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Friday, 11 April 2014

Palm Sunday (Year A) 2014


(Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66)

In Matthew’s presentation of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ we heard some words that are not to be found in the other Gospel accounts:  

Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.   Do you think that I cannot call upon My Father and He will not provide Me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?  But then how would the Scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?” 

Those words show us that Jesus lived His life, as St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3) puts it, ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’:

I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that He was buried; that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Jesus Himself would seem to have confirmed this when, after His Resurrection, He appeared to His disciples on the way to Emmaus and said:

Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)

Therefore, Jesus can be said to have lived His life ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’; but what does, what should, such a statement mean for men and women of today?

It can all too easily be understood as saying that Jesus looked to the Scriptures to find out what was planned in advance for Him, to discover actions for His obedience to bring to fulfilment ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’.  However, it is noticeable that St. John never uses the phrase ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’, or even the word ‘Scriptures’, in such a way as to give the impression that Jesus learned in authoritative detail from the Scriptures how He should live His life.  On the contrary, indeed, John quotes a saying of Jesus to the Jews that we do not find elsewhere, a saying that would seem to warn us against any such misunderstanding of the Scriptures; for speaking to His Jewish critics He declared:

You search the Scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf;  (John 5:39)

before shortly going on to say:

Just as the Father … gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever He wishes;  (John 5:21)

The Scriptures testify to the God of salvation, they guide those who meditate on them to that God; but the reality of eternal life is exclusively the Gift of God, the Gift of Jesus, Who have that life in themselves; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Gift of God, are Lord of Life and of the Scriptures.

John himself therefore prefers to express the truth contained in those words ‘in accordance with the Scriptures’ by emphasizing Jesus’ constant communion with and perfect understanding of His Father:

My food is to do the will of the One Who sent Me, and to finish His work; I came down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of the One Who sent Me; (John 4:34, 6:38)

The God and Father Who sent His Son as man on earth had prepared Israel through the Scriptures and inspired prophets for over 2000 years to receive Him: to become first of all a fitting ‘seed-bed’ where the Son could strike root, so to speak, and also to become a Chosen People able to recognize, appreciate, and respond with grateful love to Him when ultimately He came among them. The whole purpose of the Jewish Scriptures was, therefore, to prepare for and lead to Israel’s promised Messiah, the Son of God and Saviour of mankind; and those Scriptures continue to validly serve that same purpose today. 

As for Jesus Himself, however, He did not need to learn how to live His life from the Scriptures -- inspired indeed -- but received, conceived, and proclaimed by men, for men.  They did, of course, give Jesus light, comfort, and strength, as He grew to manhood; and as mature man He delighted in them as a revelation of His Father’s lovingly providential preparation for His advent.  But for His own life’s ultimate guidance and fulfilment, Jesus was in constant Personal, prayerful, communion with His Father:

 I am not alone, I am with the Father Who sent Me.

 When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on My own, but I say only what the Father taught Me.

The One who sent Me is with Me. He has not left Me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to Him.”     (John 8:16, 28–29

The Spirit of God -- given provisionally and proleptically to Israel in and through her Scriptures and her prophets -- is now given, in the name of Jesus, Personally and in supreme fullness, to Mother Church, and through her offered to all the faithful by her proclamation of the Good News of the Gospel and bestowal of Jesus’ baptism, as by her celebration of the Eucharist and all the other sacraments of the glorified Jesus.

Just as the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats Me will live because of Me. (‎John 6:57)

And St. John urges us, People of God, in the power of the Holy Spirit to recognize, appreciate, and welcome in the Scriptures a truly Personal aspect: a call from the Father Who wills to communicate Personally with His children in Jesus.  We should not merely ‘scrutinize’ the Scriptures for stark facts and objective information, but meditate on, and study, them for the teaching they contain.  Yet more, however, and indeed preferentially, we should use those Scriptures as an inspiration and invitation to ever deeper understanding of and communion with the God Who in His great goodness wants to hear our personal response to His invitation and sacrificial commitment to us His children, called in Jesus, through the Spirit.

Moreover, St. John seems to be telling us that Jesus did indeed live His life in accordance with the Scriptures, but God’s purpose for us can only be meaningfully recognized, truly appreciated, and allowed to grow and fully develop in us, when we understand the Scriptures, both Old and New, ‘in accordance with Jesus in the bosom of His Father.

Dear People of God, we are on the threshold of a week’s celebration of Jesus’ love for us in the name of His Father and the power of their Holy Spirit: love the Scriptures that tell us what He did and suffered for our sake, and will explain the eternal purpose and the sublime meaning of those sufferings.  Above all, however, use the Scriptures for personal communion with your God and Saviour; allow them to move, to inspire, you to love in return -- with fitting understanding and total personal commitment -- the Father Who is calling you through those Scriptures; the Saviour Who is goes before you as Shepherd and Saviour; the Gift Who -- as your intimate strength, counsellor and comforter -- wills to bring you to eternal fulfilment in your human identity and in your Christian vocation as a true and well-loved child of God.