GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
So let's look first at the processional gospel, this opening gospel, from the triumphal entry. It's from Matthew 21:1-11. This is the famous story of Jesus sending the disciples to find a donkey and then riding that donkey into the city of Jerusalem in which crowds begin to gather, spread their garments on the road, cut branches from trees and proceed before him shouting one thing that I want to highlight. It says:And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
So my question here about this is why do the crowds lay branches and carry branches and shout “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”? Well the answer — surprise, surprise — lies in the Old Testament. When they do this they are quoting Psalm 118. Psalm 118 is a description of a king coming into the city of Jerusalem. And by the first century A.D. it was interpreted as a prophetic psalm, as a psalm about the coming of the future king, the Messiah, to the city of Jerusalem. So when they start proclaiming the words of this Psalm: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (that’s Psalm 118:26), they are in effect welcoming Jesus into the city of Jerusalem as both King and Messiah. That's why they say, “Hosanna to the son of David!” That's the name for the king of Israel. But what's interesting about this, the one point I would highlight for us, is that if you read that verse in context it actually says something interesting about the branches. Why do we use branches? Psalm 118:26-27 reads:
Blessed be he who enters in the name of the LORD!
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
and then it goes on to say:
The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar!
So the psalm was originally intended to welcome the king into Jerusalem who was also a priest and who would ascend up to the altar to offer sacrifice. So when the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, he too is a king coming into the city of Jerusalem, and he too was going to go up to the altar to offer sacrifice. But it's not the altar of sacrifice in the Temple, it's the altar of the cross. So whenever, on Palm Sunday, we take those words upon our lips and carry branches in procession, we are in effect welcoming Christ the King into the temple of our church and our sanctuary. And he's going to go in the person of the priest or the bishop, he's going to walk and proceed up to the steps of the altar. And there he will offer the true sacrifice of his body, his blood, soul and divinity. So it is a very powerful moment on Palm Sunday as we recall his triumphal entry, but we also, in a sense, make it present again in the procession with branches and in the Eucharistic sacrifice. So that’s just one quick point about the palms. I wanted you to know it because it’s powerful and important.
Now with that said let's turn to the account of the passion narrative in the Gospel of Matthew. So on Palm Sunday then this year, we’re going to be listening to the full passion narrative from the Gospel of St. Matthew. Now that’s three chapters, three full chapters from Matthew's Gospel. So for the sake of time in this video I'm not going to read the entire passion narrative out loud. You'll hear that at the Mass dramatically read. Very powerful. It’s one of my favorite things to do is listen to the entire passion in the Mass. However, for our sake here, what I want to do is
walk you through the whole passion, but highlight key elements of the passion in the Gospel of Matthew showing you two things. First, what are the unique elements in Matthew's Gospel? There are certain things that are only in Matthew's passion. And second, even more importantly, how does the passion of Christ fulfill the Old Testament? In other words, what do each of the events in Jesus’ passion mean from a Jewish perspective? How would they have been received in a first century Jewish setting, especially Matthew being a very Jewish gospel, and what was he fulfilling in carrying out these actions? So what I'll be doing is I’ll walk through basically seven key points of the passion narrative. And I want to use key verses to show you how Jesus is fulfilling the Old Testament and revealing himself to be the long awaited Messiah, the Son of God, the Redeemer of the whole world.
So let's begin. I'll be taking verses from Matthew chapter 26 through 27, which is the passion narrative. And I think I said three full chapters but it is in fact just two full chapters, but they’re long chapters! So let's walk through that together. The passion narrative in the Gospel of Matthew begins first and foremost with the handing over of Jesus by Judas and the account of the Last Supper. And one of the things you will notice in Matthew's passion narrative is that he emphasizes over and over again that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. So let's begin with the Passover. For example, in Matthew 26:17 it says:
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” He said, "Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, `The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.'" And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover.
Okay, so pause there. Matthew goes on to recount the words of institution and the Last Supper. Why is he stressing so much that the Last Supper was a Passover meal? Well in a first century Jewish context anyone would've known that the Passover meal was the annual memorial of the deliverance of the 12 tribes of Israel from slavery to Pharaoh in Egypt. So, on the Passover night the lamb was sacrificed, unleavened bread was eaten, and Israel was finally set free. They were redeemed. They were delivered. And they began their journey home to the promised land. So when Jesus institutes the Eucharist, the Last Supper, in the context of the Jewish Passover meal, he is, in a sense, inaugurating the new Passover. And so his Passover is similar to the old Passover. It takes place on Passover night, involves the sacrifice of the lamb with the Apostles preparing the Passover meal, but is also different because in this Passover meal, Jesus identifies himself as the new Passover lamb. This is my body. This is my blood. And then he commands the disciples to carry out this Passover meal. And so the question is, what's new about the new Passover? Well, one key element I want to highlight here...I could go into a lot more depth. My book Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, I have a whole book on this...but for tonight I just want to emphasize one point. The old Passover began in Egypt and ended in Jerusalem, in the earthly promised land. It was a journey from Egypt to Canaan. But the new passover of Jesus, in his passion, begins in Jerusalem, and where does it end? Well it ends with his resurrection and his ascension into the heavenly promised land.
So Jesus now is inaugurating this new Passover of a new Exodus that is ultimately going to lead to him passing over from this world into heaven, into the life of the Trinity, into the heavenly realm of the father, into the heavenly promised land. So that's what his whole passion is about: setting in motion that new Exodus with a new Passover. It also shows you that if he is the true lamb that we have to eat his flesh in the Eucharist. That's point number one. Matthew is showing us the new Passover.
The second observation I want to make about Matthew's Gospel is in the account of the garden of Gethsemane. After he tells us about the Last Supper in Matthew 26:30 and following, Matthew gives us an account of Jesus' agony in the garden and notice he highlights two elements here. First he says this:
when they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.
So the Mount of Olives was a mountain east of the city of Jerusalem where Jesus and his disciples travel across the valley east of the city, and they go to this mountain of olives. And there Jesus predicts that they're going to betray him, that they're going to abandon him, and then he begins to pray. And Matthew tells us that Jesus went with them to a special place called Gethsemane, and there he said to his disciples sit here while I go over there and pray, and his agony begins. So what is the significance of the agony in the garden taking place on the Mount of Olives in the garden of Gethsemane? Any first century Jew reading the passion of Christ would've known that the Hebrew for Gethsemane meant an oil press. So Jesus goes over to the mountain of olives into the garden where they would press olives to make oil, and that's where his passion begins. That’s where his agony begins. As he begins to take the sufferings and the sin of humanity upon himself, and he asked his disciples, “pray that you not be put to the test.” He says “my soul is sorrowful even unto death. Wait here. Keep awake with me.” So why does Matthew emphasize in his passion narrative that Jesus’ agony takes place on the mountain of olives and in the garden named after an olive oil press? Well one possibility is that in ancient Jewish tradition they believed that the tree of life that was placed in the garden of Eden was actually an olive tree. So if you read ancient Jewish writings outside the Bible like the life of Adam and Eve they actually say that the tree of knowledge was a fig tree and the tree of life was an olive tree. So Matthew may be highlighting here not just the historical fact that Jesus is on the Mount of olives, and that he goes to his passion in the Garden of olives, in the garden of Gethsemane, but he may see our connection with the Jewish tradition of the tree of life. Because what does Jesus do? He's going to go to the wood of the cross, and pour out his life for the sins of humanity so that we might have the forgiveness of our sins, and that we might be restored to paradise. We might be restored to Eden. So it's fitting that if the fall of Adam and Eve took place in a garden where the center of the garden was an olive tree, that Christ now is going to redeem humanity in a garden where olive trees grow. In a sense, he's going back to Eden as the new Adam in order to inaugurate not just the new Exodus in a new Passover, but the beginning of a new creation where he’s going to make all things new, through his passion, through his death, and through his resurrection. So that’s the second fulfillment: new Passover and also new Adam.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Now, importantly, Paul doesn’t stop the hymn there though. It’s not where the story ends. It doesn’t end with the death of Christ; it ends with His resurrection and His exultation, His ascension into Heaven. So he says:
Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Alright, so three elements here that are important. Paul is describing the fourth step in the hymn, the resurrection and the ascension. So he’s dealt with the preexistence, then the birth, then the Passion and death, and now he concludes with the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. And the three elements He highlights here are first His exultation. So although other passages will speak of the ascension of Jesus, Paul describes it as His exultation. In other words, God the Father is exalting Jesus to Heaven, to the throne in Heaven, to the heavenly kingdom. It’s kind of like a triumphal entry into the heavenly throne where the one who was regarded as a slave is now actually revealed to be king. Second, he:
...bestowed on him the name which is above every name… (Philippians 2:9b)
Now what is that name? Well, on the one hand, the name is Jesus, right? Because Paul says:
...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow… (Philippians 2:10a)
...and every tongue confess… (Philippians 2:11a)
And Jesus’ name literally means in Hebrew “the Lord saves.” So the name of Jesus is very powerful. It tells you both who He is and what He’s come to do. It reveals His identity and it reveals His mission.
But in context here, when Paul says:
...the name which is above every name… (Philippians 2:9b)
...he’s not just talking about the name of Jesus. Because it says that:
...every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord… (Philippians 2:11a)
And the Greek word there is kyrios
. It literally means “Lord,” and it could be applied to a king or to a lord. But in Jewish Scripture, if you look at the Jewish Scriptures, you’ll see that the word kyrios
is the Greek translation for the Hebrew tetragrammaton—the four sacred letters, YHWH, that are the sacred and unpronounceable name of the Hebrew God, the name of the God of Israel.
And so what Paul seems to be describing here is that when Christ ascends to the throne, the entire cosmos—everyone in Heaven, everyone on the Earth and everyone under the Earth—will confess that Jesus Christ is the kyrios
, that He is the Lord, that He is the one God of Israel who has come in person. And although human beings regarded him merely as a slave, merely as a man, and they put Him to death on the cross, the reality is that through that cross and through that death, He has now been raised from the dead and exulted to be revealed as equal to God the Father, and as sharing not just the glory, but the name of the one who also has the form of God. So He’s being revealed not just as Christ, the Anointed One, not just as Jesus the Savior, but as kyrios
, as the Lord of Heaven and the Lord of Earth.
And if you have any doubts about that, all you have to do is go back and look at the Old Testament passage to which Paul is alluding. So in the Philippian hymn, Paul describes every knee bowing and confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, but when he makes that image, he’s actually alluding to the passage from Isaiah...which may be one of the strongest affirmations of monotheism in the Old Testament, where Isaiah is insisting there is only one God. Listen to this in Isaiah 45:22 and following. It says, the Lord speaking:
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.’
So notice...Paul takes a passage, which in Jewish Scripture is referring to the one God of Israel, to the Lord, in which the Lord says, “I am God. There is no other. To me, every knee will bow and every tongue confess.” And Paul takes that text, and he applies it to Jesus. And he says that when Jesus is exalted, then every knee shall bow…
...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:11)
So what Paul’s beginning to reveal there is the mystery of what would later come to be known as the doctrine of the Trinity—that although there is one God, we have (in this hymn he mentions) two divine persons, the person of the Son who is in the form of God and equal to God, and the person of God the Father...and that when the Son is exalted to Heaven with his human nature, his human body in the ascension, every tongue will confess that He is in fact the Lord, the one God of Israel, “to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). So there’s a mystery of not just the cross, not just the resurrection, but also the mystery of the Trinity.
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