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Palm Sunday, Year C

Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) 

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...So, to begin with, Luke’s passion narrative starts with an account of the coming of the feast of Passover and the account of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist, much like the gospels of Matthew and Mark. However, Luke tells us something unique about the Last Supper account when he describes Jesus’ words to the Apostles about sitting on twelve tribes of Israel and also about his particular prayer for Peter as the leader of the twelve. So let’s read that text. In Luke 22:28-34, Luke gives us these words. After instituting the Eucharist, Jesus says to the Apostles:

"You are those who have continued with me in my trials; and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Then Jesus says:

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." And he said to him, "Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death." He said, "I tell you, Peter, the cock will not crow this day, until you three times deny that you know me.

Okay, so notice here something really significant about Luke’s account. First, Luke (and Luke alone) tells us that during the Last Supper, Jesus appoints a share in his royal identity as king to the twelve apostles. Literally in the Greek, what Jesus says here, “As my father covenanted the kingdom for me, so I covenant to you, that you may eat and drink at my table, in my kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” So, effectively what Jesus is doing is constituting (in the figure of the Apostles) a new Israel, where they will rule over this new Israel, sitting on twelve thrones. Secondly, notice also that within these twelve Apostles who are going to reign over the new Israel, Simon Peter has pride of place. And it’s easy to miss that if you read it in English, but in Greek it’s really clear: when Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has demanded to have you”, the Greek word there is “you” in the plural. So if you wanted to translate it into English: “Satan has demanded to have ya’ll.” (I’m from the South, we have a 2nd person plural, it’s called “ya’ll”, and that’s what the Greek word there is.) Satan has demanded to have “you all”. “But I have prayed for you (singular) that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen you brethren.” So what Jesus is referring to here is two things: First, the unique role that Simon Peter has as leader of the twelve apostles and as the one who strengthens the brethren. And I just bring this up because (obviously) there’s a long standing debate about the origins of the papacy and the authority of the bishop of Rome and that kind of thing, but I want to highlight the fact that in Luke’s gospel, according to Luke, at the Last Supper Jesus singles Peter out as the one who has a special mission to strengthen the other apostles after he turns back from his fall of denying Jesus, and that Jesus prays a special prayer for Simon (and Simon alone) that his faith may not fail. I bring this up because in the Catholic Church we have the dogma of the infallibility of the pope, and many Catholics actually will point (and not incorrectly), they’ll point to the gospel of Matthew 16, where Jesus says, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” They’ll point to that passage as the foundation of papal primacy and papal infallibility, but what’s interesting is if you actually look at the definition of papal infallibility from Vatican 1 (and various Church Fathers), what you’ll see is the language of infallibility in Vatican 1 actually comes from Luke 22, Jesus’ prayer that Peter’s faith would not fail; the language of “not failing” is something that the Church is drawing on in the language of papal infallibility, with reference to Peter’s role as the supreme authority and doctrinal authority in the Church on earth, but also to his role of strengthening the other Apostles. I just bring this up because this is a really beautiful insight into the fact that Jesus, in the very midst of his passion, everything he’s about to face, everything he’s about to undergo, he’s still looking forward, beyond the cross, to the role that Peter is going to play as the chief of the Apostles and as the one who’s faith will not fail, because of the graces obtained for him by Christ in the upper room at the Last Supper...

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