Apr 9, 2017: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord (A)

Procession with Palms – Matthew 21:1-11

When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem
and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them,
“Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately you will find an ass tethered,
and a colt with her.
Untie them and bring them here to me.
And if anyone should say anything to you, reply,
‘The master has need of them.’
Then he will send them at once.”
This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet
might be fulfilled:
“Say to daughter Zion,
‘Behold, your king comes to you,
meek and riding on an ass,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”
The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.
They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them,
and he sat upon them.
The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road,
while others cut branches from the trees
and strewed them on the road.
The crowds preceding him and those following
kept crying out and saying:
“Hosanna to the Son of David;
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord;
hosanna in the highest.”
And when he entered Jerusalem
the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”
And the crowds replied,
“This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

This is Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Jesus had visited Jerusalem various times before, but had previously not wanted to be recognized as the Messiah and so avoided the enthusiasm of the crowd. Now he accepts their acclaim and even implies that it is justified, by entering the city in the style of a peace-loving king. Jesus’ public ministry is about to come to a close: he has completed his mission; he has preached and worked miracles; he has revealed himself as God the Father wished he should; and now in this triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he shows that he is the Messiah.

When they drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives,

Bethphage was a village east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives was a place long associated with the appearance of the Messiah (Zechariah 14:4).

Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them here to me.

This is a striking variation from the accounts of Mark and John where only a donkey is mentioned.

And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, ‘The master has need of them.’ Then he will send them at once.”

Kings had the right to press privately owned animals into their service whenever the situation seemed to warrant such action.

Note that Jesus is in complete control here.  He knows in advance what is available, what can be done, and what should be said.  He has foreknowledge and authority.

This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: “Say to daughter Zion,

Isaiah 62:11 in the Septuagint form is quoted.

‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'”

The remainder of this quotation is from Zechariah 9:9 in the Septuagint form, except he omits a phrase in Zechariah which alludes to the victory of the king. The text of Zechariah includes the king among the “lowly.”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.

The scene seems to be a deliberate reinterpretation of the prophecy. This was the only type of Messianic claim Jesus would publicly profess — the claim to be the Messiah who was one of the lowly. He comes on a donkey because he is a man of peace — a warrior-king would have ridden a charger (i.e., a war horse).

The mention of the ass and the colt in Zechariah is nothing but poetic parallelism, the use of two words to indicate a single animal; but Matthew has taken the verse with rigorous literalism; therefore he not only has the disciples take two animals but actually has Jesus riding both of them.

“Colt” could refer to the young of any number of animals, including the young of an ass. If the colt was as yet unbroken and therefore somehow ritually clean, mention of two animals could be a reference to the custom of bringing a parent animal along when introducing a colt to service.

However, the Church fathers have read a deeper meaning into this episode. They see the ass as a symbol of Judaism, long subject to the yoke of the Law, and the foal, on which no one has ridden, as symbolizing the Gentiles. Jesus leads both Jews and Gentiles in to the Church, the new Jerusalem.

The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road,

An act of deference to a king (2 Kings 9:13).

while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road.

Like the cloaks, the branches were also intended to soften the road. No palm trees grow in Jerusalem and the synoptic gospels don’t mention palm branches. The only mention of palm branches is in John’s gospel.

The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the Son of David;

A Messianic title.

blessed is he who comes

Another Messianic title (see Malachi 3:1).

in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.”

One who comes as the ambassador comes “in the name” of whom he represents comes with the full authority of that person. In this case, they recognize that Jesus comes with the full authority of God. The phrase “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” comes from Psalm 118:26 and is a jubilant and appreciative greeting to someone entrusted with a mission from God.

And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, “Who is this?”

The entire city was electrified by the occasion.

And the crowds replied, “This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The designation of Jesus as a prophet may refer to his ministry, or it could be an allusion to “the prophet,” one of the messianic figures of Israel’s tradition (John 1:21).

1st Reading – Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Our first reading is from the third suffering servant song of the prophet Isaiah, which foretells how the Messiah will be treated when he comes.

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue,

The servant is someone with well trained tongue, that is, a disciple.

That I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.

Although the text does not indicate who these weary might be or the character of the words themselves, the people are in some way downtrodden and the words seem to be words of comfort.

Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear;

The servant must first be a disciple, prayerfully receiving God’s word, before he can presume to teach others.  The word is alive and fresh each day, for God opens the speaker’s ears “morning after morning.”

And I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.

Like the prophets before him, the servant is ignored and even maltreated.  He willingly accepts what appear to be the consequences of his prophetic ministry to the weary.

The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;

There are no grounds for the speaker to make these claims other than utter confidence in God, certainty of the authenticity of his call, and a conviction of the truth of his message.

The word in the Hebrew for “disgraced” has the same root as “buffet” in the preceding verse and provides strong contrast.

I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

A phrase which is frequent in prophetic preaching to denote steadfastness. It is all the more effective here in describing a face covered with spittle.  The speaker is declaring confidence in God’s sustaining presence.

2nd Reading – Philippians 2:6-11

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.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
which is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This passage has been called “The Christ Hymn” because of its distinctive qualities. It has a rhythmic character and a use of parallelism which have led to the view that Paul is quoting a hymn composed independently of Philippians (possibly originally in Aramaic). The hymn, which was an early profession of faith, has a basic twofold structure: verses 6-8 describe Christ’s humiliation; verses 9-11, his exaltation.

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.

Christ, who existed from before the creation of the world, did not cling to the divine dignity that was rightfully his.  He did not use his exalted status for his own ends.

Many see an allusion to the Genesis story here: though in the form of God (Genesis 1:26-27), Jesus did not reach out for equality with God the way Adam and Eve did (see Genesis 3:5-6).

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;

Not only did he relinquish his Godlike state, he “emptied himself.” He did not empty himself of divinity, but of the status of glory to which he had a right and which would be restored at his exaltation.

Note the contrasting references to the “form” of Jesus.  He was in the form of God, but took the form of a slave.

and found human in appearance, he humbled himself,

In taking the slave-like human condition, he also took on the vulnerability and powerlessness of that station in life.

becoming obedient to death,

For a slave, obedience is the determining factor, and the extent of Christ’s obedience is striking. Compliance with God’s will in a world that is alienated from God requires that one be open to the possibility of death.

even death on a cross.

In a sense, Christ’s crucifixion was inevitable.  It was a common punishment for slaves, the nadir of human abasement.  Such ignominy was an indication of the completeness with which he emptied himself of his divinity.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him

The self-denying act of Christ is matched by the active response of God. His exaltation is as glorious as his humiliation was debasing.

Note that while Christ was the subject of his self-emptying, his superexaltation is attributed directly to God.  His extreme humiliation is matched by his extreme glorification.

and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,

Recall that in the Jewish culture, one’s name contains the essence of the individual. God has raised Jesus’ name, his essence, above every other.

Explicit mention of the new name is held back the end of the hymn.

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,

This hymn transfers to Christ the homage given to God alone (Isaiah 45:23).

of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

According to ancient thought, these are the three levels of the universe.  All of creation is brought under Christ’s lordship.

and every tongue confess

Another reference to Isaiah 45:23.

that Jesus Christ is Lord, 

Finally, the new name of Christ: Kyrios (Lord), which came to be substituted for YHWH in Christian copies of the Septuagint Old Testament.

to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus’ new position on the heavenly throne constitutes no rivalry to the Father, to Yahweh
himself; rather, Jesus’ voluntary abasement and the homage paid to him by creation in his exalted status bring honor to the Father.

Gospel – Matthew 26:14 – 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.

Jesus’ passion is reported in all four gospels. The passion narrative found in Matthew’s gospel is really a collection of episodes that together tell the story of Jesus’ last days from particular theological perspectives.

Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests

The name Judas  is the Greek form of Judah (which in Hebrew means “praised”), a proper name frequently found both in the Old and the New Testament. Even among the Twelve there were two that bore the name, and for this reason it is usually associated with the surname Iscariot (Hebrew for “a man of Kerioth” or Carioth, which is a city of Judah (see Joshua 15:25)).   His birthplace in Judah differentiates him from the other Apostles, who were all Galileans.

and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”

The gospels are unanimous in showing that Judas initiates the treachery.

They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

Some commentators see an allusion here to Zechariah 11:12 “I said to them, If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, let it go.And they counted out my wages, thirty pieces of silver.”

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread,

The feast lasted a week and a day (14 through 21 Nisan). This is one of the three annual feasts for which all men were expected to come to the Temple. The city was jammed with people, many of whom rented space. The city’s normal population of 30,000 swelled to 130,000.

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

Mark identifies him as a man carrying a jug of water, an unusual event since women carried the water jugs.

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.

This makes it clear that no one else was present, contrary to the usual family setting of the Passover meal. Jesus’ family for this meal are those who will be instrumental in building his Body, the Church.

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.

Jesus knows exactly who the traitor is.

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.”

The condemnation of Judas’ act is the most severe in all the gospels.

The death of Jesus is inevitable (Psalm 41:10 and Isaiah 53:7), but it is not inevitable that one of his disciples should betray him.

Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.”

This verse is unique to Matthew and establishes a direct confrontation between the betrayer and the betrayed.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread,

To commemorate the first Passover, unleavened bread is prescribed for the celebratory meal because in the flight from Egypt there had been no time to make leavened bread.

said the blessing, broke it,

The act of blessing and breaking is one word in Greek: eucharisteo.

and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

The body to be eaten as promised a year earlier after the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:53-58).

Then he took a cup,

The liturgy of the Passover meal requires that four cups of wine be drunk. The cup which Jesus is using here is the third cup, the cup of thanksgiving (see 1 Corinthians 10:16).

gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood

Again, he promised to give his blood to be drunk a year earlier (John 6:53-58).

of the covenant,

This is the only time in the Gospels that Jesus uses the word “covenant.” A covenant is a family bond sealed in blood and a common meal. This is an allusion to Exodus 24:4-8 where Moses sprinkles part of the blood on the altar (representing God) and the remainder on the people — sharing blood in this way symbolizes the union of the two parties in the covenant.

which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.

Only Matthew has this phrase. Certain Jewish sacrifices atoned for sin and guilt. The atoning death of Jesus liberates man not only from ritual sin and guilt, but from sin simply, for which there was no atonement in the Israelite sacrificial system. Isaiah 53:10 says that the suffering servant is offered as a sin sacrifice.

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.”

We, not the wine, are made new at the resurrection. Jesus has said that he will not drink the fourth cup of the Passover meal. He has interrupted the most sacred liturgy in which a Jewish family could participate. He will drink the final cup of the liturgy with the apostles at the messianic banquet in heaven.

Then, after singing a hymn,

The Great Hallel (Psalms 114 through 118) is sung at this point in the Passover liturgy.

they went out

The leave without finishing the liturgy — the fourth cup of the Passover meal has not been drunk.

to the Mount of Olives.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem began here. The elevation is as high, if not higher, than the Temple in Jerusalem. Considering Jesus has spent the preceding nights in Bethany, there is nothing unusual or remarkable in the journey to the Mount of Olives. Jesus and his band have traversed this path nightly, thus making it easy for Judas to tell the priests where to apprehend Jesus without a scene.

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’;

Jesus is quoting Zechariah 13:7.

but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee.”

Both Matthew and Mark, as opposed to Luke and John, record apparitions to the disciples located only in Galilee. This prediction is fulfilled in Matthew 28:16-20.

Peter said to him in reply, “Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be.”

Peter, usually the spokesman for the group, here speaks for himself. Peter’s excessive self-confidence will be followed by a fall more grievous than the others.

Jesus said to him, “Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.”

Three is the number of completion in Hebrew numerology, it will be a complete denial.

Peter said to him, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And all the disciples spoke likewise.

The other disciples join Peter in affirming their loyalty.

Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane,

The name Gethsemane means “oil press,” where olive oil was made on the Mount of Olives.

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,

He takes with him Peter, James, and John — the inner circle, the three who were present for the raising of Jarius’ daughter and at the transfiguration.

and began to feel sorrow and distress.

After the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, the devil had departed from him until an opportune time (Luke 4:13). Now, with the passion, he attacks again, using the flesh’s natural repugnance to suffering.

Then he said to them, “My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.”

It is almost as if he didn’t want them to be distressed by his agony. They are to keep him company and prepare themselves by prayer for the temptations which will follow.

He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer,

Saint Luke (22:41) tells us he went about a stone’s throw away. Because there was a full moon (the occasion of Passover is determined by the occurrence of the full moon), the Apostles may have been able to see Jesus; they may also have heard some of his words of prayer.

saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me;

He might be alluding to the fourth cup of the Passover meal, the cup of completion.

yet, not as I will, but as you will.”

A critical moment: Jesus submits his will in obedience to the divine will.  He does what Adam, the first man, did not — he obeys.

When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep. 

The disciples are too weary to stay awake. Men retired and arose early in the ancient world (there was no electricity; they worked by natural light).

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.”

Peter is being addressed individually.

The spirit and the flesh correspond to the two tendencies of rabbinic psychology, good and evil.

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? 

Jesus prays a variation of the same prayer three times; his apostles disappoint him three times.

Three is the number of completion in Hebrew numerology.  Christ has completely submitted to God’s will, and the apostles have completely failed him.

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.”

Jesus has asked his friends to help him keep watch so that he can pray, yet Jesus himself is the one who sees the approaching party. 

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs,

The wording makes Judas appear to be the leader — this is unlikely. He is more like their guide, since he knew the area and would need to identify Jesus to the guards.

who had come from the chief priests and the elders of the people.

The scribes are not mentioned as part of the crowd but will appear at the trial. The Pharisees are not mentioned at all in this reading although the scribes were mostly Pharisees. The chief priests were Sadducees.

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.

A kiss is a normal form of greeting in the culture of the day.

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.

This disciple is named only in John (18:10) as Peter. John also names the slave (Malchus).

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?

This condemns the use of arms as a futile solution, not an immoral one. If Jesus wished or needed help, it was available in far greater strength than the disciples could furnish.

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.”

The account makes it clear that Jesus is giving himself up of his own free will.  Though the authorities have come with clubs and swords, it is not by their power that he is arrested and killed, but by his own love and his desire to fulfill his Father’s will.

Then all the disciples left him and fled.

The disciples had been ready to defend Jesus by force — when he himself rejects the defense, they don’t know what to do. For the rest of the Passion narrative, they are not eyewitnesses. They have reconstructed these events from the large numbers of other eyewitnesses.

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 houses of affluent Jews had a front lobby, which opened into a courtyard (i.e., patio). By crossing the courtyard, one could enter the rooms proper.

Peter goes through the lobby but stays in the courtyard.

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.

The ruling council was composed of 71 members including the presiding officer, which was the high priest. It was composed of the elders of the chief families and clans, the former high priests, and the scribes. Apparently, the testimony of the witnesses did not agree.

Finally two came forward who stated, “This man said, ‘I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.'”

Deuteronomy 17:6 requires two witnesses in order to condemn a person to death. The testimony of these two witnesses is the same and therefore fulfills the requirement.

Their testimony refers to Jesus’ statement in John 2:19-21 — “Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.The Jews said, This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and you will raise it up in three days?But he was speaking about the temple of his body.”

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 Messiah, the Son of God.”

The swearing of the oath makes this a covenant ritual. The invocation of the “living God” would damn the soul forever if he lied, as a violation of the second commandment.

The high priest meant no more by this title than it signified in the Old Testament — the specially chosen one, the Davidic king. In the eyes of the Sanhedrin, that Jesus should claim such a privilege insulted God; for this humiliated, rejected man to presume to reveal and mediate the Lord’s glory to Israel was a supreme irreverence to God.

Jesus said to him in reply, “You have said so.

This sort of gives a half-affirmative answer. Mark 14:62 gives a simple “I am.”

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.'”

Jesus then points to his future exaltation drawing from Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1.

Then the high priest tore his robes

A sign of great distress. In that day, garments were very valuable, especially the robes of the high priest.

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!”

Leviticus 24:16 says that blasphemy was punishable by death.

Then they spat in his face and struck him, while some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?”

By omitting the blindfold and the servants of Mark 14:67, Matthew creates some confusion. The Sanhedrin members themselves appear to slap Jesus. Their question asks him to identify unknown (rather than unseen) mockers.

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.

In the Jewish moral theology of apostasy during persecution, a private denial was less grave than a public one and an evasive denial was less grave than an explicit one. In Mark 14:66-71, this shows an escalation of Peter’s sins: first a private, evasive denial; then a public, evasive denial; and finally a public, explicit denial. Matthew obscures this pattern with a public, evasive denial; a private, explicit denial; and then a public, explicit denial.

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.

Both Matthew and Luke note that Peter wept “bitterly.” Peter neither concealed nor excused his lapse. For such lapses there is no remedy but repentance.

When it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.

Jewish custom forbade night trials, with serious charges.  Since such trials had no legal validity, the Sanhedrin waits until morning to take further action.

They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor.

The governor was the senior Roman official in Judea. Although he was subordinate to the Roman legate in Syria, he had the authority to condemn a criminal to death.  This is why the Jewish leaders brought Jesus before Pilate: they were seeking a public sentence of death to counteract Jesus’ reputation and erase his teaching from the people’s minds.

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.”

Note that Judas regrets his actions, but does not actually repent.

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.

Acts 1:18 gives a different account: “He bought a parcel of land with the wages of his iniquity, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle, and all his insides spilled out.”

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.” 

There is no known prohibition that disallowed putting such money in the Temple treasury.

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.”

Most of the words in the quotation are actually from Zechariah (11:12-13), but the content is also closely related to Jeremiah 19:1–13, which is a prophecy of judgment for the shedding of innocent blood. Jeremiah twice speaks of a potter (19:1,11), and Matthew’s “Field of Blood” recalls his designation of Tophet as the “Valley of Slaughter” (Jeremiah 19:6), which also was to become a burial ground (19:11).

It seems that Matthew finds in Judas’s and the priests’ actions a fulfillment of the judgment prophecies of both Zechariah and Jeremiah.

Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

This is a Roman trial. Note that the chief priest had asked “Are you the Messiah?”, a question with religious implications, while the Gentile magistrate asks “Are you the king of the Jews?”, which questions his loyalty to the Roman emperor.

Jesus said, “You say so.”

You have answered your own question.

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.

Jesus’ complete silence can be seen as a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7.

Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished.

This custom is not attested to outside the gospels.

And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.

Some early manuscripts read “Jesus Barabbas.” Barabbas means “son of the father”, thus there is an ironic contrast between Jesus, son of the father, and Jesus, The Son of The Father.

So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus called Messiah?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over.

Matthew makes an aside about the unworthy motive of the Jewish authorities.

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.”

In Matthew’s gospel, dreams furnish divine guidance. This story of Pilate’s wife is thought by some to be legend.

The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus.

The group who had sent the arresting party now incites the crowd.

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?”

This is an indirect statement of Jesus’ innocence.

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.”

This gesture is not Roman, but is an Old Testament practice (Deuteronomy 21:6-9). By both gesture and word Pilate declares his innocence before God, although he acquiesces to the demands of the crowd.

And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.”

The people take the responsibility for Jesus’ fate onto themselves.  This includes the priests, the elders, and the crowd — all Israel is represented. See 2 Samuel 1:16, Jeremiah 26:15.

Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.

The Roman scourge was a multi-stranded whip to the ends of which bits of bone were tied. Prisoners often died from this punishment.

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium

The praetorium was the official residence and military headquarters of a Roman governor, where he had his guard and held court. Only Saint Luke has Jesus appearing before both Pilate and Herod.

and gathered the whole cohort around him.

At full strength the cohort numbered 600 men. It seems improbable that the entire force was gathered here; “the whole” is believed to infer a large representative grouping.

They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him.

Mark and John call it a purple robe, purple being the color of royalty and of the Roman aristocracy. The cloak of the Roman soldier was scarlet.

Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand.

The reed was meant to simulate a scepter.

And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”

The crude sport of the soldiers expresses their contempt not only for the alleged king, but also for the people whose king this was purported to be.

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.

Crucifixion was an Oriental method of punishment adopted by the Romans, usually reserved only for slaves, bandits, and rebels. It was prohibited by Roman law to crucify Roman citizens.

Crucifixion was a slow and agonizing death. Nails were probably driven through the wrists rather than the palms. The weight of the suspended body made breathing difficult and painful. Involuntary efforts by the legs to ease the pressure greatly increased pain in the feet, an ordeal that continued until the exhausted victim could no longer breathe.  In some cases, this might take several days, which is why prisoners were sometimes weakened by first flogging or scourging them.

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

An indication of the especially savage nature of the scourging — Jesus was too weak to carry his own cross.

And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull),

The name Calvary comes into English from the Rheims New Testament translation of the Latin calvariae. Hebrew (and Christian) legend has it that Adam’s skull was buried there (hence the depiction of a skull beneath the cross in some crucifixion paintings). The second Adam is sacrificed over the remains of the first.

they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink.

He may have refused to drink because he was saving the act of drinking as a symbolic act. (Recall earlier in the reading (Matthew 26:29), Jesus said, “I will not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father.”) See also Psalm 69:21 (69:22 in NAB).

Another possibility is that the gall, which could have been any of several bitter herbs (Mark’s gospel mentions myrrh), made the wine undrinkable.

After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots;

The division of garments was a privilege of the squad of soldiers who handled the execution; the crucified were stripped entirely nude as a final humiliation.

This action fulfilled Psalm 22:18, as is made explicit in John 19:23-24. In fact, the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus include numerous fulfillments of Psalm 22.

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.

The placard at the head of the cross specified the crime. Pilate was insulting the Jewish leaders, but the irony of its truth was apparent to the early church.

(It is from John’s gospel that we get the inscription INRI, which are the first letters of “Jesus the Nazorean King of the Jews” in Latin.

Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. Those passing by reviled him,

See Psalm 109:25.

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!”

These taunts are reminiscent of the devil’s temptations of Jesus in the desert (Matthew 4:3, 6).

In light of the full gospel story, note the irony: Jesus was going to return after three days, and “rebuild” the temple of his body. Precisely because he was the Son of God, he would not come down from the cross.

Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him

The mockery of those who are executed has been a universal feature wherever public executions have been practiced. The taunts come from all Israel — the passersby, priests, scribes, and elders.

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.'”

See the Responsorial Psalm [Psalm 22:7-8 (22:8-9 in NAB)].

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?”

The opening words of Psalm 22. Jesus is invoking the psalm by its opening words (a common practice at the time) and calling to the mind of the hearer all the prophesies of the Psalm which he is fulfilling.

This is not a cry of abandonment by Jesus — rather a cry of agony as he endures the dreadful wrath of God’s judgment on sin. This was all the more torturous to one whose relationship with the Father was perfect in love.

The cry is in Aramaic, except the Hebrew “Eli.” Mark gives the Aramaic “Eloi.”

Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.”

The cry of Eli, Eli sounds like the name Elijah. The bystanders who thought this must have been Jews.

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.

John 19:30 tells us that Jesus drank the wine and cried out “It is finished,” the words proclaimed after the fourth cup of the Passover meal was consumed. Jesus has completed his Passover sacrifice.

And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two

In the temple, the curtain (i.e., the veil of the sanctuary) separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was accessible only by the high priest and then only once a year, on the Day of Atonement.

The veil has now been lifted, and the Holy of Holies is no longer forbidden.  Heaven has been opened.

 from top to bottom.

No man could tear the curtain in this direction; a way of indicating that this was God’s doing.

The earth quaked, rocks were split,

The earthquake in the poetry of the Old Testament is the tread of Yahweh’s footsteps.

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. 

Some see this resurrection of holy men and women who were buried in Jerusalem as a partial, symbolic fulfillment of Dan. 12:2. There is no way of knowing who these people were, or whether they died again or were translated directly to heaven.

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!”

It is ironic and unexpected that the first to recognize Jesus’ true identity were Romans.

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.

These are the women who had accompanied Jesus from Galilee. John (19:25) has them much closer to the action and accompanied by John himself and the Blessed Virgin.

When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus.

Mark and Luke identify Joseph as a member of the Sanhedrin. Matthew may have seen a problem in the discipleship of a member of the council that had voted the death of Jesus, but it is unclear whether Joseph actually attended the council meeting.  Arimathea is about twenty miles northeast of Jerusalem.

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.

Joseph’s gift of a tomb completes Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9.

But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.

It is not unimportant that the two Marys carefully note the location of the tomb. The areas surrounding the walls of Jerusalem had literally hundreds, if not thousands, of tombs. The resurrection apologetic demands that the spot where Jesus is buried should be known exactly. Likewise, it is also important that the tomb is new, not previously used.

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.’

It is remarkable that the priests and Pharisees show such an accurate knowledge of the prediction of a resurrection which the disciples seem to have forgotten completely.

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.

This detail of the Roman guard is not contained in any of the other gospels. Its inclusion suggests that the Jews and the disciples all agree that the body was missing from the tomb on the third day, and the Jews charged the disciples with the theft of Jesus’ body.

Pilate has met his obligation: the threat to Roman peace and stability has been removed.  A contingent from the Jewish ruling body has also accomplished its goals: the contentious wonder-working preacher has been silenced, and any possibility of future upheaval has been sealed in the tomb with his body.  Neither Pilate nor the Jewish leaders realize that in reality everything is now in place for the eschatological event of the resurrection — they have ironically become agents through whom the plan of God unfolds.

Themes and Connections

The end of Lent.  In this final Lenten Sunday, as we prepare to enter the sacred time of Holy Week, we look again at the significance of Christ in our lives.  We recognize him as our Savior, but we look more closely in order to discover just what kind of Savior he is.  We find he has taken the form of a slave; he has been glorified with a name above all other names; and he continues to suffer with us.

A self-emptying Savior.  We have not been saved through military power but through the kenotic humility of Jesus.  Though he was divine, Jesus came in the form of a slave.  We have a Savior who was crushed for our iniquities, nailed to a cross as a convicted felon, and who there endured the sense of abandonment.  Why has God stooped so low?  Why did Christ empty himself so completely? Yes, he was obedient to God’s will, even to death, but that doesn’t answer the fundamental question: Why does God love us with such abandon?

A highly exalted Savior.  We have a Savior who was lifted up and exalted precisely because he emptied himself of his divine prerogatives.  He became one of us in order to show us how we are to live.  Unlike conquerors who triumph by putting down their opponents, Jesus was raised up because he himself was first willing to be put down.  His glorification was won at a great price, but it is his by victory and not by mere bestowal.  His name commands the homage no other name can claim, and it does so because he first handed himself over to us.

An example for us.  We have a Savior who first offered himself for us and then continues to offer himself to us as an example to follow.  As he was willing to empty himself for our sake, so we must be willing to empty ourselves for the sake of others.

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