Are we ready to accompany Jesus into Jerusalem and point out His true identity to others?

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Isaiah 50:4-7

The Lord GOD has given me 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.

Philippians 2:6-11

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.

The Passion narrative is the climax of the four canonical Gospels which, though diverse in many respects, draw closest to one another at that point. This year’s Gospel for Palm (Passion) Sunday is taken from Matthew’s account. Through his lens, we see that Jesus’ identity varies in relation to the different people He encountered. It is not until after His death that His true identity is revealed.

The Living Bread – “Take and eat, this is my body” (Mt 26:26).

Why did Jesus identify Himself with the bread instead of the paschal lamb during the Last Supper? (After all, the roasted lamb is the centre of the pascal meal). Jesus is the sacrificial lamb so why did He make present His body not in the form of true flesh (the lamb), but in the inanimate “work of human hands” the bread?

It is for faith, a faith that demands His apostles to rise above human rational senses to perceive His presence in the bread after His death. The bread echoes that of the manna in the desert for the Israelites, a gift of God for physical hunger but now with faith, a spiritual nourishment for His disciples.

To those who are with faith, Jesus is the Living Bread.

The blasphemer/imposter – “He has blasphemed; what further need have we of witnesses?” (Mt 26:65). “Sir, we have remembered how that imposter said, while he was alive . . .” (Mt 27:63).

The Sanhedrin which plots to kill Jesus has difficulty to find witnesses whose testimonies could concur (rf Mt 26:3). When Jesus asserts His divinity in His reply to the high priest (rf Mt 26:64), he seizes the opportunity to accuse Jesus of blasphemy with the punishment of death (rf Lv 24:10-16).

Does Jesus really blaspheme or is it just an excuse of the high priest to lay charge on Him? In tearing his own garments, the high priest displays his lack of capacity as a high priest, for he himself has forgotten the Mosaic law which prescribed that his clothing should not be torn (rf Lv 21:10). And does the Sanhedrin exercise its religious authority justly in putting Jesus on trial at night and maltreating Him? What an irony to secure the tomb of a dead person if they really believe Jesus is an imposter!

To those who reject Him, Jesus is the blasphemer. To those with a hardened heart, Jesus remains an imposter despite the signs they have witnessed.

The King – “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mt 27:29); “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Mt 27:37); “If he is the King of Israel, let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe him.” (Mt 27:42).

At three different times Jesus is referred to as “King” in Matthew’s passion narrative. The first one is a mockery to Jesus. Behind the Roman soldiers’ salutation is the humiliation, the intimidation and the pain that no one could ever conceive – a cruel and derisive entertainment for the cohort – but the fulfillment of the prophecy of the Suffering Servant of God (rf Is 53:7).

The second one is a charge against Jesus. Pilate’s question to Jesus is whether He has made Himself an earthly king for it could cause an insurrection (rf Mt 27:11). It is the same fear of Herod when the Magi asked about the new born king (rf Mt 2:2). This question of kingship which set in motion a death threat at the very beginning of Jesus’ life, finally leads Him to His inevitable death.

The third one is a temptation to test Jesus. It is a reminder of Satan’s temptation, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down . . .” (Mt 4 6). Daring Jesus to throw Himself down from the temple or come down from the cross is the same trick to entice Him to turn away from doing His Father’s will. Instead of using force or miracles, Jesus uses the cross to bring about the new kingdom of God.

To those who are skeptical, Jesus is a “king” of ridicule and contempt. To those who believe Him, Jesus is the King of kings.

The Son of God – “Truly he was the Son of God” (Mt 27:54).

The centurion who, being a Gentile, could not have known much about Jesus nor believe in the God of Israel and His promise of a Messiah. But almost certainly, he hears what people said about Jesus and the accusation made against Him. As professional soldiers, he and his men must have accustomed to putting convicts to death. After having watched how Jesus suffer and die with such love and forgiveness and “the earthquake and the things that were happening”, the centurion is so amazed that he cannot find any explanation except to believe what Jesus Himself claims (Mt 27:54). Who would expect a Gentile to be the first to confess that Jesus is “the Son of God”?

To those who open their hearts and eyes, the true identity of Jesus is revealed.

Dear friends, Holy Week has begun, Jesus is entering into Jerusalem; as His disciples, are we ready to accompany Him and point out His true identity to others?

Posted: April 5, 2020

May Tam

May Tam, Bachelor of Social Science (University of Hong Kong), Master of Theological Studies (University of Toronto)

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