Sunday Sermon for April 17, 2011, Palm Sunday, Year A

Readings: Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66

In the second reading today St. Paul says to the Philippians that Jesus, though He was God, did not deem equality with God something to be grasped. For this reason, He took the form of a slave and was born as a man. However, being born and living a human life was still not enough for Him in His utter and absolute demonstration of how much He loves us and how far He is willing to go to save us. Therefore, St. Paul says, He was obedient even unto death, death on a cross.

We see this mystery being played out in the readings today. We begin with the first Gospel in which our Lord is shown as the High Priest entering Jerusalem as the Passover Lamb. The reason the crowds were lining the street was because it was the way the High Priest would be coming, carrying the lamb he had procured for his family. Instead, when our Lord came that direction, the crowds recognized Him as the One Who had raised Lazarus from the dead just days earlier, and they hailed Him as a prophet. What they did not understand is that He was the Prophet spoken of by Moses, He was the true High Priest and He was the Lamb to be sacrificed so that the Angel of Death would pass over the souls of those who would be marked with His Blood.

The rejoicing turned to contempt within days. I suspect that the Jewish High Priest was not too pleased when he finally arrived with his lamb to find that the people had been hailing another, laying their cloaks and branches before Him and celebrating His arrival. This probably stoked the fire of hatred that already burned for our Lord because now He was more popular than the political figure who was in the office of the High Priest. Politicians, or anyone else for that matter, who are caught up in themselves do not like it when someone else is more popular than they.

In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah says of the Messiah that God had given Him a well trained tongue. We note in the Passion that Jesus is silent before the High Priest, regardless of the charges that were trumped up against Him. However, when the High Priest demands, under oath, that our Lord state whether or not He is the Messiah, the Son of God, our Lord answers in the affirmative. He spoke the truth and was condemned to death for blasphemy.

There are so many hidden details in the Passion, but we do not have time to look at them. There are a couple, however, that stand out for comment. The first is the point of the thirty pieces of silver given to Judas. This, of course, fulfills the Scriptural prophecy, as St. Matthew tells us, but it is also the price for which one could purchase a donkey, a beast of burden. The second point comes when Judas throws the money into the Temple and the Chief Priests collect and make note that it would be against the law to put the money into the Temple treasury because it is blood money. Why is this significant? Because according to Jewish law, the Sanhedrin was not allowed to meet after sunset and there could be no trials after that same time. Beyond this, there was a twenty four hour waiting period that was required before anyone could be put to death. Violating those laws did not matter to the Priests who suddenly become most pious and law abiding when it comes to the money.

So, our Lord, Who did not deem equality with God something to be grasped, also did not deem equality with human beings something to be grasped. He was marred beyond recognition, sold as a donkey, slain as a lamb and now continues to sacrifice Himself give Himself to us in the form of a piece of bread. The depths of His humility are unfathomable!

One final point to consider is the response of the Marys who were at Calvary. Thank goodness one the Apostles was faithful and remained with our Lord. But these heroic women were not only with Him in His Passion, but when they sealed the tomb the women kept a vigil outside of the tomb. We need to learn from the humility and obedience of our Lord, from the fickleness and fear of the Apostles, and from the fidelity of these holy women. As we enter into Holy Week, we need to pray for the grace to remain faithful to our Lord, to be courageous and to never be ashamed or embarrassed of Him. Above all, we need to pray for humility and obedience to the will of God and go with Jesus to Calvary.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit