JOURNEY TO THE CROSS – Passion/Palm Sunday

April 2, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary: Palms and Passion
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54


Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Matthew 26:14 – 27:66 or Matthew 27:11-54

Those who engage in nonviolent resistance have sometimes met a violent death at the hands of powerful forces. In recent decades, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Biko, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Oscar Romero all come to mind as leaders who willingly embraced the risk of death as they challenged forces of imperialism, racism, economic oppression, and hatred.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus aligned himself with people on the margins, those who lacked power, and those who threatened the established order. He named many of them in the Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12): the poor in spirit, the sorrowing, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness.

Likewise, Jesus never shrank from challenging those in power. In word and deed, he proclaimed the inbreaking of a new order, the reign of God, in which the rich and powerful would be brought low while the poor and the powerless would be lifted up. He preached against the burdensome and legalistic teachings advanced by mainstream religious leaders of his day, even as they accommodated and collaborated with the Roman occupiers.

Jesus staked his life on the mission that he had received to proclaim God’s reign. On this Sunday, both the Liturgy of the Palms and the Liturgy of the Passion invite us to hear how he remained faithful to his call even to the end. Matthew’s account of the entry into Jerusalem details how Jesus planned his entrance carefully, giving explicit instructions on how it would be carried out. By riding on a donkey, he would evoke two contrasting images. On the one hand, he was fulfilling the prophet Zechariah’s vision of the humble king who comes in peace (Zech 9:9). On the other hand, the style of this procession was a mockery of the Roman military leaders who would march into conquered cities on fine horses with weapons in full display. Just as he had done throughout his public ministry, Jesus once again aligned himself with those on the margins and at the same time engaged in a symbolic rebuke of those exercising both religious and political power.

In Matthew’s version of the Passion, Jesus clearly knows that his ministry of compassion, service, and resistance will lead to condemnation and death. He holds fast to his nonviolent, peaceful stance, stopping one follower from using the sword to prevent his arrest. His words echo an earlier dialogue that he had with the tempter in the wilderness: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53)

In his appearances before the religious council and the Roman governor, he continues his nonviolent resistance by refusing to answer. When he is crucified, the inscription over his head mocks his claim to kingship, yet it is in the very act of giving his life that he demonstrates most clearly his unflagging commitment to the reign of God and his trust in the one who had sent him.

Few of us will face a violent death for following the way of Christ. Yet twice in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus proclaims that anyone who wants to be his follower must take up the cross (Mt 10:38, 16:24). The cross is the path to new life for each of us, just as it was for Jesus and continues to be for the world that he came to redeem.

When our hearts are moved to care for others and to serve their needs, or when we stand with the most vulnerable in our midst, the cross will never be far from us. Discipleship and commitment to the reign of God always involve sacrifice, often in humdrum, everyday tasks like caring for a sick spouse or writing to someone in prison, but sometimes in more public ways, such as standing up for those without power or voice.

In whatever way the cross presents itself to us, our attitude, as Paul wrote to the Philippians, must be that of Christ, who “emptied” and “humbled” himself (Phil 2:7-8).

A Hymn for Today: “Way of the Cross”

Perhaps the most prolific Filipino Catholic composer of music for congregational singing today is Jesuit Father Manoling Francisco. He wrote this song for the World Youth Day gathering held in Manila in 1995. Created in a nation where stark economic disparities and deep faith exist side by side, this song captures the sense of carrying the cross with Christ today in the midst of poverty and suffering with trust that God will lead us to new life. Originally written in English, “Way of the Cross” has been translated into Filipino and Spanish. Listen to a recording here.

We carry the saving cross
through the roads of the world,
through the alleys of poverty and misery,
marching to a dawning day,
to freedom and victory,
to God’s life and endless glory.

Christ, sent by God,
obedient to the Father’s will:
He leads the way of the cross. Refrain

Christ, Redeemer,
crowned with piercing thorns:
He leads the way of the cross. Refrain

Christ, Son of David,
stripped of his glory:
He leads the way of the cross. Refrain

Christ, Son of Mary,
immolated for all of us:
He leads the way of the cross. Refrain

Christ, Lamb of God,
for us sinners crucified:
He leads the way of the cross. Refrain

Christ, our Savior,
in the tomb laid to rest:
He leads the way of the cross. Refrain

Text: Manoling Francisco, SJ, b. 1965. © 1995, 2003, 2009, Jesuit Communications Foundation, Inc. Published by OCP. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857
Tune: Manoling Francisco, SJ

Image Credit: Jesus before Pilate, stained glass, by J. Le Breton (glass studio of Gaudin, Paris), 1933, Cathedral of Amiens, France

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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