(J) Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.

(N) When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them.

(J) You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written, 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.

(N) Peter said to him,

(S1) Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.

(J) Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.

(N) Peter said to him,

(S1) Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.

(N) And so said all the disciples.

[At this point all may join in singing an appropriate acclamation.]

(N) Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples,

(J) Sit here while I go over there and pray.

(N) He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them.

(J) I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.

(N) And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed,

(J) My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want, but what you want.

(N) Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter,

(J) So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; for the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

(N) Again he went away for the second time and prayed,

(J) My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, your will be done.

(N) Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them,

(J) Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.

(N) While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying,

(S1) The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.

(N) At once he came up to Jesus and said,

(S1) Greetings, Rabbi!

(N) and kissed him. Jesus said to him,

(J) Friend, do what you are here to do.

(N) Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to him.

(J) Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?

(N) At that hour Jesus said to the crowds,

(J) Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But all this has taken place so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.

(N) Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered.

But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end.

Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward and said,

(S2) This fellow said, "I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days."

(N) The high priest stood up and said,

(S3) Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?

(N) But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him,

(S3) I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.

(N) Jesus said to him,

(J) You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.

(N) Then the high priest tore his clothes and said,

(S3) He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? you have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?

(N) They answered,

(S2) He deserves death.

(N) Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, saying,

(S2) Prophecy to us, you Messiah! Who is it that struck you?

(N) Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came to him and said,

(S3) You also were with Jesus the Galilean.

(N) But he denied it before all of them, saying,

(S1) I do not know what you are talking about.

(N) When Peter went out to the porch, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders,

(S3) This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.

(N) Again he denied it with an oath.

(S1) I do not know the man.

(N) After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter,

(S2) Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.

(N) Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath,

(S1) I do not know the man!

(N) At that moment the cock crowed. Then Peter remembered what Jesus has said: 'Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.' And he went out and wept bitterly.

[At this point all may join in singing an appropriate acclamation.]

(N) When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders.

(S1) I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.

(N) But they said,

(S2) What is that to us? See to it yourself.

(N) Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said,

(S2) It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.

(N) After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter's field as a place to bury foreigners. For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah, 'And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set, on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, and they gave them for the potter's field, as the Lord commanded me.'


(N) Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him,

(S3) Are you the King of the Jews?

(J) You say so.

(N) But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him,

(S3) Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?

(N) But Jesus gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone they wanted. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them,

(S3) Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?

(N) For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him,

(S2) Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.

(N) Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. The governor again said to them,

(S3) Which of the two do you want me to release to you?

(N) And they said,

(S2) Barabbas.

(N) Pilate said to them,

(S3) Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?

(N) All of them said,

(S2) Let him be crucified!

(N) Then he asked,

(S3) Why, what evil has he done?

(N) But they shouted all the more,

(S2) Let him be crucified!

(N) So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying,

(S3) I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves.

(N) So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying,

(S2) Hail, King of the Jews!

(N) They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head.

After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross.

[At this point all may join in singing an appropriate acclamation.]

(N) And when they came to a place called Golgotha which means Place of a Skull, they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.

And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him.

Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."

Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on h is right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying,

(S3) 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.

(N) In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying,

(S2) 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. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, "I am God's Son."

(N) The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice,

(J) Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?

(N) that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the bystanders heard it, they said,

(S3) This man is calling for Elijah.

(N) 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. But the others said,

(S2) Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.

(N) Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.

[All may kneel or stand for a period of silence.]

(N) At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to man.

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,

(S3) Truly this man was God's Son!

(N) Many women were also there, looking on from a distance, they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said,

(S2) Sir, we remember what the impostor said while he was still alive, "After three days I will rise again." Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, "He has been raised from the dead," and the last deception would be worse than the first.

(N) Pilate said to them,

(S3) You have a guard of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.

(N) So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone." [Mt. 26:14-27:66]

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