HOMILY PALM SUNDAY YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
THE FICKLE NATURE OF THE CROWDS AND INJUSTICE OF IT ALL
Mt 26.14-27.66 Is 50.4-7 Phil 2.6-11
And now we enter Holy Week, for the culmination of Jesus’ public ministry, betrayal, humiliation, unjust judgement, denial and death, as the Suffering Servant, emulating the words of Isaiah, and reflecting his role in salvation history, as portrayed in Matthew’s Gospel, very much along the lines of Mark’s, with some amplification.
In a way, you and I are given reassurance in dealing with our own humanity, given the human weakness of the apostles highlighted in the betrayal by Judas, for his 30 pieces of silver, with which he can’t cope anyway, symbolic in our lexicon today of one who sells out, without principles, and yet, Judas does come to his senses, with remorse, but too late, as his guilty conscience pushes him into a very dark place. What was he thinking? It can’t just have been predetermined, as he had the free will to choose otherwise. Perhaps just a moment of greed was enough to tip him over the edge?
Then there is Peter’s outright denial of even knowing Jesus, and his withdrawal into the shadows, along with the other apostles, followed by his realization of guilt and bitter tears, as he has wimped out at a critical moment, perhaps understandable in the circumstances of believing all was lost, with the arrest and trial of Jesus impending. So what hope did they have anyway, with their leader in Jesus gone?
Pilate is in there washing his hands of responsibility, and yet complicit in the condemnation of Jesus, whom he presumably just wants out of the way, to stop the religious authorities harassing him, thus seeking peace at any price, bit certainly not natural justice. It remains a bit of a puzzle to me how Barabbas comes into the picture and why the crowd call for his release over that of Jesus, whose death is called for by the chief priests and elders.
As for the fickle crowd, joyfully welcoming Jesus into Jerusalem not long beforehand, as we hear in the preliminary Gospel today, what to make of the sudden change of heart? It seems as if the religious leaders were more than persuasive, but we don’t really know why!
Simon of Cyrene is hardly a willing volunteer either, in being commandeered, without much choice, to help Jesus carry his cross, but he is there to help, whatever. The Roman centurion at the scene of the crucifixion professes his new found faith in Jesus as “Son of God”, after the cosmic events of the veil of the temple being split and the accompanying earthquake, described by the JBC as “midrashic gloss in paratetic style”, suggesting Matthew is using poetic licence here to describe the catastrophic event of Jesus’ death!! I wouldn’t worry too much about that, except that it all foreshadows the resurrection.
It is the faithful women who remain on the scene of it all, at a distance from the Cross, those who had earlier followed Jesus along the way, and looked after him, according to Matthew. Once again, it is a countercultural scene, with the women Jesus reached out to during his itinerant public ministry, following him right through to the bitter end, responding to his loving service.
Then Joseph of Arimathea, a man of some wealth, as a more recent disciple of Jesus, comes forward to provide the tomb for the body of Jesus.
So there is the whole gamut of human emotions here, with a deep sense of injustice pervading the whole Passion portrayal, yet with the underlying hope that this is not the end of the story, despite the tragedy of it all. And that’s the call to faith and perseverance, facing up to the crosses in our own lives, and our own mortality.
john hannon 2nd April 2023