“He was humbler yet, even to accepting death…”

PALM SUNDAY 2021

First reading: Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm: 21:8-9.17-20.23-24
Second reading: Philippians 2:6-11
Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:47

 

Today the liturgy invites us to reflect on the account of Jesus’ Passion. We are invited to go through two chapters of St Mark’s Gospel: from the anointing at Bethany, the Last Supper with the institution of the Eucharist, to the prayer in the Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the arrest, the trial at the Sanhedrin, Peter’s denial, the trial before Pilate, the scourging, the mockeries and crowning with thorns, the way to Golgotha, the crucifixion and death, the burial.

The Church invites us to reflect on Jesus’ sufferings and to follow him with our mind, heart and soul in his painful way of the cross, fixing our eyes on him: on his gestures, words, face, breath, on his firm resolution to carry out the mission the Father has entrusted to him, even when the weight of the cross and our sins crushes him to the ground.

The first two readings come to our aid, helping us to understand better this moving and awesome mystery of our salvation.

The first reading is taken from the so known third Song of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah. Here the prophet describes this servant in such a detailed way that he seems to refer to a specific historical person. According to the Jewish tradition, he was thought to be the mediator of salvation yet to come, the Messiah.

The aspect of suffering is clearly underlined in this hymn. Jesus has spoken many times about the suffering He was going to endure, and the Christian community identified him with the same suffering servant foretold by Isaiah. The Jews were expecting a victorious warrior-Messiah, and so they were ill prepared for Jesus’ answer to their hope: a Messiah who offers his back to those who struck him, his cheeks to those who tore at his beard, to insult and spittle (cf. Is 50:6)!

Christian religion is the only religion in the world in which we see a God who humbles himself and suffers for the love and sake of mankind. It is absolutely far beyond what we expected God to be!

And Christ’s humility is even clearer in the second reading, from the letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians:

“His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave, and became as men are, and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:6-8).

And for this reason… “God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names” (v.9).

What is this name? The Name above all other names is the name of God, the tetragrammaton (YHWH) which the Israelites do not pronounce. They use instead the term Adonai, which means Lord.

But there was only one occasion in which the high priest pronounced the holy name of God: in the day of Expiation, Yom Kippur (cf. Leviticus 16). This was the annual day to obtain reconciliation and peace with God. As part of the ritual, a scapegoat was sent out in the desert, after the high priest had laid his hands on it, confessing all the iniquities and sins of Israel. The high priest also offered sacrifices for the sins.

Jesus Christ, because of his sufferings and death on the cross, is exalted and He is given the name which is above all names, the name of God, so that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord (v.10), Adonai! St Paul is writing here something that is so shocking for his Jewish readers! He can say so, because Jesus’ sacrifice of expiation on the cross is the perfect fulfilment of that expiation rite, Yom Kippur, once and forever. Jesus becomes Lord, Adonai, because by his death and resurrection He ransoms humankind.

And in today’s liturgy of Palm Sunday we see our Lord Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem: He is proclaimed king by that same crowd that will later cry out: “Crucify him!”. He passes through those gates from which He will later come out under the heavy weight of the cross. The Suffering Servant of God, God himself made man, has become the sacrifice of expiation and reconciliation for the forgiveness of our sins and iniquities.

Let us follow our sweet Lord along the way of the cross, in this Holy Week, and wait with him for the dawn of resurrection!

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