PALM SUNDAY (c). MARCH 24th 2013

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The gentleness of Christ urges us on

The procession (Luke 19:28-40). Jesus enters Jerusalem. Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord. This passage on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. The event had Jesus’ followers recall and understand the prophecy of Zechariah (9:9-10) on the coming of the great king, the Messiah, humbly to Jerusalem, riding on a donkey — although no mention is made of this prophecy in Luke’s text. One could get the impression that the finding of the donkey and the ease with which its owner parted with the animal were all miraculous, and possibly this is what the text intends to say. However, it is also very possible that Jesus already knew the owner. The Mount of Olives, Bethphage and Bethany were all near Jerusalem and we know that Jesus had friendly relations with at least one family there. A noteworthy feature of this present reading is that Jesus no longer wishes to hide his calling as messiah, king of Israel. His followers recognize his status and render him due homage, which he does not reject. Luke’s special presentation of this event merits comparison with the same evangelist’s account of the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, and the heavenly voice of angels. As the angels brought the shepherds good news of a great joy which would come to all the people (Luke 2:1), so too on the Mount of Olives the whole multitude of disciples began to rejoice and praise God for all the mighty works that they had seen, just as the shepherds at Bethlehem returned to the flocks glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen (Luke 2:20). But there is more that this. Mark (followed by Matthew) end the crowd’s acclamation with the words: “Hosanna in the highest”. Instead of this Luke has: “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest”, recalling the voice of the heavenly host at Bethlehem (Luke 2:13-14).

First Reading (Isaiah 50:4-7). I did not cover my face against insult – I know I shall not be shamed. This is the second of the Four Servant Songs (as they are called). (The others are Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 52:13-53:12.) It is not quite clear what person or community the poet prophet had in mind when he first composed these poems: is he speaking about himself, in the person of God’s chosen people Israel, or of some person, from his perspective, as yet to come. From the Christian point of view, and ours, what the poems say of the Servant of the Lord has been fulfilled in Christ, in his life, death, resurrection and glorification. In today’s reading the Servant himself describes precisely and beautifully Christ’s person and mission. He had received from God the gift how to suffer patiently and to understand those who persecuted him, and to bring a message of comfort to the wearied. He suffers patiently, knowing that the Lord will come to his help.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 21[22]). My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Second Reading (Philippians 2:6-11). He humbled himself, but God raised him high. This reading is probably and old Christian hymn, which Paul re-uses Christ. The hymn seems to contrast Christ the Second Adam with the first Adam in the Garden of Paradise. Adam, though human, in human form, succumbed to the temptation to be like God (Genesis 3:5), with the disaster for humanity that followed. Jesus, on the contrary, although “in the form of God”, although his state was divine, humbled himself, even to death on a cross. The glorification and the name bestowed on him is “Lord”. This simple term as applied to Christ is pregnant with meaning. The single word “Lord” means Jesus crucified, risen from the dead, at the right hand of the Father, and as glorified, who sends the Holy Spirit on the Church – all this “to the glory of God the Father”.

The Gospel (Shorter Form) (Luke 23:1-49). The Passion of Our Lord according to Luke. The full Passion Narrative of Luke’s Gospel for today’s Mass is about twice as long as this shorter form on which comment is made here. This shorter account begins with the trial of Jesus before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea and Jerusalem. At Jesus’ earlier trial or questioning before the Jewish supreme council, the accusation against him was one of blasphemy. In the present trial before Pilate, with the request for the death sentence, the accusation is of a political nature: inciting the Jewish people to revolt, opposing of payment of tribute to Caesar, claiming to be a king. Herod Antipas, ruler or tetrarch of Galilee, who was in Jerusalem for the Passover feast, would have known of Jesus’ activity in Galilee. Here there is no need to go into details of this Passion narrative. We may profitably, however, pay attention to some of Luke’s special emphases. Dante was accustomed to give Latin or Italian brief descriptions of his heroes and icons. He describes Luke as Scriba mansuetudinis Christi, the scribe of the gentleness of Christ. Luke stresses Jesus’ gentleness and kindness. We have three examples of it in this short reading. On the way to Calvary Jesus tells the women weeping for him, to weep not for him but for themselves, given the disaster soon to overtake their city. While being put on the Cross he asks his Father to forgive those responsible for this, making the excuse that they do not know what they were doing. On the cross he tells the penitent thief that on that very day he be with him in Paradise.

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The gentleness of Christ urges us on

Today’s readings present ample material for reflection. For the greater part they are so clear that they hardly need to be explained. The application of the message of the readings to circumstances of our own day can also be rather easily done.

The first and second readings for the Mass itself present the figure of the Servant of the Lord, presented as an example to be imitated. He has been given a disciple’s tongue. He can speak from the experience of one who has come to know the human condition. He has learned from what he has suffered and experienced himself and because of this is in a position to address the wearied. There is today a certain reluctance to endure any suffering, even that which is part of the human condition. In certain quarters and countries we hear of the “quality of life” as a determining factor in decisions, this “quality” at time implying absence of suffering, as if life had no meaning without such absence. This can in some quarters be advanced as ground for ending life.

Another lesson coming across from the first reading and the Passion narrative is the gentleness of Christ, and its call on all to be kind to one another. Pope Francis has recently stressed this aspect of the Christian, and the Church’s message, and his approach has been greeted by the media. The Servant of the Lord, and Jesus meek and humble of heart, have still a message for our own day. Let us pray that the message of Jesus, as presented by Pope Francis and of the Church, may be listened to in our world of so many divergent voices.

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