Father Donald Senior, CP

April 10: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Come, follow me

Lk 19:28-40; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Lk 22:14—23:56

The readings for this Palm Sunday are exceedingly beautiful and set the tone for Holy Week.

The first reading introduces the procession that traditionally accompanies this feast, describing Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Shortly before this in Luke’s account, Jesus passed through Jericho, where he encountered the despised tax collector Zacchaeus perched in a tree. Jesus chose to stay at his house, which was an embrace of sinners and outcasts so characteristic of this Gospel. 

Now having made the steep ascent up to Jerusalem, the holy city, Jesus, is acclaimed by the crowds as the “king,” the longed-for Messiah who would restore Israel. But we know the whole story and how this acclaim will fade, an ominous note sounded by the religious authorities who urge Jesus to rebuke his followers for this outburst.

Palm Sunday is that kind of a celebration — honoring Jesus but realizing that he is a king like no other and that betrayal and death are about to strike at God’s son.

That somber note is proclaimed in the reading from the prophet Isaiah, who speaks of God’s servant who is under assault but does not turn away from his mission. The wrenching lament of Psalm 22 — whose opening line, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” is placed on the lips of Jesus in Mark and Matthew’s passion accounts — also anticipates the sufferings Jesus will endure for our sakes.

An early Christian hymn incorporated in Paul’s letter to the Philippians forecasts the entire drama of this Holy Week. Christ Jesus, though in the form of God, takes on our human flesh and human destiny, giving his life for us and conquering death that we might live.

The dominant reading for this Sunday is the Passion narrative. Since this is the year in the Lectionary when the readings are from the Gospel of Luke, it is Luke’s account we hear today. Like skilled portrait artists, each evangelist gives the passion story a particular accent.

Throughout his Gospel, Luke portrays Jesus as an exemplary prophet, one endowed with God’s Spirit who brings good news to the poor and compassion to those who are vulnerable and suffering. Luke’s Gospel abounds with stories and parables that illustrate Jesus’ mercy and outreach to those in need.

That continues in the unique features of Luke’s passion narrative. At the Last Supper, Jesus reminds his disciples that he is among them “as one who serves.” At the moment of his arrest by an armed band, Jesus heals the severed ear of the high priest’s servant whom one of his disciples had struck. When Peter, his bravado gone, denies he even knows Jesus, Jesus turns and looks with forgiveness at his disciple who then dissolves into tears of remorse. 

Furthermore, on the way to crucifixion, Jesus consoles the women of Jerusalem who weep for him. As he is nailed to the cross, Jesus forgives his executions: “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” As death approaches, Jesus’ compassion does not fail, as he assures the “good thief” that “today you will be with me in paradise.”

All these details found only in Luke’s account fit into Luke’s overall portrayal of Jesus as one whose every gesture and every word proclaims God’s mercy. Luke also underscores the innocence of Jesus: Pilate testifies to it and, only in Luke’s account, even the dissolute Herod Antipas finds no guilt in Jesus even as this murderer of John the Baptist mocks Jesus. 

The centurion on guard at the cross has the final word. Observing the manner of Jesus and the powerful events that swirl around Calvary, he “glorifies God” and acclaims, “Truly this was a just man” (The word “just” is a better rendering of the Greek “dikaios” than “innocent.”).

Luke’s narrative closes with “all the people” who observed Jesus’ crucifixion returning home and “beating their breasts” in repentance. 

The violence that tears at Jesus is the culmination of all human sin and cruelty. The forgiveness and mercy exemplified by the crucified Christ is God’s overwhelming response.

This is the ultimate meaning of what we remember this week, and it is to be the pattern of our own witness as followers of Jesus.



  • scripture