Palm Sunday, Year A: Suffered for You


Isa. 50:4-9a
Ps. 31:9-16
Phil. 2:5-11
Matt. 26:14-27:66 or Matt. 27:11-54

We feel and know, perhaps even tremble, at the images we have seen in our mind’s eye, the words we have heard and spoken. We know and feel a deep-down recognition that God has stepped upon the human stage. The eternal Son of the Father has been thrown into a colosseum of depravity and blood lust. Jesus empties himself in a way we can hardly imagine. Let it be known that this is the eternal Son of the Father. And this was all for you.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8). Emptying himself, he retained all the fullness of God. Coming to earth, he remained in heaven. Assuming our human nature, he retained his divine nature, by which we are divinized in Christ, lifted, even now, in some sense, to the gates of heaven. But we could not rise without the total identification of Jesus with humanity in all its horror. In classical Christian language, “If he did not assume it, he did not save it.” Today, we see Jesus take upon himself all the suffering of the world, not merely the sorrows intrinsic to mortal life but the unjust sufferings humans inflict upon one another.

Jesus suffers for us willingly. He is grieved and agitated, grieved even to death at what awaits him, and yet he says to his Father, “Thy will be done.”

In the story we tell about the death of Jesus, he often appears as a passive victim. He stands in the place of and stands for those who are powerless. “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” (Isa. 50:6). “[T]hey came and laid hands on Jesus and arrested him” (Matt. 26:50). “When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus in order to bring about his death. They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Matt. 27:1-2). “[A]fter flogging Jesus, [Pilate] handed him over to be crucified. Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him” (Matt. 27:26-27).

We do well to remind ourselves that a Roman cohort is a military company of nearly 500 men. While there were Jewish regulations regarding the flogging of a person no more than 39 times, no such limitation restrained Roman soldiers from issuing abuse. What did they do? “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 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!’ They spat at him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him” (Matt. 27:28-31). And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; they sat down there and kept watch” (Matt. 27:35-36). Even “those who passed by derided him” (Matt. 27:39).

This is what humans, depraved and vicious, do to each other. And insofar as anyone has abused, derided, or destroyed another human being, they have done it to Jesus. Today’s story is a dramatic judgment, grave and heavy, but it is not the end.

LOOK IT UP: Matthew 27:59

THINK ABOUT IT: Enfold and love the body of Jesus.


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