The Passion of Our Lord:
The Earliest Memories, Contemporary Echoes

For Sunday March 24, 2013
Sixth Sunday in Lent, Palm Sunday

Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C)

Isaiah 50:4–9a

Psalm 31:9–16

Philippians 2:5–11

Luke 22:14–23:56 or 23:1–49

"See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey."
A king on a donkey? A prophetic act and some political parody signal a different kind of kingdom.

"At first his disciples did not understand all this."
A recurrent theme throughout the gospels, so don't be too hard on yourself.

"As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, 'If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring peace.'"
More critical than at any time in history — what will bring peace?

Triumphal Entry.
Triumphal Entry.

"You did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."
A terrifying thought.

The whole city of Jerusalem asked, "Who is this?"
The ultimate question, which ever since then has generated contention rather than consensus.

Children shouting in the temple: "Hosanna to the Son of David."
The littlest and the best.

"By what authority do you do these things?"
A trick question elicits a trick answer.

"Keeping a close watch on him, they sent spies, who pretended to be honest. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said."
But Jesus "saw through their duplicity." And ours, too.

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you."
So are all the groups we love to hate. They didn't believe it then; we don't believe it now.

The chief priests and elders "plotted to arrest Jesus in some sly way and kill him."
After thirty years of total obscurity, then three years of prophetic ministry, it's the beginning of the end.

At the last supper "a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest."
At the Last Supper? Does our vanity know no boundaries?

"I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me."
Judas plays our part and takes our place.

"One by one they said to him, 'surely not I?'"
Yes, it surely is.

"This very night you will all fall away on account of me."
Despite all the protests, no one is excepted.

Jesus before Pilate.
Jesus before Pilate.

Peter: "Even if all fall away, I never will, even if I have to go to prison with you and die with you."
Enthusiasm without enlightenment spells disaster.

"And all the other disciples said the same."
Which means that Judas is unexceptional.

"What is written about me is reaching its fulfillment."
Divine fulfillment, not political fate.

In Gethsemane, "all the disciples deserted him and fled."
Now utterly alone in the world.

"Every day I was in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour — when darkness reigns."
Some times it is darkest just before the light.

The high priest asked, "are you the Christ, the Son of God?"
Yes. Full stop.

A servant girl: "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus."
Peter: "I don't know or understand what you're talking about."
Jesus: "The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter."
A look of compassion, not of shame.

"Peter broke down and wept bitterly."
"Judas was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver."
Make no mistake — we're all on level ground.

"They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate."
State interrogation, torture and execution.

"We found this man subverting our nation."
True enough! And not only their nation, but ours, too.

"My kingdom is not of this world. It is from another place."
Our call and challenge: to love the world but not its worldliness.

Pilate: "Are you the king of the Jews?"
Jesus: "Yes, it is as you say. For this reason I was born, to testify to the truth."
"What is truth?"
The truth is always more than we can bear.


"I find no basis for a charge against this man." So he sent him to Herod.
Detaining the innocent without charges has a long history.

Pilate's wife: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream on account of him."
An anxiety dream comes true.

Herod "plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer."
Not the slightest effort to correct the many misconceptions.

Back before Pilate: "I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod."
When the mob raged, Pilate capitulated: "Here is your king!"
"We have no king but Caesar!"
A depressing admission of the truth.

"They all condemned him as worthy of death," so "Pilate had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified."
Torture and rendition.

The soldiers mocked him, "Hail, king of the Jews! Prophesy!"
Although so close to the kingdom, the soldiers were clueless.

"When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots."
So strange, God's subtlety — the redemption of the world in a subordinate clause.
And for the soldiers, just another day of graft.

"Those who passed by hurled insults."
Despised and rejected to the bitter end.

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
The suffering servant of the grieving God.

"Father, it is finished, into your hands I commit my spirit." "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. He gave up his spirit."
The end of his human life fulfilled a divine call.

Harrowing of Hell.
Harrowing of Hell.

The Roman centurion exclaimed, "surely this man was the Son of God!"
A warrior's confession of the Prince of Peace.

"Many women were there," including "his mother's sister."
No need for any binders; these "many women" supported Jesus from start to finish.

"A rich man from Arimathea named Joseph took Jesus's body, wrapped it in a clean linen clothe, and placed it in his own new tomb."
It might make you feel good, but scorning the rich is a sign of sanctimony.

"Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw the tomb and how the body was laid."
The last at the cross will be the first at the resurrection.

Image credits: (1)  Christopher Haas, Department of History, Villanova University; (2)  Arte del Pueblo: Latin American & European Arts; (3) Morse Library, Beloit College; and (4)