Sunday Scripture Readings

PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION, APRIL 4 Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14 - 23:56 OUR GOOD NEWS: Even and especially in suffering and death, Jesus is our model in selflessly accepting the Father’s will. The four "Suffering Servant" poems of Second Isaiah (42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13 — 53:12) are uniquely precious to us Christians. The very early Church (possibly even Jesus himself during his public life) drew upon them to plumb the profound meaning of Jesus’ redemptive death. They record God’s determined will to use for His own loving, salvific purposes the terrible sufferings imposed out of hatred upon an innocent, just man. Today’s first reading, a selection from the third poem, makes several essential points that help us understand the mystery of Jesus’ Passion. The (anonymous) Servant faithfully mediates divine wisdom, rather than his own ("given a well-trained tongue"). His message is consolation for the despairing ("weary"). More ominously, his own fate will be grave insults and severe physical punishment. These apparently would be juridically imposed rather than random violence, following upon an official trial and condemnation in the name of community welfare. Even more mysteriously, by mutely accepting judgment rather than clamorously pleading "not guilty," the Servant seemed to acknowledge the justice of such condemnation. All the more astonishing, therefore, is his determination ("face like flint") and his firm confidence in "the Lord God," whose eventual "help" will completely vindicate this criminal and replace "shame" with its opposite — glory and honor. An amazingly accurate scenario, 600 years before Christ! A distinctive presentation in Luke’s Passion account concerns Jesus’ followers. Rather than cowards who abandon him (as in Mark), the disciples were "those who had continued with me in my trials." Jesus pronounced an efficacious prayer to preserve Simon’s faith after his betrayal. And the disciples’ sleep in the Garden evoked excuse instead of plaintive accusation — "exhausted with grief." The Lucan Jesus spoke only three times from the Cross, with each "word" in character with the rest of this Gospel and rather alien to the other three. Jesus prayed for His persecutors, thus setting an example for all of us Christians who suffer unjustly. Even in final agony, Jesus brought salvation to others, in this instance — typically — a condemned criminal outcast. And at the very moment of death, instead of agony and abandonment (Mark), Jesus expressed profound fellowship with God and firm hope in final victory. In sum, Luke invites us to participate in and imitate the suffering of the martyred Jesus. His account can especially be recommended for victims of injustice, the sick and handicapped, the terminally ill and dying. The scandal of the Cross is explained as God’s deliberate — if mysterious — will. It centered on the Father’s will rather than His own, which called Him to the degradation of cruel punishment and public humiliation as a condemned criminal, while firmly hoping for ultimate vindication and glory.

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