Tag Archives: Palm Sunday

Matthew Compares Peter and Judas

April 3, 2020

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Jesus is the main character of the Passion Narrative. It was Jesus who presided over the Last Supper, underwent the Agony in the Garden, was arrested, placed on trial, sentenced to death, scourged and mocked, crucified, died, and was buried. The story is told in two chapters of Matthew’s gospel, chapters 26 and 27, and the gory details of Jesus’ bloody death are conspicuously absent.

Instead, much attention is given to the people who were involved with Jesus’ crucifixion: the disciples, the chief priests and the elders, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, the crowd, the soldiers, the revolutionaries, and the women from Galilee. As the story is retold, the listener is left to wonder, if I had been there, which of these would I have been? As the song asks, Where You There When They Crucified My Lord?

“Peter weeps bitterly.” as seen in the lower church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Mount Zion, Jerusalem, Israel. Father Michael Van Sloun

All four gospels mention Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot, but only Matthew gives extra attention to Judas, and only Matthew goes out of his way to compare them. They both sinned. Matthew was keenly aware that all of the members of his Christian community, like Peter and Judas, were sinners, as well as all of his readers. Peter and Judas reacted to their sins differently and had drastically different outcomes. When a person commits a sin, the person has choices. Matthew would point us to one character and away from the other.

The similarities between Peter and Judas abound. Both were apostles. Both were leaders, Peter the head of the group and the chief spokesman, Judas the chief financial officer, the treasurer. Both held positions of trust, Peter with the keys, Judas with the purse, and at the Last Supper they both sat close to Jesus, positions of friendship. They accompanied Jesus on his travels, listened to him speak, and witnessed his miracles.

On Holy Thursday night the points of comparison became more dramatic. Jesus knew they both would sin. Jesus told Peter, “You will deny me three times” (Mt 26:34), and he told Judas that he would betray him (Mt 26:25). Peter led the other disciples to Gethsemane to pray with Jesus (Mt 26:37); Judas led a band of soldiers and guards to Gethsemane to arrest Jesus (Mt 26:47). Peter listened to the trial from the high priest’s courtyard (Mt 26:58,69); Judas witnessed Jesus’ condemnation before Pilate, the chief priests, and elders (Mt 27:1-3). Peter denied Jesus three times (Mt 26:70,72,74); and Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss (Mt 26:48-49). Both regretted their sins: Peter wept bitterly (Mt 26:75), Judas flung the thirty pieces of silver into the Temple and admitted, “I have sinned” (Mt 27:4).

At this point their similarities abruptly ended. Peter went back to the other apostles; Judas went back to the chief priests and elders (Mt 27:3), and then off by himself (Mt 27:5), leaving the community. Peter repented; Judas despaired. Peter accepted Jesus’ mercy, went on living, and served for over thirty more years; Judas decided he was not worthy to serve. Peter glorified God by his death as a martyr; Judas dishonored God by his death by hanging (Mt 27:5).

We are all like Peter and Judas; we all sin. After we sin, we have choices. Shall I repent or despair? Shall I accept God’s mercy or not? Shall I pick up and get going again with the help of God’s grace or shall I give up and quit? Matthew has a recommendation for us: look to Peter.

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Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord A Dual Feast

April 3, 2020

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“Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.” As seen in the sacristy in the Franciscan Bethphage Church, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem, Israel. Father Michael Van Sloun

The Dual Nature of the Feast.  Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord.  It is a dual feast.  It has traditionally been known as Palm Sunday because the Mass begins with a gospel text that recounts how palm branches were used to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, and because palm branches are blessed at the beginning of Mass and carried in procession as part of the Entrance Rite.  It has also traditionally been known as Passion Sunday because the Passion Narrative is proclaimed during the Liturgy of the Word.

A Unique Aspect of the Palm-Passion Liturgy.  This is the only Sunday of the entire liturgical year in which two separate gospel passages are read at the same Mass.  The liturgy begins with a special opening rite with the gospel proclamation of the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the crowd waved palms and cried out, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Year A, Mt 21:1-11; Year B, Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16; Year C, Lk 19:28-40). At the regular gospel time the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ is proclaimed in its entirety (Year A, Mt 26:14-27:66; Year B, Mk 14:1-15:47; Year C, Lk 22:14-23:56).

One Mass with Two Distinct Moods.  The Mass has two very different sentiments or feeling tones, jubilation, then lamentation.  The opening scene is festive.  As Jesus mounted the donkey the excitement rose to a fever pitch.  The crowd swelled.  Full of joy, the people waved their palm branches with gladness, laid their cloaks on the roadway with reverence, marched next to Jesus in happiness, and raised their voices with exuberance as they confidently proclaimed Jesus as the “Son of David” (Mt 21:9), “the prophet” (Mt 21:11), and their King.  As the Mass begins with the procession with palms, we honor Christ as our King and sovereign Lord, and the procession with palms into or around the church is intended to recapture the energy and enthusiasm of Jesus’ regal cortege from Bethpage down the Mount of Olives and through the gates of the Holy City, Jerusalem.

An Abrupt Change.  Only moments later there is a jarring mood shift.  The former exhilaration comes to an abrupt halt.  The tone suddenly becomes dark and dreary with the proclamation of four somber readings.  The first reading is the third Suffering Servant Canticle of Isaiah (Is 50:4-7) with the sad words, “I gave my back to those who beat me” (Is 50:6a);  the Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 22, the first portion which foretells a chilling aspect of the passion of the Messiah, “They have pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps 22:17b); and the second reading is the Christ Hymn with the grim statement that Jesus became “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8b).  The culmination of the Liturgy of the Word is the proclamation of the Passion, the painful account of how Jesus was scourged, crowned with thorns, nailed, crucified, and killed.  This bitter account causes our hearts to ache with sorrow.

The Paschal Mystery.  Holy Week begins with mourning, weeping, and lamentation.  The Cross is the most ignominious of all deaths, yet it is through the Cross that Jesus ultimately triumphed as our King and Savior.  This solemn week is filled with anguish and grief, but it ends with an ever greater mood shift, the joy and exaltation of the Resurrection and Easter.

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“HOSANNA!” – The Palm Sunday Acclamation!

April 14, 2011

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Hosanna with Christ on donkey

Hosanna with Christ riding donkey into Jerusalem at Our Savior Lutheran in Canby

Hosanna in the Gospels. When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people in the crowd kept crying out and saying: “Hosanna to the son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest” (Mt 21:9). Two other evangelists also report the use of the same cheer as Jesus rode a donkey from Bethany to the Holy City and entered the Temple on the occasion of the great feast (Mk 11:9,10; Jn 12:13; NAB 1986). But what did the people mean when they chanted “Hosanna!”?

Old Testament Meaning

Hosanna” is the English rendering of the Hebrew word hoshianna which is found only in Ps 118:25, and it is hard to capture its exact meaning in English. In ancient times hosanna was a cry of distress or a prayer for deliverance in times of trouble, not a shout of praise. Normally this word was directed to the king or God, and it meant something like, “Please, save us;” “Help, I pray;” or, “O Lord, we beg you to save us now.” The New American Bible footnote says that it means, “O Lord, grant salvation.” Over the centuries hosanna’s meaning and usage gradually changed, and it evolved into a general cry of jubilation, a word of welcome, or a joyful acclamation of praise roughly equivalent to “Hail,” a greeting of honor for a king or a dignitary, or a liturgical or spiritual acclamation for God. In contemporary jargon it could easily mean “Hail to the chief!” “Praise God!” “Praise the Lord,” or “Alleluia!”

The Palm Sunday Cheer

By shouting “Hosanna!” the people in the crowd gave Jesus their homage. It was a grand display of respect and reverence, as well as a way for them to give Jesus their worship and adoration. Moreover, by chanting this word over and over again, they made an exuberant demonstration of their joy. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22) especially evident when God is present.

Hosanna in the Mass

Hosanna is a pivotal word in the Sanctus or Holy, Holy, the hymn after the Preface and before the Eucharistic Prayer. The verses are as follows: “Holy, holy, holy, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” For us, the cry “Hosanna!” is a way to offer Jesus our tribute, praise, and adoration. It often is set to music, and should be sung or recited with gusto and conviction.

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