The Lord God has given men a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning He opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.(P) The word of the Lord.
All who see me scoff at me; they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads: "He relied on the Lord; let Him deliver him, let Him rescue him, if He loves him." (R)
Indeed, many dogs surround me, a pack of evildoers closes in upon me; they have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones. (R)
They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots. But you, O Lord, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me. (R)
I will proclaim your name to my brethren, in the midst of the assembly I will praise you: "You who fear the Lord, praise Him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to Him; revere Him, all you descendants of Israel!" (R)
Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on Earth and under the Earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(P) The word of the Lord.
(J-Jesus, N-Narrator, P-Pilate or Individual Speaker, C-Crowd)
N: As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin, held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him.
P: Are you the king of the Jews?
N: He said to him in reply,
J: You say so.
N: The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him,
P: Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.
N: Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested. A man called Barabbas was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion. The crowd came and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed. Pilate answered,
P: Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?
N: For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply,
P: Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?
N: They shouted again,
C: Crucify him!
N: Pilate said to them,
P: Why? What evil has he done?
N: They only shouted louder,
C: Crucify him!
P: So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort. They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, "Hail king of the Jews!" and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him. They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. They brought him to the place of Golgotha - which is translated Place of the Skull - they gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take. It was nine o'clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, "The King of the Jews." With him they crucified two bandits, one at his right and one at this left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying,
C: Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days! Save yourself by coming down from the cross.
N: Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said,
C: He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from that cross that we may see and believe.
N: Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him. At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o'clock Jesus cried in a loud voice,
J: Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?
N: Which is translated,
J: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
N: Some of the bystanders who heard it said,
C: Look, he is calling Elijah.
N: One of them ran, soaked a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink saying,
P: Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.
N: Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.
N: The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last, he said,
N: Truly this man was the Son of God!(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
We began our Lenten journey five weeks ago on Ash Wednesday. As we received ashes on our foreheads we were reminded both of our mortality and our need for repentance with the words from the scriptures, "You are dust, and to dust you shall return", Genesis (18:27), or "Repent and believe in the Gospel", Mark (1:15). On that day we were also called to practices of prayer, fasting, and charity as penance for our sin.
Since then, for the past five weeks, we have been reflecting on different themes:
God's call to us to truly repent for our sins and believe in the gospel and to resist temptations, like Jesus did.
God's appeal to us to surrender ourselves completely to Him and obey His commands as Abraham did.
God's demand for us to obey the Ten Commandments and to listen to the voice of Jesus.
God's plea to us to humbly accept His great love and abundant mercy.
And finally, God's invitation to us to joyfully renew our covenant in Christ through the Holy Eucharist which binds us to God.
Today we enter with real spiritual seriousness into Holy Week. The word "holy" implies something "set apart" for God or religious purposes. So, we deliberately set apart or dedicate the coming seven days to God. The Holy Week story is full of surprises. Perhaps the story may not surprise us because we are so familiar with it. But certainly Jesus Christ's final days brought very many surprises to the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding regions at the time. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding on a donkey, which we commemorate today, was the first of all surprises. Then in the following days particularly when he had his last meal with his disciples on Holy Thursday, his crucifixion on Good Friday, the day after his burial, Holy Saturday, the resurrection on Easter Sunday and many days after Easter, Jesus surprised the people of Israel and defied their expectations of who he was.
As a matter of fact, there was always a certain amount of wonder about Jesus. The people were often surprised at what he said and did. As a young child when he taught in the temple, when he forgave sinners, when he broke the Sabbath, the people were amazed and kept asking themselves who Jesus was. Jesus himself understood the speculation about his identity. So, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They answered "John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets". In today's gospel we read while Jesus was standing before Pilate the people accused him of claiming to be the king of the Jews. Over two thousand years have passed and still people wonder about Jesus Christ.
Therefore, throughout the Holy Week let us keep asking ourselves - Who is Jesus Christ to us? The question is central to our faith. Because it is not enough to say, "I believe in Jesus". Millions of people claim to believe in Jesus but do not know who Jesus really is. According to the scriptures, Luke (9:18), Mark (8:27) and Matthew (16:13) remember Jesus asked his apostles again, "Who do you say that I am?" Peter said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." For Peter, Jesus Christ is not just a good man, and not just a prophet, nor the incarnation of any earlier prophet, but he is God the Son. He is the eternal God who became man. Jesus confirmed the answer saying, "Flesh and blood did not reveal that to you. But my Father who is in heaven revealed it to you." That's to say, the revelation did not come from a human source but from God.
Saint Paul, who had never seen Jesus, in his letter to the Philippians, describes Jesus Christ much more in depth. He says that Jesus Christ is someone whose life began in heaven with dignity (v.6), descended to the Earth with humility (vv.7-8), and returned to heaven with glory (vv.9-11). That's to say, Jesus Christ is God who voluntarily took on human flesh and for a while lived as a servant on Earth, faced a humiliating death on the cross, and was exalted upon his return to heaven, and then given a name above every name. So when we ask the question, "Who is Jesus Christ?", the answer is he is God. He never has been and never will be any other than God. Neither did he become God, nor ceased to be God. He was God who became a man and died for our sins and continues to be God.
It is important we constantly ask who Jesus is and find answers for ourselves. Let us not avoid nor postpone nor try to get out of it by quoting others. Today we have been given crosses made out of palm branches and blessed by the priest. Let us not simply throw them away. Let us take them home and place them in a place where they are visible to us. Let the cross remind us of Christ's victory over sin and death. I am sure constant contemplation of the cross would reveal to us the love of God the Father and the Son Jesus. I wish you all, wherever you may be, a blessed Holy Week and a joyful Easter.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!