2nd April – Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Mt 21:1-11. Is 50:4-7 Ps 21 Ph 2:6-11 Mt 26:14-27:66
We are all familiar with the story of the Passion of the Lord both from scripture and from popular devotions such as the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross. But it is always worth really focussing on the way each of the evangelists recounts the Passion. The account heard today is markedly different from that of John which we hear next Friday for example. Matthew very much has his own style and drama (phrases like “thirty pieces of silver” and “washed his hands” have passed from Matthew’s gospel into universal usage.) His account is much longer than Mark’s – on which it is assumingly based – and like that account – and unlike Luke’s – is full of violent confrontation and darkness. Matthew, however, heightens the drama with two passages not found elsewhere – the account of Judas’ remorse, and an extension of the Pilate scene.
The figure of Judas is one of endless fascination for people, and that includes Matthew, because he wants to tell us what happened to Judas – he is not content just to leave the figure alone but brings in an account of his subsequent remorse and his fate. (Note that Matthew’s account of Judas’ ending is quite different from that of Luke in Acts 1:18-19). Matthew also wants to fill out the story of Pilate, he doesn’t simply leave the bare story as Mark does, but – as with Judas – wants us to meet a person. So we are told of Pilate’s wife – a pagan – who, like the wise men at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, recognises something of who Jesus is, unlike those who should know. Pilate’s dramatic gesture of washing his hands devastatingly lays the blood guilt on Jesus’ accusers (which has, appallingly, been used to justify anti-Semitic behaviour). The account of the Passion of the Lord, read each year, is never simply the recounting of a past event, it is always a meditation on how that event touched the lives of those engaged in it – and it is read so that the Passion of the Lord can still touch the lives of those who hear it today: like Judas it can fill some of those who hear it with remorse, it can mean that some wash their hands of the whole business, and it can also reveal to outsiders the true person of Jesus.