Homily for Palm Sunday
The drama of today’s Passion Narrative strikes at our hearts. What great lengths God has gone for our salvation is beyond human appreciation. Additionally it delivers a message for our particular time. Like the Apostles we too have had the Lord forcefully removed from us by the civil authorities with the cooperation of apostolic authority. I’m not saying that the bishops have betrayed the Lord for shutting us down, but they have set the scene for some for a passionate Passiontide. If this is the story of how Christ brought new life to the world, is it unusual that the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church, might have to suffer in order for it to be renewed?
The Passion of the Lord is overwhelming. Let’s pare it down and just focus on the aspects that St. Matthew’s Gospel brings out that the others don’t:
30 pieces of silver
- It is a prophecy of the Christ from Zechariah. “And they counted out my wages, thirty pieces of silver. Then the LORD said to me, Throw it in the treasury—the handsome price at which they valued me. So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the treasury in the house of the LORD.” (Zech 11:12-13)
- We may not appreciate the sarcasm of Zechariah. He is referencing the fact that in Exodus, Moses prescribes that one pays thirty pieces of silver in reparation to the owner of a slave accidentally killed. (Exodus 21:32) So Zechariah fetches the handsome price of a slave and in turn gives a prophecy about the coming Messiah. After all this is how Our Lord regarded Himself for our benefit. “Who, 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 death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)
- It might be reassuring to us who find Sacred Scripture overwhelming to know that St. Matthew gets his prophets confused too. He mentions that it is Jeremiah who is given the thirty pieces, when, in fact, it is Zechariah. We’ll explore why he gets confused a little later.
“Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”
- St. Jerome (first translator of the Bible into Latin, 4th c.) holds that the rest of the disciples call Jesus “Lord” at this point. Perhaps Judas addressing Jesus as “Rabbi (Teacher)” shows how his crime extends from his lack of faith. How easy it becomes to rationalize various sins when we no longer believe in a God Who Himself lived according to His own precepts.
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.
- St. John Chrysostom (bishop of Constantinople, 4th c.) – Jesus makes clear that as it was stated that the blood of the lambs shed in Egypt were for the salvation of the first born of the Israelites, so it is Christ Who sheds His Blood for the remission of sins.
- As the Hebrews sacrificed lambs for Passover and established God’s new covenant with Moses, we offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Passover marked God’s change of covenant from Abraham to Moses. The ritualized sacrificial meal that signifies the New Covenant/Testament is the Mass.
“Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
- We must accept Christ’s invitation as a group to prayer, but according to St. John Chrysostom, Jesus is teaching us the importance of study and retirement for our prayers. Need to separate at times too.
Only Matthew has this three-time prayer of Jesus.
- Rabanus Maurus (Archbishop of Mayence, 9th c.) – The Lord prayed thrice to teach us to pray for pardon of sins past, defense against present evil, and provision against future perils.
Jesus to Judas, “Friend, do what you have come for.”-
- I think that this reveals Christ’s compassion for Judas right up to the end. As we know Our Lord teaches in John’s Gospel, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” It was Jesus’ last appeal to Judas. An expression of love for him and an admonishment to love. “This I command you: love one another.” (Jn 15:13-17)
“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?”
- In St. Luke’s Gospel we read “… and one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. … Then (the Apostles) said, “Lord, look, there are two swords here.” (Lk 22:36,38)§ Jesus gave an example of pacifism for Himself, but He didn’t mandate in for His followers.§ St. Augustine (bishop of Hippo, 5th c.) – “disciples had the sword by Our Lord’s permission, yet by “taking” it they have recourse to it outside of His will.” There are just times to take up a weapon and unjust times to do so. Christians do so morally when they protect innocent life, when they obey legitimate authority and subsequent moral orders.
- Chrysostom – by doing so He is convincing His apostles of His willingness to do this.
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.
- It seemed like a good idea at the time. But isn’t that how sin works? Despite the warnings from our conscience, we rationalize it. And then, once we’ve committed the sin and realize it as wrong. Then our shame is amplified and we wonder how we could, or anybody, have done such a thing? This is the familiar strategy of the Enemy. Diminish the gravity of sin or convince us that it is good and then shame us to the point that our sinful pride keeps us from being contrite enough to ask for forgiveness.
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.
- We can see more clearly now why St. Matthew got confused with Zechariah and Jeremiah. Zechariah is given thirty pieces of silver to throw into the Temple Treasury, but this typo, the confusion with Jeremiah, helps us to see yet another fulfilled prophecy, the purchase a field with a bunch of silver coins.
- Augustine – Potter’s Field is another message of mercy. This burial place for foreigners, that is, gentiles, not only speaks of Christ’s mission of
universal salvation, but also the poor, the disposed, and the outcast. The earthen vessels of the Potter, the sons of Adam, have a home in which to rest in the Field (of Christ’s) Blood.
- Origen (Alexandrian scholar, 3rd c.) – sees evidence against those who would hold that an intrinsically evil nature exists. “Whence Judas came to the acknowledgement of his sin… except through the good mind originally implanted in him.” Judas was good and could have had recourse to repent and get back to that goodness, but he despaired.
- St. Leo the Great (Pope 5th c.) – he persists in his sin because when he sees in the last struggles of death he believed not Jesus to be the Son of God, but merely a man of our rank, for had he not denied His omnipotence, he would have obtained His mercy.
There is more but let’s skip it and get to the end. (We Catholics aren’t accustomed to lengthy Bible studies)
- 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 …o This isn’t a zombie apocalypse, but it is a foreshadowing of the true Apocalypse (the Resurrection of the Dead). The fact is, the Passion Event is the most important event in human history and sin and death is no match for it.o Chrysostom – he didn’t come down from the Cross. What He would not do for himself He did for others. He provides a greater miracle than Lazarus rising from the dead.
The Lord has grown weary of seeing so many of us like zombies, the walking dead. We who have been promised eternal life yet persist and get comfortable in our state of mortal sin. We are cut off from what offers true happiness now and we jeopardize that which brings eternal happiness to come. Is it any wonder that the
only sacrament that I am permitted to share with you regularly is the Sacrament of Confession? We mustn’t let our shame and fear keep us from seeking His forgiveness.
To restore the Mystical Body of Christ, we may have to endure a time of separation from the Head, but lets not suffer this without the fullness of sanctifying grace available in the Sacrament of Penance. It is clear that the world needs penance, that is, reform. May our use of this grace filled penance help leverage this change.
*All of the references to Church Fathers are from Aquinas, St. Thomas, Catena Aurea, Commentary on the Four Gospels, Vol. 1, St. Matthew