Reflection and Lectio Divina for Palm Sunday

Reflection for Palm Sunday – “The New Creation” by Fr Hugh O’Donnell SDB.

Palm Sunday Year A – Lectio divina on Mt 26, 14-27,66 by Fr Juan Jose Bartolome SDB  

The accounts of the passion are not a neutral chronicle of what happened, but a proclamation of faith born from the paschal experience. Matthew is no exception. He follows closely the chronicle of Mark and adds some details of his own. Matthew narrates the events from his own point of view, just as Mark did, but Matthew emphasizes more the conviction of the early Christians that all that happened was in fulfilment of a prior plan. Scriptural references are more systematic and more frequent than in the other gospels (26,15.54.56; 27,9-10.43).  Jesus is aware that he is going towards his death and he knows that it will not be his end. The conflict with the Jewish authorities is sharper and the triumph of Christ more evident. The suffering servant is the Son of God, the Messiah (26,3-4; 27,22.40-43.54). The Christian community knows that the Lord is now present with them (28,20) as they dedicate themselves to the mission entrusted to them – to make the whole world disciples of Jesus (28,19), and for this reason their suffering is somewhat less than it might otherwise have been.

Readings for the Palm Sunday <Click here>

I. Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it.

Matthew follows his source faithfully, both as regards the facts narrated and their sequence, but he also introduces some additional elements – the tragic end of Judas; the dream of Pilate’s wife; the dialogue between Pilate and the people; the public washing of hands and the request for the death penalty; the signs that accompanied the moment of Jesus’ death; the account of the guarding of the tomb (included for reasons of apologetics) – all elements that suit the Jewish context. His principal interest is to underline the decisive importance of the passion and death of Jesus for the community of disciples and teachers, a community that will be born after the resurrection of the crucified Lord.  The one who died so cruelly will remain with those who dedicate themselves to teaching his doctrine. And he will remain as Lord all-powerful.

It could well be that the account is so familiar to us that we run the risk of missing its most profound significance. Matthew narrates the passion with realism. He does not minimize the human drama nor does he overload it with emotion. In truth, the passion and death of Jesus are not the tragic end of a life that finished badly, but the perfect accomplishment of a plan already preconceived and announced by God (26,2). By his obedience in carrying out that plan Jesus becomes Son of God (27,54), and he becomes Saviour of the world by giving up his life (26,25-29): the messiah “had to” suffer. His death conquered death.  He opened the door of life to all the dead. The account of the passion is not, then, a chronicle of failure but, paradoxical though it may seem, a proclamation of Christ’s definitive victory.

The memory of what happened to Jesus serves as an encouragement and a warning to the community of believers, a community born after the resurrection. This community is the place where he dwells, “God-with-us”.  The way in which the various groups reacted during the passion of Jesus – the authorities, the women, the pagans, and especially the disciples – serves as a paradigm for readers of the Gospel. They, the readers, are participants in the drama and they cannot remain aloof. Precisely because they can avoid falling into errors already well known, they are more responsible. The community knows that it is made up of sinners who betrayed him and are now converted (26,75). They do not hide the fact that every time they tell the story of the passion, they hear that he was handed over for them. The passion story becomes a vademecum for the disciples. When they remember how and why the Lord died, they learn how they should live and die.

His dying was not an end in itself, but a demonstration of his total obedience to God and his great love for all humanity. Jesus revealed himself as Son of God by saving humanity.

II. Meditate:  apply what the text says to life

The account of the passion and death of Jesus always impresses us. It draws attention powerfully to the tremendous gap there is between the will of Jesus who longed to give his life, and that of his disciples who thought only of saving theirs. The few followers who accompanied him were quick to abandon him as he drew near to Calvary.  It is true that the death of Jesus on the cross reveals the love that God has for us. It is equally true that his death was, and continues to be, the definitive test of his disciples. All the hopes that his followers had built up while they were with him in Galilee, were well and truly buried beneath the cross on Golgotha.

Where do we stand in relation to the death of Our Lord?  How do we react before the cross of Jesus? It is helpful to go though the passion again from the point of view of three of his disciples who lived with him during his final days, because they personify the three possible stances that disciples of all times take before the cross.

Judas is the disciple who remains with Jesus to the end. He was attracted by the person of Jesus and he believed in his words, but he was not able to remain faithful. He, who had lived with the light of the world, now handed him over to the darkness of night. Judas is the prototype of those who follow Jesus closely. They know well where he rests, they know where to find him and they are in a position to hand him over to his enemies. His fate should be a warning to us. The disciples most accustomed to staying with Jesus are the very ones who betray him coldly. Handing him over with a kiss means little to one who has kissed him often. Routine, growing tired of being with him always, can transform a good disciple into a traitor.

Peter is the disciple who denied him and wept over his betrayal. He, who was always the first to acknowledge Jesus, was the first to deny him. He tried to resist his master’s capture with violence, but he was too weak to resist the questions of a few servants. The disciple who said he was ready to give his life for Jesus, finishes up abandoning him like all the others. Peter was brave in speaking but weak when it came to deeds, quick to promise fidelity and just as quick to break his promise. We like Peter because in fact we are very like him. We identify easily with him because we know that we ourselves are traitors who have repented. Our salvation, like Peter’s, will depend on which is greater – our sorrow or our despair. In every disciple who betrays his master, there is a potential Judas and a potential Peter. Our denial of the Lord can lead us to death or to weeping. It will depend now, as it did then, on whether our sin is overcome by our trust that Jesus loves us in spite of everything.

The disciple can be sure of one thing – the love of his Lord. Jesus loved his own, people like us, capable of denying him and abandoning him, easy prey to despair and remorse. He loves his disciples, not because they deserve it, but because that is the way he wants it. It is for that reason that every traitor can count on being loved.

Among all the disciples, one stands out, unnamed, unrecognised, the friend loved by Jesus, the faithful companion and faithful confidant. [John is not mentioned in Mathew’s gospel but he is deserving nonetheless of our attention.]  We know very little about him, but the little we know is enough. He was the only one who followed the way of the cross of his master without denying him, the only one who stayed, alongside Jesus’ mother, until the death of Jesus, the first to arrive at the open tomb and, when he saw it empty, the first to believe. It is no mere coincidence that it was the beloved disciple who was quickest to overcome the scandal of his master’s cross, where others stumbled. The one who knows he is loved will need less effort to remain faithful. He is able to accept the death of his Lord as long as he knows that it is a supreme act of love. The disciple who understands the death of Jesus as the gift of his life freely given out of total love, is able to assist at his master’s death, resisting any temptation to deny him or run away. There is no other way to overcome the scandal of the cross, but by understanding it and accepting it as a supreme act of love that defies explanation.   The disciple who knew that he was loved was the only one among the disciples who was able to remain faithful to the end.

And certainly it is no coincidence that the faithful disciple was accompanied at that crucial moment by the mother of Jesus. The one who passed the test received Mary as an inheritance. Anyone who embraces the cross in life, who does not run away from it, and who does not deny Jesus, even when he is crucified, will have the mother of Jesus entrusted to him as a duty and a gift. The one who loves is able to remain faithful, because his love is shown in fidelity. As he was dying, Jesus had no one else to whom he could entrust his mother except the beloved disciple. We will be more faithful in the time of trial if we feel ourselves accompanied by Mary. The silent effective presence of the Mother of Jesus makes suffering bearable and the disappearance of the master less painful. Mary belongs to the disciples most loved by Jesus, and they are the ones who are able to remain faithful even before the cross.

The lot of the disciples who accompany Jesus during his passion is one of these three: suicide and perdition, repentance and a return to living with the Lord, or fidelity sustained by love and the acceptance of the mother of Jesus as our own mother. These three possibilities remain open today, as then, to those who wish to follow the Master. The passion of Jesus is not an old story of long ago. The memory of it should lead us today to accept it as the supreme story of the love of God for us, and to recognise our responsibilities as Christians. In every one of us who assist at his passion there is an unrepentant traitor, a sinner who repents, or a faithful son of Mary.

Celebrating the passion today offers us an opportunity to remember the love that God has shown through the cross of Christ, and the responsibility that is ours. May we never deny the cross of Christ and may we never run away from our own crosses.  Only those who accept the cross will feel themselves loved by God, loved more than they can desire and loved beyond their own strength.

If we can stand on our feet at the foot of Christ’s cross and stay with our own cross, we will know that we are loved by Christ crucified. It will be easier for us, then, to remain faithful and we will receive Mary as our mother, for the whole of our lives. Could we ever desire anything greater or better?

III Pray: desire that what I have read may be fulfilled in me.

Lord, remembering your passion yet again frightens me. But more than fear on account of the pain you suffered, it gives me courage to see again the love you have for me, a love that seems incredible and incomprehensible. What have I done to merit such a sacrifice? What have you seen in me that is so lovable and so precious that it caused you to love me at such cost? I suspect that you loved me for love of your Father, just as your passion is a revelation of his love. I do not, I cannot understand. I thank you for loving me so much, even too much.

Your suffering and your great love make me afraid, as it does all your disciples. I cannot accept that I am loved beyond reason and without measure. As I follow you, I see in your cross the supreme manifestation of your filial obedience and of my only salvation. Make me feel myself loved as you love me, and feel saved by your death on the cross. Grant that I may accept your way of loving and not expect to be loved as I want. Knowing that you loved me even unto death in spite of my betrayals, my running away and my repeated denials, gives new meaning to my life. Nobody is deserving of my life except the one who died for me.

Tranlator: Michael Smyth SDB