Palm Sunday – Year C

The elders of the people and the chief priests and scribes rose, and they brought Jesus before Pilate.

They began their accusation by saying, ‘We found this man inciting our people to revolt, opposing payment of tribute to Caesar, and claiming to be Christ, a king.’ Pilate put to him this question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ ‘It is you who say it’ he replied. Pilate then said to the chief priests and the crowd, ‘I find no case against this man.’ But they persisted, ‘He is inflaming the people with his teaching all over Judaea; it has come all the way from Galilee, where he started, down to here.’ When Pilate heard this, he asked if the man were a Galilean; and finding that he came under Herod’s jurisdiction he passed him over to Herod who was also in Jerusalem at that time.

Herod was delighted to see Jesus; he had heard about him and had been wanting for a long time to set eyes on him; moreover, he was hoping to see some miracle worked by him. So he questioned him at some length; but without getting any reply. Meanwhile the chief priests and the scribes were there, violently pressing their accusations. Then Herod, together with his guards, treated him with contempt and made fun of him; he put a rich cloak on him and sent him back to Pilate. And though Herod and Pilate had been enemies before, they were reconciled that same day.

Pilate then summoned the chief priests and the leading men and the people. ‘You brought this man before me’ he said ‘as a political agitator. Now I have gone into the matter myself in your presence and found no case against the man in respect of all the charges you bring against him. Nor has Herod either, since he has sent him back to us. As you can see, the man has done nothing that deserves death, so I shall have him flogged and then let him go.’ But as one man they howled, ‘Away with him! Give us Barabbas!’ (This man had been thrown into prison for causing a riot in the city and for murder.)

Pilate was anxious to set Jesus free and addressed them again, but they shouted back, ‘Crucify him! Crucify him!’ And for the third time he spoke to them, ‘Why? What harm has this man done? I have found no case against him that deserves death, so I shall have him punished and then let him go.’ But they kept on shouting at the top of their voices, demanding that he should be crucified. And their shouts were growing louder.

Pilate then gave his verdict: their demand was to be granted. He released the man they asked for, who had been imprisoned for rioting and murder, and handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they pleased.

As they were leading him away they seized on a man, Simon from Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and made him shoulder the cross and carry it behind Jesus. Large numbers of people followed him, and of women too, who mourned and lamented for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep rather for yourselves and for your children. For the days will surely come when people will say, “Happy are those who are barren, the wombs that have never borne, the breasts that have never suckled!” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us!”; to the hills, “Cover us!” For if men use the green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?’ Now with him they were also leading out two other criminals to be executed.

When they reached the place called The Skull, they crucified him there and the two criminals also, one on the right, the other on the left. Jesus said, ‘Father forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ Then they cast lots to share out his clothing.

The people stayed there watching him. As for the leaders, they jeered at him. ‘He saved others,’ they said ‘let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The soldiers mocked him too and when they approached to offer him vinegar they said, ‘If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.’ Above him there was an inscription ‘This is the King of the Jews.’

One of the criminals hanging there abused him. ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he said. ‘Save yourself and us as well.’ But the other spoke up and rebuked him. ‘Have you no fear of God at all?’ he said. ‘You got the same sentence as he did, but in our case we deserved it; we are paying for what we did. But this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus,’ he said ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ ‘Indeed, I promise you,’ he replied ‘today you will be with me in paradise.’

It was now about the sixth hour and, with the sun eclipsed, a darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. The veil of the Temple was torn right down the middle; and when Jesus had cried out in a loud voice, he said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’ With these words he breathed his last.

All kneel and pause a moment.

When the centurion saw what had taken place, he gave praise to God and said, ‘This was a great and good man.’ And when all the people who had gathered for the spectacle saw what had happened, they went home beating their breasts.

All his friends stood at a distance; so also did the women who had accompanied him from Galilee, and they saw all this happen.

Luke 23:1-49

On the last Sunday of Lent prior to the beginning of the Triduum we are presented with the full proclamation of our Lord’s Passion. Passion Sunday, or Palm Sunday as it is commonly referred, is the only Sunday liturgy that has two Gospel proclamations. The first is the recount of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the second is the lengthy Passion narrative from the evangelist of the particular year, in this case from the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s portrayal of Jesus’ final days is deeply moving. A significant portion of the Passion narrative recounts the trial of Jesus during which Pilate affirms his innocence on three occasions. “You brought me this man … and I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him” (v.14). It is only at the insistence of the Jewish leaders and the demands of the crowd to release Barabbas that he finally hands him over to be crucified. It is clear from Luke’s Gospel that the crucifixion was a consequence of Jesus angering the chief priests rather than his defiance of Roman authority. Even at the moment of his death a Roman centurion proclaimed “certainly this man was innocent” (v.47).

Throughout his Passion, Jesus remains a portrait of compassion, serenity and forgiveness even in the face of torment and suffering. It is these characteristics that typify the Jesus of Luke’s Gospel on the whole, not just during his final and most agonizing moments. Jesus rebukes Peter for assailing the slave of the high priest and he exemplifies his concern for others, especially strangers, through his act of healing. Jesus also shows concern and pity for the women who follow him on the Way of the Cross, “daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me” (v.28).

We are provided with a striking image of Jesus in his encounter with the two thieves. Luke’s Gospel is the only account of Jesus being crucified as a common criminal along with other common criminals. This scene is a reminder of the words of Blessed Mother Teresa who commented “Jesus comes to meet us in the hungry, the naked, the lonely, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the prostitute, the street beggars. If we reject them we reject Jesus himself.” In the passion narrative we not only meet Jesus as the Son of God but we also meet him as the common criminal, set to be crucified. This scene at the place of the Skull reveals Jesus’ ultimate act of mercy and forgiveness “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (v.34) and also his own profession of divinity “truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v.43).  Crucified and dying, Jesus does not feel forsaken and abandoned but rather he seems serene as he submits fully to the Father’s will and commends his spirit to him “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (v.46).

Of all of the Gospel accounts it is perhaps Luke’s Passion narrative that reveals the way in which Jesus was viewed with compassion by others. Not only did Pilate and the Roman centurion perceive and proclaim his innocence and the women of Jerusalem follow him “beating their breasts and wailing for him” (v.27) but total strangers were moved by his suffering. Simon of Cyrene was not of the local community, and it is he, the outsider, who is called to carry the Cross. One of the condemned thieves recognises “we are getting what we deserve but this man has done nothing wrong” (v.42) and Joseph of Arimathea sets himself outside his council of elders by his refusal to consent to the plot against Jesus and by requesting the body of Jesus for burial. This is a disparate group, drawn from all walks of life – like each of us. And like them, we are called to view the Passion of Christ with empathy and compassion.

Anthony Cleary
Director, Mission & Identity