4-9-2017 Palm Sunday
Apr 10, 2017
Lent / Palm Sunday / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Our Lenten journey comes to an end as we enter Holy Week on this Palm Sunday. The Passion we just read is from the Gospel of Matthew—we read two passions each Holy Week, today, and on Good Friday. A great theologian once said that the Gospels are "Passion narratives with a long introduction." By that we mean that everything in the Gospel—everything Jesus said and did—leads to his Passion and death for us.
And so on this Palm Sunday we meditate on Jesus’ solemn journey towards the cross—a journey highlighted along the way by our sin and dysfunction and all that separates us from God—the sin of the world that Jesus takes to himself and nails to the cross.
One scripture scholar called the Passion of St. Matthew a "symphony of sin," and we hear the first instrument in the opening line: "One of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot," betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. A betrayal. A traitor. For money. There is something particularly ugly about betraying a friend, for money. Dante puts Judas at the very bottom of the pit of Hell—a place reserved for those who betrayed their friends.
The Passion moves forward with the Last Supper and the entry into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus leaves his disciples and goes off by himself to pray, intensely, to the point of sweating blood. It is the night before his death, and where are the disciples at this critical moment? Asleep! A great theologian once called sloth, or spiritual laziness, the worst of all the sins because you just don’t care. When Jesus needs his disciples the most . . . they just don’t care.
But the symphony of sin continues—when Jesus is "handed over to sinners." Judas arrives, with a large crowd carrying swords and clubs. The "Prince of Peace" is met with the instruments of violence—the disorder and chaos of sin. In the confusion, a disciple cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant—a perfect symbol of the dysfunction present.
Violence cuts off communication—no one hears, no one reasons, no one thinks. Violence prevails—as it has down through the centuries, to our day as well.
Our symphony hits a crescendo when "the disciples left Jesus and fled." Sad words. Those who had sworn to be faithful, his friends—all desert him. A tragic scene of cowardice. Sin makes us cowards—we know what we must do, but we don’t. Edmund Burke said it well: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."
Jesus then goes before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin. What happens? False witnesses. People lie for their own gain—liars who follow the Father of Lies and care nothing for the truth.
But symphony of sin is not yet finished . . . Peter, in the courtyard, the leader of the Apostles. The one who said "I will never deny you" denies his Lord, and master, and friend three times. And a cock crows—a chilling note in the Passion.
In the end, Jesus stands before Pilate, who recognized Jesus’ innocence, but who caves in to crowd. In his moral weakness, he abuses his power, and "hands Jesus over to be crucified."
So what do we see, what instruments play in this Symphony of Sin? Betrayal, sloth, violence, indifference, cowardice, scapegoating, lies, abuse of power.
The full human condition! The human condition that Jesus took upon himself, for us, absorbing our sin, taking our sins to Calvary and nailing them to a cross.
But death would not have the last word. We know where the story leads: to Resurrection—Easter—bringing life, and hope, and love, to the world.