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Palm Sunday Of The Lord's Passion: March 24, 2023

Our Scripture passage for this Sunday is extensive and covers nearly two entire chapters of Matthew’s Gospel from 26:14 to 27:66. This weekend we celebrate the beginning of Holy Week with what is commonly known as Palm Sunday. In this reading, we hear of Jesus’ Last Supper, betrayal by Judas, trial both before the Sanhedrin and Pilate, suffering, crucifixion, death, and burial. Various details are immersed in this account of our Lord’s final hours of earthly ministry. Our reflection this week will focus on only a few of these details and how they affect our lives as disciples.

As you hear this Gospel being proclaimed, you will notice one disappointing manifestation of sin after another. It is like a cascade of humanity’s sin, weakness, and failure all rising up at once against Jesus. Such an intentional concentration of malice is Matthew’s way of telling us something about the effect of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus came to save us from our sins, and through His suffering, death, and resurrection He destroyed the power of sin and opened the way to eternal life. Thus, we should not be surprised to see the sinful actions of so many surrounding Jesus at this moment. Our Lord will take the worst the world has to offer and bury the power of sin forever. In the face of such malice, evil and hatred, Jesus responds with mercy and love on the cross. As a result of Jesus’ death, we see virtue and faith begin to flow into the world as the veil of the temple is torn in two, the Kingdom of God initiated (for example, the earthquake and the saints rising from the dead), the centurion profess his faith, and Joseph of Arimathea care for the body of Jesus with respect and dignity. Indeed, darkness has not prevailed. The world has hope after all, thanks to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here’s a quick summary of the malice that surrounds Jesus and what it means for us on this Palm Sunday.
Betrayal — The passage begins with the betrayal of Judas as someone who would sell out a friend for self-gain. Perhaps Judas thought, “it’s just business”. Who knows? Why do we betray others by what we say and do? There are lots of reasons. Maybe we are angry or hurt and want to get even, perhaps we have a chance to get ahead at the expense of our friendship, or maybe we’ve out-grown the group we’ve been with for so long. Perhaps we want to ingratiate ourselves with someone at another person’s expense. Whatever it is, Judas, the “Companion” of Jesus (“Companion” means “one with whom we break bread”), becomes the betrayer. He shares the meal … and then shuns the friendship.
When have you experienced betrayal? What was the situation and motivation for that action?
When has someone felt that you betrayed them?
How do we betray Jesus when we “share in the meal” of the Eucharist but then sell out our loyalty at the first challenge to our faith when we leave the doors of the church?
Do you think that Judas felt betrayed by Jesus?
Spiritual Indifference — Notice how Peter, James and John fall asleep at a critical moment in Jesus’ life? They had the opportunity to spend these important hours with a friend in need, but they fell asleep. They could have been part of a great moment, but they couldn’t be bothered. Is it laziness or indifference? Whatever it was, they were given a great opportunity and they weren’t interested enough to participate in it. Instead, they slept.
How many times have we been invited by God to be part of a great moment, and we chose to sleep through it instead?
When have we had the opportunity to help carry out a work of the Gospel, but we couldn’t be bothered?
When have you seen spiritual indifference?
What are the excuses people use to justify their lack of response to such moments?
How can people keep themselves from falling asleep in their faith?
Violence — Jesus was peaceful throughout His ministry, so why did the crowd feel the need to come in violence? We see in this passage the presence of clubs, mobs, and swords. It is always a sign of failure when we resort to violence, intimidation, or force as a solution to problems. Our violence may not involve swords or clubs, but oftentimes it involves slander, gossip, and other personal attacks. It happens every time we attack or destroy the dignity of another person. Violence is our rejection of communion, reconciliation, respect, and solidarity; it is our endorsement of dominance, destruction, and corruption.
When have you seen people resorting to violence (speech or action) to solve their problems?
On whom do you impose your will, and how could you do so in a non-violent way?
Who has been “violent” toward you?
Who is violent towards the Church today?
How are people violent toward Jesus today?
Cowardice — The disciples fled when it became difficult to follow Jesus. They chose to save themselves rather than embrace sacrifice for the sake of their faith and loyalty to Jesus. Sometimes we can experience cowardice when we are called to stand with Jesus in a moment of challenge as well. This happens when we are confronted with situations or opinions that go against our faith. It makes it all the easier to fall asleep when others around us are sleeping as well; one of the principles of survival is that there is “safety in numbers”. Sometimes we find safety in numbers as well when we choose not to respond to faith challenges because others around us are not responding.
What do you do in moments when you are confronted with situations or opinions that go against your faith?
Oftentimes we remain quiet or prefer to shy away from a direct response. What are situations you have faced when your faith has been challenged, and how did you respond?
What are typical challenges to faith from which people shy away?
How can a faith community better prepare people to be courageous disciples?
Deceit — As Jesus is on trial, we see a host of false witnesses coming forward. These are people who are using this opportunity in order to appease those who have power and influence. Basically, they are lying for the sake of getting ahead and promoting themselves in the eyes of others … all at the expense of Jesus. Sometimes we lie for the same reasons — to get ahead, to make ourselves look better, and so forth. In doing so we always sin against Jesus who tells us that He is “Truth” and that the truth will set us free (Jn 8:32).
What are typical situations that motivate people to lie today?
When has someone lied to you?
When has telling the truth been difficult for you to do because it isn’t what others wanted to hear or what others wanted you to say?
Blaming — As Peter is standing around the courtyard, the crowds begin to question him about his friendship with Jesus. Peter not only denies Jesus, but he also rejects Him and “blames” Jesus by swearing he does not know Him. Peter wants Jesus to take on all the suffering and punishment so that Peter doesn’t have to do so himself. Peter doesn’t want the truth to be known; he wants no part of Jesus’ suffering. When we blame others while pretending to be faultless ourselves, we are denying our responsibility as well. We become content to make others pay the price so we don’t have to. We also see this action occurring through the crowds and others who mock Jesus on the cross. They ridicule Him in such a way that they are blaming Jesus for this situation and laughing at the tragedy of His crucifixion. In doing so, they are attempting to absolve themselves of responsibility for the role they have played in His suffering.
In your family and professional life, who are the people who are typically “blamed” when things go wrong?
Whom do we blame when things go wrong in the Church?
When do people find it easy to blame God?
When have you stood up to stop the blame game and assume responsibility?
Political machinations — The trial of Jesus shows how easy it is for people to be used as expedient pawns in games of power and deceit. In the process of such inhumane pursuits, the innocent always suffer. Even today people can be treated harshly in an effort to set an example for others to heed. It is common for the media to sensationalize current events for the sake of promoting certain agendas and sacrificing people in the process through ridicule or defamation. The trial of Jesus shows us how political decisions on all levels can end up hurting innocent persons in the process. We should be careful to never put ideology or any cause before love of God and neighbor. If we are hurting people in order to help people, then something is wrong.
What social agendas or policies are hurting people today?
Who are the innocent who are suffering because of ideology or political causes?
Who is de-humanized in your work environment and how does it occur?
How can you restore human dignity to someone who has suffered unreasonably or unjustly?
How do you know when someone’s suffering has become disproportionate to the wrong they have done?
Despair — Finally, we see Judas giving in to despair. He trusted more in his own sin than he did in God’s mercy. That is the ultimate sin against the Holy Spirit because Judas did not believe that God could or would forgive him. In his despair, he turns away from Jesus in an irrevocable way.
What leads people to despair today?
Who do you know of who trusts more in their own failure, weakness, and sin than in God’s power of transformation and forgiveness?
Oftentimes we show our despair by our unwillingness to even ask forgiveness. What sins do people find most difficult to confess in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
How can a faith community help people to never despair and to always have confidence that God’s mercy is greater than their sin?
In response to all this malice, Jesus does not condemn those around Him but continues to fulfill God’s will by dying on the cross for them and for us. In doing so, He takes the sin of humanity to the grave with Him and leaves it there while He Himself rises to bring us good news. Love is stronger than hate, life is stronger than death, and forgiveness is greater than sin. We may be weak and sinful, but we remain His disciples — if we are willing to accept the triumph of the cross and allow Jesus to be the Lord of our lives once again. That’s good news for all of us during this Holy Week and every week. Sin never has the last word in our lives unless we want it to.
Which of the above sins do you encounter most often?
How can you bring the good news of Jesus to those who manifest these sins?
Take time this week to prayerfully accompany Jesus through the final days of His life and ministry so you can more deeply appreciate the depth of God’s love and mercy in your life. [1]
Lord Jesus Christ
may your death be my life,
and in your dying may I know how to live.
May your struggles be my rest,
your human weakness my courage,
your embarrassment my honor,
your passion my delight
your sadness my joy,
and in your humiliation may I be exalted.
May I find all my blessings in your trials.

—  Prayer of St. Peter Faber, S.J.
[1] The insights used in this reflection were largely gained from the Word on Fire website and represent the work of Most Rev. Robert Barron.
Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. Pietro Lorenzetti. Fresco, 1228. La Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi, Italy.
Matthew 26:11-27:66

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot,
went to the chief priests and said,
“What are you willing to give me
if I hand him over to you?”
They paid him thirty pieces of silver,
and from that time on he looked for an opportunity
to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,
the disciples approached Jesus and said,
“Where do you want us to prepare
for you to eat the Passover?”
He said,
“Go into the city to a certain man and tell him,
‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near;
in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘”
The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered,
and prepared the Passover.

When it was evening,
he reclined at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating, he said,
“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.”
Deeply distressed at this,
they began to say to him one after another,
“Surely it is not I, Lord?”
He said in reply,
“He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me
is the one who will betray me.
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.
It would be better for that man if he had never been born.”
Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply,
“Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
He answered, “You have said so.”

While they were eating,
Jesus took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, and giving it to his disciples said,
“Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying,
“Drink from it, all of you,
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed on behalf of many
for the forgiveness of sins.
I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it with you new
in the kingdom of my Father.”
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Then Jesus said to them,
“This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken,
for it is written:
I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed;

but after I have been raised up,
I shall go before you to Galilee.”
Peter said to him in reply,
“Though all may have their faith in you shaken,
mine will never be.”
Jesus said to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
this very night before the cock crows,
you will deny me three times.”
Peter said to him,
“Even though I should have to die with you,
I will not deny you.”
And all the disciples spoke likewise.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane,
and he said to his disciples,
“Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee,
and began to feel sorrow and distress.
Then he said to them,
“My soul is sorrowful even to death.
Remain here and keep watch with me.”
He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying,
“My Father, if it is possible,
let this cup pass from me;
yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep.
He said to Peter,
“So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?
Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again,
“My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass
without my drinking it, your will be done!”
Then he returned once more and found them asleep,
for they could not keep their eyes open.
He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time,
saying the same thing again.
Then he returned to his disciples and said to them,
“Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?
Behold, the hour is at hand
when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.
Get up, let us go.
Look, my betrayer is at hand.”

While he was still speaking,
Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived,
accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs,
who had come from the chief priests and the elders
of the people.
His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying,
“The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him.”
Immediately he went over to Jesus and said,
“Hail, Rabbi!” and he kissed him.
Jesus answered him,
“Friend, do what you have come for.”
Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.
And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus
put his hand to his sword, drew it,
and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his ear.
Then Jesus said to him,
“Put your sword back into its sheath,
for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.
Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father
and he will not provide me at this moment
with more than twelve legions of angels?
But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled
which say that it must come to pass in this way?”
At that hour Jesus said to the crowds,
“Have you come out as against a robber,
with swords and clubs to seize me?
Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area,
yet you did not arrest me.
But all this has come to pass
that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled.”
Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Those who had arrested Jesus led him away
to Caiaphas the high priest,
where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
Peter was following him at a distance
as far as the high priest’s courtyard,
and going inside he sat down with the servants
to see the outcome.
The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin
kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus
in order to put him to death,
but they found none,
though many false witnesses came forward.
Finally two came forward who stated,
“This man said, ‘I can destroy the temple of God
and within three days rebuild it.'”
The high priest rose and addressed him,
“Have you no answer?
What are these men testifying against you?”
But Jesus was silent.
Then the high priest said to him,
“I order you to tell us under oath before the living God
whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“You have said so.
But I tell you:
From now on you will see ‘the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power’
and ‘coming on the clouds of heaven.'”
Then the high priest tore his robes and said,
“He has blasphemed!
What further need have we of witnesses?
You have now heard the blasphemy;
what is your opinion?”
They said in reply,
“He deserves to die!”
Then they spat in his face and struck him,
while some slapped him, saying,
“Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?”

Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard.
One of the maids came over to him and said,
“You too were with Jesus the Galilean.”
But he denied it in front of everyone, saying,
“I do not know what you are talking about!”
As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him
and said to those who were there,
“This man was with Jesus the Nazorean.”
Again he denied it with an oath,
“I do not know the man!”
A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter,
“Surely you too are one of them;
even your speech gives you away.”
At that he began to curse and to swear,
“I do not know the man.”
And immediately a cock crowed.
Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken:
“Before the cock crows you will deny me three times.”
He went out and began to weep bitterly.

When it was morning,
all the chief priests and the elders of the people
took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
They bound him, led him away,
and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned,
deeply regretted what he had done.
He returned the thirty pieces of silver
to the chief priests and elders, saying,
“I have sinned in betraying innocent blood.”
They said,
“What is that to us?
Look to it yourself.”
Flinging the money into the temple,
he departed and went off and hanged himself.
The chief priests gathered up the money, but said,
“It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury,
for it is the price of blood.”
After consultation, they used it to buy the potter’s field
as a burial place for foreigners.
That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood.
Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah
the prophet,
And they took the thirty pieces of silver,
the value of a man with a price on his head,
a price set by some of the Israelites,
and they paid it out for the potter’s field
just as the Lord had commanded me.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him,
“Are you the king of the Jews?”
Jesus said, “You say so.”
And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders,
he made no answer.
Then Pilate said to him,
“Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?”
But he did not answer him one word,
so that the governor was greatly amazed.

Now on the occasion of the feast
the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd
one prisoner whom they wished.
And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.
So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them,
“Which one do you want me to release to you,
Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?”
For he knew that it was out of envy
that they had handed him over.
While he was still seated on the bench,
his wife sent him a message,
“Have nothing to do with that righteous man.
I suffered much in a dream today because of him.”
The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds
to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus.
The governor said to them in reply,
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”
They answered, “Barabbas!”
Pilate said to them,
“Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?”
They all said,
“Let him be crucified!”
But he said,
“Why? What evil has he done?”
They only shouted the louder,
“Let him be crucified!”
When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all,
but that a riot was breaking out instead,
he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd,
saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.
Look to it yourselves.”
And the whole people said in reply,
“His blood be upon us and upon our children.”
Then he released Barabbas to them,
but after he had Jesus scourged,
he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium
and gathered the whole cohort around him.
They stripped off his clothes
and threw a scarlet military cloak about him.
Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head,
and a reed in his right hand.
And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying,
“Hail, King of the Jews!”
They spat upon him and took the reed
and kept striking him on the head.
And when they had mocked him,
they stripped him of the cloak,
dressed him in his own clothes,
and led him off to crucify him.

As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon;
this man they pressed into service
to carry his cross.

And when they came to a place called Golgotha
—which means Place of the Skull —,
they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall.
But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink.
After they had crucified him,
they divided his garments by casting lots;
then they sat down and kept watch over him there.
And they placed over his head the written charge against him:
This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
Two revolutionaries were crucified with him,
one on his right and the other on his left.
Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying,
“You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,
save yourself, if you are the Son of God,
and come down from the cross!”
Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said,
“He saved others; he cannot save himself.
So he is the king of Israel!
Let him come down from the cross now,
and we will believe in him.
He trusted in God;
let him deliver him now if he wants him.
For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”
The revolutionaries who were crucified with him
also kept abusing him in the same way.

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon.
And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Some of the bystanders who heard it said,
“This one is calling for Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge;
he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed,
gave it to him to drink.
But the rest said,
“Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.”
But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice,
and gave up his spirit.

Here all kneel and pause for a short time.

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary
was torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened,
and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection,
they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus
feared greatly when they saw the earthquake
and all that was happening, and they said,
“Truly, this was the Son of God!”
There were many women there, looking on from a distance,
who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to 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 himself a disciple of Jesus.
He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus;
then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.
Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen
and laid it in his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock.
Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb
and departed.
But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
remained sitting there, facing the tomb.

The next day, the one following the day of preparation,
the chief priests and the Pharisees
gathered before Pilate and said,
“Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said,
‘After three days I will be raised up.’
Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day,
lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people,
‘He has been raised from the dead.’
This last imposture would be worse than the first.”
Pilate said to them,
“The guard is yours;
go, secure it as best you can.”
So they went and secured the tomb
by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.

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