Isaiah 50, 4-7 + Psalm 22 + Philippians 2, 6-11 + Matthew 26, 14 to 27, 66
As Matthew’s Passion unfolds for us, we see early church apologetics at work. Concerned to show that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and fulfillment of all that the First Testament Prophets had promised. The Passion we just heard is full of references to those earlier writings pointing to and converging at the death of Jesus. Isaiah, Zechariah, Jeremiah, the Psalms of David are all echoed in Matthew’s Passion with the entry into Jerusalem, the cleansing of the Temple, and the final meal all of which reach into the memories of the past and bring them to the present. We must not hear this Passion Gospel as though we are spectators! It is essential to our faith and to our experience of Holy Week now beginning to hear this Gospel as disciples who accept all of the implications and meaning of what is happening. We are not spectators. We are apostles. Just as much as Christ still lives, so also does Christ still suffer and still die. Just as Christ has risen, so too is he still betrayed, mocked, humiliated and unjustly judged. This means something to us. It means something for us. We cannot claim Christ or profess our faith in Christ and stand outside of this mystery.
The death of Jesus cannot be separated from our sinfulness. It is not someone else who cries out, “Crucify Him.” We have failed and refused to love. Sin is not a private personal matter. Sin is social, and its repercussions reverberate long after the choice is made. Even more so what we fail to do is just as harmful as what we do.
We watch the news the way we sometimes unfortunately listen to this Gospel, like spectators. Yet we cannot escape our complicity in the poverty of others because we have too much. We may not fool ourselves into thinking that if we buy something it keeps someone employed. The fact of the matter is, those employed are too often not given any just share in the profit of that purchase. It is simply turned back into the profits of those who already have enough. We cannot escape our participation in the violence fueled by the injustice and inequities of this world that we have helped create and insist on maintaining with our consumption and materialism. The Passion of Christ is the passion of this world and the suffering of Christ is the suffering of everyone judged unjustly and enslaved by the powerful who insist on preserving the status quo as did Herod, the Chief Priests, and the Pharisees. The promise of success and happiness through consuming and owning is made all the more powerful by the numbing misdirection of the media that puts us to sleep with games and desensitizes our children with sex and violence.
Riding into Jerusalem, Jesus chose humility and simplicity that challenged the illusion of power held by a few. He cleansed the temple challenging a complicity between commerce and organized religion. He broke bread at a Paschal meal initiating the importance of self-sacrifice for the good of all. He was hauled into court exposing the false assumptions of justice and the injustice that leaves the innocent condemned to death. He died on a cross for love laying down his life for his friends trusting that God would vindicate his cause. Then, he rose from the grave to proclaim that love is more powerful than death.
This day marks the beginning of a world transformed when the breath of life is blown again into the face of death as the Son of God breaths his last. This day is our invitation to step more deeply into the mystery of Christ whose presence in this world depends upon our presence, and whose power in the world is now vested in us through the Spirit he has breathed up on us.