Thoughts on the Readings for Palm Sunday (A) 2017

For this Sunday’s readings click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.  https://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040917.cfm 

This Sunday we celebrate Palm Sunday, and the beginning of Holy Week.   Each year on Palm Sunday we read one of the accounts of Jesus’ passion from the synoptic (Matthew, Mark, or Luke) Gospels.  We read John’s account of the Passion on Good Friday.  Since we are in the A cycle of our three year cycle of readings, this Sunday we read Matthew’s account of the Passion.   

While all the Gospel writers tell the story of Jesus’ passion and death, each one does so from their own perspective.  In his passion narrative Matthew includes details about Judas that aren’t included in Mark or Luke.  Specifically, he mentions the exact payment Judas received for betraying Jesus, and Judas’ attempt to return that payment.  Also, in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus refers to Judas as “friend” when Judas approaches to betray him. Additionally, at the Last Supper Matthew includes Jesus’ words that his blood will be shed “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Also, since Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience, he includes Jesus’ statement that these events were unfolding so that the “Scriptures be fulfilled.”   His Jewish audience probably would have understood this as a reference to the “servant of the Lord” mentioned in the prophet Isaiah, and the “righteous one” mentioned in the book of Wisdom.  Another variant in Matthew’s passion narrative is that the chief priests and Pharisees ask that a guard be posted at Jesus’ tomb so that Jesus’ followers won’t be able to steal the body and claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  

Perhaps the most significant element that is unique to Matthew, though, occurs when Pilot asked the crowd about the fate of Jesus.  Specifically Matthew adds the verse that Jesus’ blood “should be upon us and on our children” (Mt. 27.25).   Unfortunately through the centuries this verse (and others) have been used to suggest that the Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus.   This idea was definitively rejected by the Second Vatican Council in its document: “Nostra Aetate,” and more recently by Pope Benedict XVI in his book:  “Jesus of Nazareth – Part II.”


The important and essential thing about Matthew’s passion narrative is that he saw Jesus’ suffering as the fulfillment of the scriptures and that Jesus was the Messiah promised by God.   

Our first reading this Sunday is taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.  It is a part of the “Servant Songs.”  The servant does the will of God, despite any suffering or hardship, and ultimately is vindicated by God.  

Our second reading this Sunday is from the Letter of Paul to the Philippians.  It is a hymn of praise to Christ who “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………”   

Questions for Reflection/Discussion: 

  1. As you read or listen to the passion, what stands out for you?  
  2. In what way does Jesus’ passion challenge you? 
  3. Why is it so hard for us to believe that because of Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven?  Or perhaps the question really is: why is it so hard for us to accept this forgiveness?  
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