Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Two Gospel readings for
Palm Sunday in 2017

Palm Sunday ... the Triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem

Patrick Comerford

Introduction:

In our tutorial group, our Bible studies have been looking at the Gospel reading for the Sunday after next each week. There is a complicated set of readings in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) for Sunday week, Palm Sunday, 9 April 2017.

For the Principal Service, the readings provided for the Liturgy of the Palms are: Matthew 21: 1-11; and Psalm 118: 1-2, 19-29. And for the Liturgy of the Passion, the readings are: Isaiah 50: 4-9a; Psalm 31: 9-16; Philippians 2: 5-11; and Matthew 26: 14 – 27: 66, or Matthew 27: 11-54.

For our Bible study this morning, I have chosen to look briefly at the Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Palms, and the shorter Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Passion.

Matthew 21: 1-11

1 Καὶ ὅτε ἤγγισαν εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα καὶ ἦλθον εἰς Βηθφαγὴ εἰς τὸ Ὄρος τῶν Ἐλαιῶν, τότε Ἰησοῦς ἀπέστειλεν δύο μαθητὰς 2 λέγων αὐτοῖς, Πορεύεσθε εἰς τὴν κώμην τὴν κατέναντι ὑμῶν, καὶ εὐθέως εὑρήσετε ὄνον δεδεμένην καὶ πῶλον μετ' αὐτῆς: λύσαντες ἀγάγετέ μοι. 3 καὶ ἐάν τις ὑμῖν εἴπῃ τι, ἐρεῖτε ὅτι Ὁ κύριος αὐτῶν χρείαν ἔχει: εὐθὺς δὲ ἀποστελεῖ αὐτούς. 4 Τοῦτο δὲ γέγονεν ἵνα πληρωθῇ τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου λέγοντος,

5 Εἴπατε τῇ θυγατρὶ Σιών,
Ἰδοὺ ὁ βασιλεύς σου ἔρχεταί σοι,
πραῢς καὶ ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπὶ ὄνον,
καὶ ἐπὶ πῶλον υἱὸν ὑποζυγίου.

6 πορευθέντες δὲ οἱ μαθηταὶ καὶ ποιήσαντες καθὼς συνέταξεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς 7 ἤγαγον τὴν ὄνον καὶ τὸν πῶλον, καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπ' αὐτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια, καὶ ἐπεκάθισεν ἐπάνω αὐτῶν. 8 ὁ δὲ πλεῖστος ὄχλος ἔστρωσαν ἑαυτῶν τὰ ἱμάτια ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ, ἄλλοι δὲ ἔκοπτον κλάδους ἀπὸ τῶν δένδρων καὶ ἐστρώννυον ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ. 9 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι οἱ προάγοντες αὐτὸν καὶ οἱ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἔκραζον λέγοντες,

Ὡσαννὰ τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ:
Εὐλογημένος ὁ ἐρχόμενος ἐν ὀνόματι κυρίου:
Ὡσαννὰ ἐν τοῖς ὑψίστοις.

10 καὶ εἰσελθόντος αὐτοῦ εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα ἐσείσθη πᾶσα ἡ πόλις λέγουσα, Τίς ἐστιν οὗτος; 11 οἱ δὲ ὄχλοι ἔλεγον, Οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ προφήτης Ἰησοῦς ὁ ἀπὸ Ναζαρὲθ τῆς Γαλιλαίας.

Translation (NRSV):

1 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4 This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11 The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

Matthew 21: 1-11 – reading the text

We have entered the last week with Christ in the days before his Crucifixion. The parallel passages for this reading are: Mark 11: 1-10; Luke 19: 28-38; and John 12: 12-18.

In Saint Matthew’s account, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to great solemnity. This event is portrayed here as the entry of the king into his capital. This is the coming of God’s Son to his disobedient people, and, as with the Transfiguration – which we shall be considering in this afternoon’s seminar – we have here a preview of Christ’s coming again in glory at the end of the world.

What happens to this king? We shall find this in our second reading (Matthew 27: 11-54), the Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the passion on Sunday week.

Christ choses the way in which he enters Jerusalem that day. There is a sense of mystery about the way he arranges the details. But in all he does, he is obeying is Father’s commands and fulfilling his Father’s wishes.

Compare Saint Matthew’s description of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, with the description in the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Saint Matthew’s purpose is to sound the note of majesty and kingship before the Passion narrative begins, but also to look forward to Christ’s second coming.

Verse 1:

Bethphage, like Bethany, is a village to the east of Jerusalem.

The Mount of Olives is associated in the Old Testament with Messianic hopes (see Zechariah 14: 4), and later in the Gospel this is we hear of the coming of Christ at the end of the world (see Matthew 24: 3).

Verse 3:

How do you think the owner responded? Was he a secret disciple of Jesus?

Verse 5:

Matthew here combines two Old Testament prophecies. The passages in the Hebrew Scriptures being referred to here are: Isaiah 62: 11, and Zechariah 9: 9. However, the Hebrew texts refer to one animal, not two.

Verse 7:

The reference to two animals here may have arisen due to a misunderstanding of the poetic form of expression in Zechariah 9: 9.

Verse 8:

These are tokens of honour (see II Kings 9: 13). But branches are also mentioned in the accounts of the rededication of the Temple at the Feast of the Tabernacles in the year 165 BC (see I Maccabees 13: 51; II Maccabees 10: 7).

Verse 9:

See Psalm 118: 26. The word Hosanna was originally a Hebrew invocation addressed to God, meaning: ‘O Save,’ or ‘O, Help.’ Later, it came to be used as a liturgical acclamation, or a cry of greeting.

Matthew adds the phrase ‘to the Son of David,’ emphasising Christ’s kingship at the moment he enters the royal city.

The phrase ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ is also from Psalm 118 (verse 26). ‘The one who comes’ or ‘he who comes’ may have been used as a title for the Messianic king.

Verse 10:

Compare the phrase ‘the whole city was in turmoil’ with an earlier passage in this Gospel: ‘When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with them.’

There is a link between the Journey of the Magi and the Christ’s journey into Jerusalem, between Epiphany and Holy Week, that is captured poetically by TS Eliot in his Journey of the Magi:

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.


Verse 11:

The identification reflects an unchanged attitude towards Christ. He is still a prophet in their eyes, less than he actually is, and he is still slightly outside the boundaries of society, coming from Nazareth in Galilee.

The Crucifixion

Matthew 27: 11-54 – reading the text

11 Ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἐστάθη ἔμπροσθεν τοῦ ἡγεμόνος: καὶ ἐπηρώτησεν αὐτὸν ὁ ἡγεμὼν λέγων, Σὺ εἶ ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων; ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς ἔφη, Σὺ λέγεις. 12 καὶ ἐν τῷ κατηγορεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀρχιερέων καὶ πρεσβυτέρων οὐδὲν ἀπεκρίνατο. 13 τότε λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Οὐκ ἀκούεις πόσα σου καταμαρτυροῦσιν; 14 καὶ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῷ πρὸς οὐδὲ ἓν ῥῆμα, ὥστε θαυμάζειν τὸν ἡγεμόνα λίαν.

15 Κατὰ δὲ ἑορτὴν εἰώθει ὁ ἡγεμὼν ἀπολύειν ἕνα τῷ ὄχλῳ δέσμιον ὃν ἤθελον. 16 εἶχον δὲ τότε δέσμιον ἐπίσημον λεγόμενον [Ἰησοῦν] Βαραββᾶν. 17 συνηγμένων οὖν αὐτῶν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Τίνα θέλετε ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν, [Ἰησοῦν τὸν] Βαραββᾶν ἢ Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν; 18 ᾔδει γὰρ ὅτι διὰ φθόνον παρέδωκαν αὐτόν. 19 Καθημένου δὲ αὐτοῦ ἐπὶ τοῦ βήματος ἀπέστειλεν πρὸς αὐτὸν ἡ γυνὴ αὐτοῦ λέγουσα, Μηδὲν σοὶ καὶ τῷ δικαίῳ ἐκείνῳ, πολλὰ γὰρ ἔπαθον σήμερον κατ' ὄναρ δι' αὐτόν. 20 Οἱ δὲ ἀρχιερεῖς καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι ἔπεισαν τοὺς ὄχλους ἵνα αἰτήσωνται τὸν Βαραββᾶν τὸν δὲ Ἰησοῦν ἀπολέσωσιν. 21 ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἡγεμὼν εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τίνα θέλετε ἀπὸ τῶν δύο ἀπολύσω ὑμῖν; οἱ δὲ εἶπαν, Τὸν Βαραββᾶν. 22 λέγει αὐτοῖς ὁ Πιλᾶτος, Τί οὖν ποιήσω Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν; λέγουσιν πάντες, Σταυρωθήτω. 23 ὁ δὲ ἔφη, Τί γὰρ κακὸν ἐποίησεν; οἱ δὲ περισσῶς ἔκραζον λέγοντες, Σταυρωθήτω. 24 ἰδὼν δὲ ὁ Πιλᾶτος ὅτι οὐδὲν ὠφελεῖ ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον θόρυβος γίνεται, λαβὼν ὕδωρ ἀπενίψατο τὰς χεῖρας ἀπέναντι τοῦ ὄχλου, λέγων, Ἀθῷός εἰμι ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος τούτου: ὑμεῖς ὄψεσθε. 25 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς πᾶς ὁ λαὸς εἶπεν, Τὸ αἷμα αὐτοῦ ἐφ' ἡμᾶς καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ τέκνα ἡμῶν. 26 τότε ἀπέλυσεν αὐτοῖς τὸν Βαραββᾶν, τὸν δὲ Ἰησοῦν φραγελλώσας παρέδωκεν ἵνα σταυρωθῇ.

27 Τότε οἱ στρατιῶται τοῦ ἡγεμόνος παραλαβόντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν εἰς τὸ πραιτώριον συνήγαγον ἐπ' αὐτὸν ὅλην τὴν σπεῖραν. 28 καὶ ἐκδύσαντες αὐτὸν χλαμύδα κοκκίνην περιέθηκαν αὐτῷ, 29 καὶ πλέξαντες στέφανον ἐξ ἀκανθῶν ἐπέθηκαν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ καὶ κάλαμον ἐν τῇ δεξιᾷ αὐτοῦ, καὶ γονυπετήσαντες ἔμπροσθεν αὐτοῦ ἐνέπαιξαν αὐτῷ λέγοντες, Χαῖρε, βασιλεῦ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, 30 καὶ ἐμπτύσαντες εἰς αὐτὸν ἔλαβον τὸν κάλαμον καὶ ἔτυπτον εἰς τὴν κεφαλὴν αὐτοῦ. 31 καὶ ὅτε ἐνέπαιξαν αὐτῷ, ἐξέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὴν χλαμύδα καὶ ἐνέδυσαν αὐτὸν τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ, καὶ ἀπήγαγον αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σταυρῶσαι.

32 Ἐξερχόμενοι δὲ εὗρον ἄνθρωπον Κυρηναῖον ὀνόματι Σίμωνα: τοῦτον ἠγγάρευσαν ἵνα ἄρῃ τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ. 33 Καὶ ἐλθόντες εἰς τόπον λεγόμενον Γολγοθᾶ, ὅ ἐστιν Κρανίου Τόπος λεγόμενος, 34 ἔδωκαν αὐτῷ πιεῖν οἶνον μετὰ χολῆς μεμιγμένον: καὶ γευσάμενος οὐκ ἠθέλησεν πιεῖν. 35 σταυρώσαντες δὲ αὐτὸν διεμερίσαντο τὰ ἱμάτια αὐτοῦ βάλλοντες κλῆρον, 36 καὶ καθήμενοι ἐτήρουν αὐτὸν ἐκεῖ. 37 καὶ ἐπέθηκαν ἐπάνω τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ τὴν αἰτίαν αὐτοῦ γεγραμμένην: Οὗτός ἐστιν Ἰησοῦς ὁ βασιλεῦς τῶν Ἰουδαίων. 38 Τότε σταυροῦνται σὺν αὐτῷ δύο λῃσταί, εἷς ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ εἷς ἐξ εὐωνύμων. 39 Οἱ δὲ παραπορευόμενοι ἐβλασφήμουν αὐτὸν κινοῦντες τὰς κεφαλὰς αὐτῶν 40 καὶ λέγοντες, Ὁ καταλύων τὸν ναὸν καὶ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις οἰκοδομῶν, σῶσον σεαυτόν, εἰ υἱὸς εἶ τοῦ θεοῦ, [καὶ] κατάβηθι ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ. 41 ὁμοίως καὶ οἱ ἀρχιερεῖς ἐμπαίζοντες μετὰ τῶν γραμματέων καὶ πρεσβυτέρων ἔλεγον, 42 Ἄλλους ἔσωσεν, ἑαυτὸν οὐ δύναται σῶσαι: βασιλεὺς Ἰσραήλ ἐστιν, καταβάτω νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦ σταυροῦ καὶ πιστεύσομεν ἐπ' αὐτόν. 43 πέποιθεν ἐπὶ τὸν θεόν, ῥυσάσθω νῦν εἰ θέλει αὐτόν: εἶπεν γὰρ ὅτι Θεοῦ εἰμι υἱός. 44 τὸ δ' αὐτὸ καὶ οἱ λῃσταὶ οἱ συσταυρωθέντες σὺν αὐτῷ ὠνείδιζον αὐτόν.

45 Ἀπὸ δὲ ἕκτης ὥρας σκότος ἐγένετο ἐπὶ πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν ἕως ὥρας ἐνάτης. 46 περὶ δὲ τὴν ἐνάτην ὥραν ἀνεβόησεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς φωνῇ μεγάλῃ λέγων, Ηλι ηλι λεμα σαβαχθανι; τοῦτ' ἔστιν, Θεέ μου θεέ μου, ἱνατί με ἐγκατέλιπες; 47 τινὲς δὲ τῶν ἐκεῖ ἑστηκότων ἀκούσαντες ἔλεγον ὅτι Ἠλίαν φωνεῖ οὗτος. 48 καὶ εὐθέως δραμὼν εἷς ἐξ αὐτῶν καὶ λαβὼν σπόγγον πλήσας τε ὄξους καὶ περιθεὶς καλάμῳ ἐπότιζεν αὐτόν. 49 οἱ δὲ λοιποὶ ἔλεγον, Ἄφες ἴδωμεν εἰ ἔρχεται Ἠλίας σώσων αὐτόν. 50 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς πάλιν κράξας φωνῇ μεγάλῃ ἀφῆκεν τὸ πνεῦμα. 51 Καὶ ἰδοὺ τὸ καταπέτασμα τοῦ ναοῦ ἐσχίσθη ἀπ' ἄνωθεν ἕως κάτω εἰς δύο, καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐσείσθη, καὶ αἱ πέτραι ἐσχίσθησαν, 52 καὶ τὰ μνημεῖα ἀνεῴχθησαν καὶ πολλὰ σώματα τῶν κεκοιμημένων ἁγίων ἠγέρθησαν, 53 καὶ ἐξελθόντες ἐκ τῶν μνημείων μετὰ τὴν ἔγερσιν αὐτοῦ εἰσῆλθον εἰς τὴν ἁγίαν πόλιν καὶ ἐνεφανίσθησαν πολλοῖς. 54 Ὁ δὲ ἑκατόνταρχος καὶ οἱ μετ' αὐτοῦ τηροῦντες τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἰδόντες τὸν σεισμὸν καὶ τὰ γενόμενα ἐφοβήθησαν σφόδρα, λέγοντες, Ἀληθῶς θεοῦ υἱὸς ἦν οὗτος.

Translation (NRSV):

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You say so.’ 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, ‘Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?’ 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, ‘Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgement seat, his wife sent word to him, ‘Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’ 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, ‘Which of the two do you want me to release for you?’ And they said, ‘Barabbas.’ 22 Pilate said to them, ‘Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?’ All of them said, ‘Let him be crucified!’ 23 Then he asked, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Let him be crucified!’

24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.’ 25 Then the people as a whole answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children!’ 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 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!’ 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

32 As they went out, they came upon a man from Cyrene named Simon; they compelled this man to carry his cross. 33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), 34 they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. 35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; 36 then they sat down there and kept watch over him. 37 Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’

38 Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, ‘You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.’ 41 In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, 42 ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, “I am God’s Son”.’ 44 The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 47 When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘This man is calling for Elijah.’ 48 At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.’ 50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. 54 Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’

Matthew 27: 11-54 – reading the text

Verses 11-14 – Jesus before Pilate

See Mark 15: 2-5; Luke 23: 2-5; John 18: 29-19: 16.

Verse 11:

The phrase ‘King of the Jews’ is one that could only have been used by a Gentile, for the Jews of the time did not described themselves as such – they were the Hebrews or the Israelites.

Verse 14:

See Luke 23: 9; Matthew 26: 62; Mark 14: 60; I Timothy 6: 13.

Verses 15-26 – the crowd choses Barabbas

See Mark 15: 6-15; Luke 23: 18-25; John 18: 38-40; John 19: 4-16.

Verse 15:

Apart from the Gospels, there is no external evidence for this custom.

Verse 17:

Some Greek, Syriac and other manuscript versions of this Gospel tell us that the full name of Barabbas was Jesus Barabbas. The crowd is given a choice – the robber Jesus or the royal Jesus.

Verse 19:

See Luke 23: 4.

Verse 21:

See Acts 3: 13-14. Pilate’s second question is an addition by Matthew.

Verse 24:

See Deuteronomy 21: 6-9; Psalm 26: 6. In washing his hands, Pilate is using a Jewish symbolic action to express the innocence of Jesus.

Verse 25:

See Acts 5: 28; Joshua 2: 19.

Verse 26:

Scourging with a multi-thonged whip was a regular Roman practice prior to execution.

Verses 27-44: The Crucifixion

Verses 27-31:

See Mark 15: 16-20; John 19: 1-3.

Verse 27:

The cohort at full strength numbered about 500 or 600 men, or one-tenth of a legion. The praetorium was the Roman prosecutor’s official residence in Jerusalem.

An icon of Christ the Bridegroom

Verse 29:

At the time, the emperor was shown on coins wearing a crown that was radiant with spikes or shards of light or glory. Here Jesus is not only being inflicted with pain but is also being mocked. The reed is a mocking representation of a royal sceptre, the salutation ‘Hail, King ..’ a mocking representation of the imperial ‘Ave Caesar …

Verses 32-44 – Jesus is crucified

See Mark 15: 21-32; Luke 23: 26, 33-43; John 19: 17-24.

Verse 32:

‘As they went out …’ or ‘As they were marching out …’ is literally ‘as they came out.’ The crucifixion is to take place outside Jerusalem, outside the city walls.

The procession includes Christ, two other prisoners, a centurion, and a few soldiers. Simon, and the others, were probably known to the early Christians who first read the Gospel.

Verse 33:

Golgotha may have been a hill shaped like a skull, or it may have been an unclean place used for executions. There was legend that Adam’s skull had been buried there.

Verse 34:

See Psalm 69. Gall may refer to any bitter liquid, or possibly the myrrh of Mark 15: 23.

Verse 35:

‘They divided his clothes.’ Soldiers had a right to the last remaining possessions of an executed criminal, including his clothes. But Matthew also presents this a prophetic fulfilment of Psalm 22: 18.

Verse 37:

Compare the words here with the divine acclamation at his Baptism: ‘This is my Son, the Beloved’ (Matthew 3: 17).

It was customary to indicate the offence of the punished prisoner. Since the Romans recognised the ruling Herodian monarchs as legitimate kings, the implication here appears to be that Jesus was a pretender and a revolutionary.

Verse 38:

See Isaiah 53: 12.

Verse 39:

See Psalm 22: 7-8; Psalm 109: 25.

Verse 40:

See Matthew 26: 61; John 2: 19; Acts 6: 14.

‘If you are the Son of God …’ is a repetition of the devil’s words during the temptation in the wilderness (see Matthew 4: 3, 6).

Verses 42-43:

These taunts stress the religious aspects of the words and works of Jesus.

The reference to Israel in verse 42, rather than ‘the Jews’ in the inscription on the cross (see verse 37), is a reference to the religious community rather than the political society.

For verse 43, see Psalm 22: 8.

Verses 45-54 – the death of Jesus

For parallels, see: Mark 15: 33-41; Luke 23: 44-49; John 19: 28-37.

Verse 46:

‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ These words are a direct quotation from Psalm 22: 1.

Mark gives us ‘Eloi, Eloi,’ which is the Aramaic; Matthew gives us ‘Eli, Eli,’ which is the Hebrew, and which leads to the misunderstanding referred to in the next verse.

Verse 47:

The name Elijah is similar in sound to the word ‘Eli.’ Elijah was expected to usher in the final period (see Malachi 4: 5-6; Matthew 27: 49), and according to Old Testament accounts Elijah did not die but was taken up alive to heaven (see II Kings 2: 9-12).

Verse 48:

See also Psalm 69: 21; Matthew 27: 34.

The motive in offering the sour wine or vinegar may have been to revive Jesus, and in so doing to prolong his ordeal.

Verse 50:

The RSV’s ‘yielded up his spirit’ is more proactive than the NRSV’s passive ‘breathed his last,’ which is also found in Mark (Mark 15: 39).

Verse 51:

See also: Exodus 26: 31-35; Matthew 28: 2; Mark 15: 38; Hebrews 9: 8; Hebrews 10: 19.

There were two curtains in the Holy of Holies, an outer curtain and an inner curtain. What appears to be referred to here is the second, inner curtain, that closed off the Holies of Holies (Hebrews 9: 3), the innermost sanctuary in the temple, which represented God’s presence among his people. The rending of the curtain symbolises the unhindered access to God that has been achieved by the death of Christ (see Hebrews 10: 19-20).

Verse 54:

Our account ends with the acclamation of faith: ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’ It might have more appropriate resonances if the NRSV translation had been rendered: ‘Truly this man was the Son of God!’ – and answering the question at the end of our first Gospel reading for the Liturgy of the Palms that was never fully answered: ‘Who is this?’ (Matthew 21: 10).

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 29 March 2017.

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