Bible Tuesday for Palm Sunday, 2017
Palm Sunday used to be a Sunday of complete jubilation at the coming of Jesus to save us all from our sins. Then Maundy Thursday through Holy Saturday were days of great grief commemorated with one three day long worship service culminating in the Easter Vigil held from midnight until 3am on Easter Sunday. But the day is long gone when our nation closed down from 5pm Maundy Thursday through 8am Easter Monday and few people can get to church for the Holy Week services. This resulted in a change in the texts for Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday starts with a gospel reading of the Palm Sunday procession story from the featured gospel of the year, accompanied by the blessing of the palms and the prayer of the day, followed by the Palm Sunday procession. The service immediately turns somber with the reading of the lessons below. 10 minutes into the service, Holy Week has begun.
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,[a]
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backward.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
7 The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8 he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
9 It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
In this passage of Isaiah, the prophet speaks God’s words in the first person, modeling not only his own call, but the call of the nation of Israel. While Israel whined, cried, and lamented the punishment given them by the Babylonians, the prophet models patient acceptance and trust that God will vindicate the obedient. Indeed, the prophet accepts these abuses because he knows “God will help me—Therefore there is no disgrace.”
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
“10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,[a]
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror[b] to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
While this psalm is ascribed to King David, it describes also the complete shunning Jesus suffered in his trial and execution. The disciples deserted him. The jubilant crowds of just four days earlier cry for his death. “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” sounds very much like “You are my God. My times are in your hands.”
Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This early Christian hymn quoted by St. Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi states beautifully the person and purpose of Jesus. Jesus is completely God and completely human, yet he did not take advantage of his Godliness but became completely human. Not just human, but debased as a human, so scorned and rejected that he was executed for no actual crimes. The purpose of his “laying aside” of his godliness and being completely human is that through his abject suffering and death, he burst the bonds that bound humans to death due to sin. God raised Jesus from the dead to reunite Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and to grant resurrected life to all creation!
14 Then one of the twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I betray him to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? This is a question that is not answered, save that some writers of the New Testament say that Judas was predestined to betray Jesus because Jesus had to be sacrificed. That is an unsatisfying answer. Note that Judas wants money to do the deed.
17 On the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is near; I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal.
Passover is a seven day long feast. During this time, Jews may not eat any leaven: yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc. The lambs are slaughtered on the first day and then the climactic seder meal is eaten that night. This is a huge celebration for Jews. It commemorates God marching the enslaved Israelites out of Egypt and crossing the Sea of Reeds on dry ground. This is the equivalent of Christmas dinner for Christians, a meal of great celebration and ceremony which commemorates something God has done: Jesus’ birth.
20 When it was evening, he took his place with the twelve;[a]21 and while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.” 25 Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.”
While we think of this Last Supper as being eaten by just Jesus and the 12 Apostles, as depicted by Leonardo DeVinci’s Last Supper, that is not accurate. Note that in verse 17, “the disciples” came to ask Jesus where they should get Seder Dinner ready, and here in verse 20, Jesus takes his place with “the twelve.” “The twelve” are the Apostles and Judas Iscariot. “The disciples” are all who follow Jesus but are not among “the twelve.” Acts 1 tells us that there were two other men who were with Jesus from his baptism all the way through his ascension. Luke 8 tells us that there were at least four women who also traveled with Jesus and “provided for them out of their own resources.” These include Mary from Magdala, aka Mary Magdalene.
During Passover Seder Dinner, food in dipped in salt water and horse radish and then eaten. Likely Judas was sitting close enough to Jesus to share bowls of these with him.
26 While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the[b]covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
“Loaf” is a bad translation here as it refers to something leavened which would be absolutely forbidden at a Seder meal. The bread like food eaten during Passover is called Matzah and is like large soda crackers without the soda. It is made of wheat flour and water and is baked. The above passage likely refers to a time in the Seder meal when the host takes the Afikomen, the symbolic middle matzah which is broken with a portion reserved for dessert. There are four cups of wine drank ceremonially during the Seder meal. Likely Jesus took the last cup, during which Elijah is invoked, and used it to institute Holy Communion.
The word “remember” is a rather weak translation for the Greek “amnesis” in the actual biblical text and from which we get amnesia. To have amnesia is much more traumatic than just not remembering. One loses one’s identity, childhood, etc. if one cannot remember anything. The opposite of that is to do much more than just remember. Amnesis in the Greek is to reexperience, to relive. Therefore, when Jesus commands to “Do this in remembrance of me” he is commanding that we eat and drink to reconnect with Jesus in a very profound way.
30 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
Seder Meal calls for the singing of a couple of Psalms and a couple of hymns.
31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,
‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’
32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
A Gethsemane is an olive press. Jesus and the disciples went to the Mount of Olives which is an olive tree grove that doubles as a public park, a nice cool place to go in the evening.
37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. 38 Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” 40 Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? 41 Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;[c] the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again he went away for the second time and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 Again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
Here we see Jesus’ true humanity. He knows he is going to be arrested and expects to be executed and he is terrified. The disciples have just finished eating a huge meal, the biggest, best meal of the year, with at least four glasses of wine. No wonder they are so sleepy!
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him. 51 Suddenly, one of those with Jesus put his hand on his sword, drew it, and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled, which say it must happen in this way?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But all this has taken place, so that the scriptures of the prophets may be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered.
Those who arrest Jesus are the religious leaders of the Jews. The religious leaders are also the governmental leaders of the Jews. There is the king, in this case Herod, the high priest, Caiaphas, and the “senate” called the Sanhedrin which means “the seventy.” At the time of Jesus, the land of the Jews was occupied by the Romans who had the Jewish kings in their pocket. So, Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin send armed men with Judas to arrest Jesus and bring him to trail before them.
58 But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end. 59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.
Jewish law required that at least two witnesses had to corroborate any testimony.
At last two came forward 61 and said, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.’” 62 The high priest stood up and said, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 63 But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah,[d] the Son of God.” 64 Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power
and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
“You have said so,” appears to be a euphemism for something like, “Those are your words, not mine.”
65 Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. 66 What is your verdict?”
There are many places in the Hebrew Scriptures where folks symbolically tear or “rend” their clothes as a display of great grief. Here Caiaphas is tearing his robes as a sign of great trauma of being exposed to heresy.
They answered, “He deserves death.” 67 Then they spat in his face and struck him; and some slapped him, 68 saying, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah![e] Who is it that struck you?”
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”[f]72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
“Your accent betrays you.” Just as in the US, one could identify where Jews were from by their accents.
27 When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. 2 They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
It is curious that Caiaphas and his compatriots did not merely drag Jesus out to stone him or hold him in custody until after Passover and then stone him. Jewish law allowed for the stoning of blasphemers. Yet, the Jewish leaders claim that Pilate must pass judgment on Jesus because they cannot condemn a man to death.
3 When Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus[g] was condemned, he repented and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 He said, “I have sinned by betraying innocent[h] blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 Throwing down the pieces of silver in the temple, he departed; and he went and hanged himself. 6 But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since they are blood money.” 7 After conferring together, they used them to buy the potter’s field as a place to bury foreigners. 8 For this reason that field has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,[i] “And they took[j] the thirty pieces of silver, the price of the one on whom a price had been set,[k] on whom some of the people of Israel had set a price, 10 and they gave[l] them for the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus[m] Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus[n] Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?”[o]18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?”[p]All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood;[q] see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters,[r] and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
Normally the arms of the condemned were tied to the cross bar of the cross. Then they were escorted by armed soldiers to the place of execution, in this case Golgatha. However, after Jesus was manhandled by the Roman soldiers, he did not have the strength to carry his own crossbar so a passerby was conscripted for the task.
32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it.
Sometimes the condemned were given something to drink with a light sedative in it which likely made it easier to nail them to the crosses. While no doubt Jesus was very thirsty, he turned down the sedative.
35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;[s]36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided[t] him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself.[u] He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way. 45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land[v] until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” is Aramaic and is the first line of Psalm 22. Some scholars speculate that Jesus may have been quoting this psalm in keeping with Jewish tradition of recitation of this psalm on one’s death bed as a sort of self administered last rites.
47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”[w]50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.[x]51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”
55 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
In the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus is completely abandoned by all his disciples except the women who provided for Jesus. They watch his execution and note the place where his body is laid so that they can go back after the Sabbath and wash his body and anoint it properly for burial.
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.
62 The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[z] of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”[aa]66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.