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Palm Sunday 2011

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First Reading

Isaiah 50, 4-7

Lord Yahweh has given me a disciple's tongue, for me to know how to give a word of comfort to the weary. Morning by morning he makes my ear alert to listen like a disciple.
Lord Yahweh has opened my ear and I have not resisted, I have not turned away.
I have offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; I have not turned my face away from insult and spitting.
Lord Yahweh comes to my help, this is why insult has not touched me, this is why I have set my face like flint and know that I shall not be put to shame.



Psalm 21


Jesus, man of pain, you truly know suffering.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
You are far from my plea
and the cry of my distress

O my God, I call by day and you give no reply;
I call by night and I find no peace.

Yet you, O God, are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.

In you our fathers put their trust;
they trusted and you set them free.

When they cried to you, they escaped.
In you they trusted and never in vain.

But I am a worm and no man,
the butt of men, laughing-stock of the people.

All who see me deride me.
They curl their lips, they toss their heads.

'He trusted in the Lord, let him save him;
let them release him if this is his friend'.

Yes, it was you who took me from the womb,
entrusted me to my mother's breast,

To you I was committed from my birth,
from my mother's womb you have been my God.

Do not leave me alone in my distress;
come close,
there is none else to help.

Many bulls have surrounded me,
fierce bulls of Bashan close me in.

Against me they open wide their jaws,
like lions, rending and roaring.

Like water I am poured out,
disjointed are all my bones.

My heart has become like wax,
it is melted within my breast.

Parched as burnt clay is my throat,
my tongue cleaves to my jaws
and lay me in the dust of death.

Many dogs surrounded me,
a band of the wicked beset me.

They tear holes in my hands and my feet
I can count every one of my bones.

These people stare at me and gloat;
they divide my clothing among them.
They cast lots for my robe.

O Lord, do not leave me alone,
my strength, make haste to help me!

Rescue my soul from the sword,
my life from the grip of these dogs.

Save my life from the jaws of these lions,
my poor soul from the horns of these oxen.

I will tell of your name to my brethren
and praise you where they are assembled.

'You who fear the Lord give him praise;
all sons of Jacob, give him glory.
Revere him, Israel's sons.

For he has never despised
nor scorned the poverty of the poor.

From him he has not hidden his face,
but he heard the poor man when he cried'.

You are my praise in the great assembly.
My vows I will pay before those who fear him.

The poor shall eat and shall have their fill.
They shall praise the Lord, those who seek him.
May their hearts live for ever and ever!

All the earth shall remember
and return to the Lord,

all families of the nations
worship before him

For the kingdom is the Lord's;
he is ruler of the nations.

They shall worship him, all the mighty of the earth;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust.

And my soul shall live for him,
my children serve him.

They shall tell of the Lord to generations yet to come,
declare his faithfulness.

to peoples yet unborn '
These things the Lord has done'.

Second Reading

Philippians 2, 6-11

Who, being in the form of God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped.
But he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being,
he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross.
And for this God raised him high, and gave him the name which is above all other names;
so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Reading of the Gospel

Matthew 26, 14-27,66

Then one of the Twelve, the man called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests
and said, 'What are you prepared to give me if I hand him over to you?' They paid him thirty silver pieces,
and from then onwards he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus to say, 'Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?'
He said, 'Go to a certain man in the city and say to him, "The Master says: My time is near. It is at your house that I am keeping Passover with my disciples." '
The disciples did what Jesus told them and prepared the Passover.
When evening came he was at table with the Twelve.
And while they were eating he said, 'In truth I tell you, one of you is about to betray me.'
They were greatly distressed and started asking him in turn, 'Not me, Lord, surely?'
He answered, 'Someone who has dipped his hand into the dish with me will betray me.
The Son of man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!'
Judas, who was to betray him, asked in his turn, 'Not me, Rabbi, surely?' Jesus answered, 'It is you who say it.'
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to the disciples. 'Take it and eat,' he said, 'this is my body.'
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he handed it to them saying, 'Drink from this, all of you,
for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
From now on, I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the kingdom of my Father.'
After the psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives.
Then Jesus said to them, 'You will all fall away from me tonight, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered,
but after my resurrection I shall go ahead of you to Galilee.'
At this, Peter said to him, 'Even if all fall away from you, I will never fall away.'
Jesus answered him, 'In truth I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will have disowned me three times.'
Peter said to him, 'Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.' And all the disciples said the same.
Then Jesus came with them to a plot of land called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, 'Stay here while I go over there to pray.'
He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him. And he began to feel sadness and anguish.
Then he said to them, 'My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here and stay awake with me.'
And going on a little further he fell on his face and prayed. 'My Father,' he said, 'if it is possible, let this cup pass me by. Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.'
He came back to the disciples and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'So you had not the strength to stay awake with me for one hour?
Stay awake, and pray not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing enough, but human nature is weak.'
Again, a second time, he went away and prayed: 'My Father,' he said, 'if this cup cannot pass by, but I must drink it, your will be done!'
And he came back again and found them sleeping, their eyes were so heavy.
Leaving them there, he went away again and prayed for the third time, repeating the same words.
Then he came back to the disciples and said to them, 'You can sleep on now and have your rest. Look, the hour has come when the Son of man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
Get up! Let us go! Look, my betrayer is not far away.'
And suddenly while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared, and with him a large number of men armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and elders of the people.
Now the traitor had arranged a sign with them saying, 'The one I kiss, he is the man. Arrest him.'
So he went up to Jesus at once and said, 'Greetings, Rabbi,' and kissed him.
Jesus said to him, 'My friend, do what you are here for.' Then they came forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
And suddenly, one of the followers of Jesus grasped his sword and drew it; he struck the high priest's servant and cut off his ear.
Jesus then said, 'Put your sword back, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
Or do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, who would promptly send more than twelve legions of angels to my defence?
But then, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that say this is the way it must be?'
It was at this time that Jesus said to the crowds, 'Am I a bandit, that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I sat teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid a hand on me.'
Now all this happened to fulfil the prophecies in scripture. Then all the disciples deserted him and ran away.
The men who had arrested Jesus led him off to the house of Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.
Peter followed him at a distance right to the high priest's palace, and he went in and sat down with the attendants to see what the end would be.
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus, however false, on which they might have him executed.
But they could not find any, though several lying witnesses came forward. Eventually two came forward
and made a statement, 'This man said, "I have power to destroy the Temple of God and in three days build it up." '
The high priest then rose and said to him, 'Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?'
But Jesus was silent. And the high priest said to him, 'I put you on oath by the living God to tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.'
Jesus answered him, 'It is you who say it. But, I tell you that from this time onward you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.'
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, 'He has blasphemed. What need of witnesses have we now? There! You have just heard the blasphemy.
What is your opinion?' They answered, 'He deserves to die.'
Then they spat in his face and hit him with their fists; others said as they struck him,
'Prophesy to us, Christ! Who hit you then?'
Meanwhile Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came up to him saying, 'You, too, were with Jesus the Galilean.'
But he denied it in front of them all. 'I do not know what you are talking about,' he said.
When he went out to the gateway another servant-girl saw him and said to the people there, 'This man was with Jesus the Nazarene.'
And again, with an oath, he denied it, 'I do not know the man.'
A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, 'You are certainly one of them too! Why, your accent gives you away.'
Then he started cursing and swearing, 'I do not know the man.' And at once the cock crowed,
and Peter remembered what Jesus had said, 'Before the cock crows you will have disowned me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly.
When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people met in council to bring about the death of Jesus.
They had him bound and led him away to hand him over to Pilate, the governor.
When he found that Jesus had been condemned, then Judas, his betrayer, was filled with remorse and took the thirty silver pieces back to the chief priests and elders
saying, 'I have sinned. I have betrayed innocent blood.' They replied, 'What is that to us? That is your concern.'
And flinging down the silver pieces in the sanctuary he made off, and went and hanged himself.
The chief priests picked up the silver pieces and said, 'It is against the Law to put this into the treasury; it is blood-money.'
So they discussed the matter and with it bought the potter's field as a graveyard for foreigners,
and this is why the field is still called the Field of Blood.
The word spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was then fulfilled: And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by the children of Israel,
and they gave them for the potter's field, just as the Lord directed me.
Jesus, then, was brought before the governor, and the governor put to him this question, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' Jesus replied, 'It is you who say it.'
But when he was accused by the chief priests and the elders he refused to answer at all.
Pilate then said to him, 'Do you not hear how many charges they have made against you?'
But to the governor's amazement, he offered not a word in answer to any of the charges.
At festival time it was the governor's practice to release a prisoner for the people, anyone they chose.
Now there was then a notorious prisoner whose name was Barabbas.
So when the crowd gathered, Pilate said to them, 'Which do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?'
For Pilate knew it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over.
Now as he was seated in the chair of judgement, his wife sent him a message, 'Have nothing to do with that upright man; I have been extremely upset today by a dream that I had about him.'
The chief priests and the elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus.
So when the governor spoke and asked them, 'Which of the two do you want me to release for you?' they said, 'Barabbas.'
Pilate said to them, 'But in that case, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?' They all said, 'Let him be crucified!'
He asked, 'But what harm has he done?' But they shouted all the louder, 'Let him be crucified!'
Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact a riot was imminent. So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd and said, 'I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your concern.'
And the people, every one of them, shouted back, 'Let his blood be on us and on our children!'
Then he released Barabbas for them. After having Jesus scourged he handed him over to be crucified.
Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus with them into the Praetorium and collected the whole cohort round him.
And they stripped him and put a scarlet cloak round him,
and having twisted some thorns into a crown they put this on his head and placed a reed in his right hand. To make fun of him they knelt to him saying, 'Hail, king of the Jews!'
And they spat on him and took the reed and struck him on the head with it.
And when they had finished making fun of him, they took off the cloak and dressed him in his own clothes and led him away to crucifixion.
On their way out, they came across a man from Cyrene, called Simon, and enlisted him to carry his cross.
When they had reached a place called Golgotha, that is, the place of the skull,
they gave him wine to drink mixed with gall, which he tasted but refused to drink.
When they had finished crucifying him they shared out his clothing by casting lots,
and then sat down and stayed there keeping guard over him.
Above his head was placed the charge against him; it read: 'This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.'
Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.
The passers-by jeered at him; they shook their heads
and said, 'So you would destroy the Temple and in three days rebuild it! Then save yourself if you are God's son and come down from the cross!'
The chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him in the same way,
with the words, 'He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the king of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.
He has put his trust in God; now let God rescue him if he wants him. For he did say, "I am God's son." '
Even the bandits who were crucified with him taunted him in the same way.
From the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'
When some of those who stood there heard this, they said, 'The man is calling on Elijah,'
and one of them quickly ran to get a sponge which he filled with vinegar and, putting it on a reed, gave it him to drink.
But the rest of them said, 'Wait! And see if Elijah will come to save him.'
But Jesus, again crying out in a loud voice, yielded up his spirit.
And suddenly, the veil of the Sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom, the earth quaked, the rocks were split,
the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy people rose from the dead,
and these, after his resurrection, came out of the tombs, entered the holy city and appeared to a number of people.
The centurion, together with the others guarding Jesus, had seen the earthquake and all that was taking place, and they were terrified and said, 'In truth this man was son of God.'
And many women were there, watching from a distance, the same women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and looked after him.
Among them were Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee's sons.
When it was evening, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, called Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.
This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.
So Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean shroud
and put it in his own new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a large stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away.
Now Mary of Magdala and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the sepulchre.
Next day, that is, when Preparation Day was over, the chief priests and the Pharisees went in a body to Pilate
and said to him, 'Your Excellency, we recall that this impostor said, while he was still alive, "After three days I shall rise again."
Therefore give the order to have the sepulchre kept secure until the third day, for fear his disciples come and steal him away and tell the people, "He has risen from the dead." This last piece of fraud would be worse than what went before.'
Pilate said to them, 'You may have your guard; go and make all as secure as you know how.'
So they went and made the sepulchre secure, putting seals on the stone and mounting a guard.



Holy Week opens with the memory of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. Jesus’ journey, which begins in Galilee, is about to come to an end. The final stop, Matthew’s Gospel tells us, is Bethpage, on the Mount of Olives. Jesus stops and sends ahead of him two disciples so that they may procure a colt for him. He wants to enter Jerusalem as he had never done before. The Messiah, who up until that moment had remained hidden, takes possession of the holy city and of the temple, revealing in this way his mission as the true and new pastor of Israel, even if this act -- and he knows it will— -- results in his death. He does not enter on a chariot as the captain of a liberating army, although he uses the mounted ride of sovereigns from antiquity: an ass (Gen 49:11). The ass does not signify poverty or the diminution of dignity; rather, the opposite is true. Jesus knows the words of the prophet Zechariah: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey" (9:9).
Jesus enters Jerusalem as a king. The people seem to intuit this as they begin to lay their cloaks along the street, as was the custom in the East whenever a sovereign passed by. Also the olive branches, taken from the fields and laid out along Jesus’ path, serve as carpets. The cry "Hosanna" (which in Hebrew means "help") expresses their need for salvation and assistance. Finally, the Saviour has arrived. Jesus enters Jerusalem as well as all of our cities today as the only one who can free us from slavery and render us participants in a life more human and in solidarity with one another. He does not bear the expression of one who is powerful or strong, but of a meek and humble man. Six days will be enough to make everything clear -- the face of Jesus will be that of a crucified, conquered man. This is the paradox of Palm Sunday: we relive at the same time the triumph and passion of Jesus. Indeed, the liturgy, with the narration of the Gospel of the Passion after Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, wants to speed up time and to show immediately the true face of this king. The only crown that will be placed upon his head within the next few hours is one of thorns; his sceptre will be the reed; and his vestments a red cloak to be made fun of. How true are Paul’s words: "Though he was from God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave" (Phil 2:6-7)!
Those olive branches that today are a sign of celebration, within a few days, in the garden where Jesus goes away to pray, will see him sweat blood in anguish over his death. Jesus does not flee. He takes his cross and with it reaches Golgotha, where he is crucified. His death, which in the eyes of many seems more like a defeat, in reality, is a victory; it is the logical conclusion of a life spent for the Lord. Truly only God could live and die in that way -- that is, forgetting himself so as to give himself completely to others. It is a beautiful tradition to bring home an olive branch that is blessed after we have sung along with the children of the Jews: "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." This is the memory of the day of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. That branch is a sign of peace. But, we must also remember Jesus’ need for our companionship. Beneath those very age-old olive branches in Gethsemane, Jesus, in the throes of suffering, wants his disciples near him. How bitter are those words addressed to Peter: "So, could you not stay awake with me one hour?" (Mt 26:40). May the olive branch be a sign of our responsibility to stay near to the Lord above all else during these days. This is a beautiful way to console a man who is about to die for all of us.

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