Gospel Lectio Divina, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
The elders of the people, chief priests and scribes,
arose and brought Jesus before Pilate.
They brought charges against him, saying,
“We found this man misleading our people;
he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar
and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.”
Pilate asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
He said to him in reply, “You say so.”
Pilate then addressed the chief priests and the crowds,
“I find this man not guilty.”
But they were adamant and said,
“He is inciting the people with his teaching throughout all Judea,
from Galilee where he began even to here.”
On hearing this Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean;
and upon learning that he was under Herod’s jurisdiction,
he sent him to Herod who was in Jerusalem at that time.
Herod was very glad to see Jesus;
he had been wanting to see him for a long time,
for he had heard about him
and had been hoping to see him perform some sign.
He questioned him at length,
but he gave him no answer.
The chief priests and scribes, meanwhile,
stood by accusing him harshly.
Herod and his soldiers treated him contemptuously and mocked him,
and after clothing him in resplendent garb,
he sent him back to Pilate.
Herod and Pilate became friends that very day,
even though they had been enemies formerly.
Pilate then summoned the chief priests, the rulers, and the people
and said to them, “You brought this man to me
and accused him of inciting the people to revolt.
I have conducted my investigation in your presence
and have not found this man guilty
of the charges you have brought against him,
nor did Herod, for he sent him back to us.
So no capital crime has been committed by him.
Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”
But all together they shouted out,
“Away with this man!
Release Barabbas to us.”
— Now Barabbas had been imprisoned for a rebellion
that had taken place in the city and for murder. —
Again Pilate addressed them, still wishing to release Jesus,
but they continued their shouting,
“Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Pilate addressed them a third time,
“What evil has this man done?
I found him guilty of no capital crime.
Therefore I shall have him flogged and then release him.”
With loud shouts, however,
they persisted in calling for his crucifixion,
and their voices prevailed.
The verdict of Pilate was that their demand should be granted.
So he released the man who had been imprisoned
for rebellion and murder, for whom they asked,
and he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
As they led him away
they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian,
who was coming in from the country;
and after laying the cross on him,
they made him carry it behind Jesus.
A large crowd of people followed Jesus,
including many women who mourned and lamented him.
Jesus turned to them and said,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me;
weep instead for yourselves and for your children
for indeed, the days are coming when people will say,
‘Blessed are the barren,
the wombs that never bore
and the breasts that never nursed.’
At that time people will say to the mountains,
‘Fall upon us!’
and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’
for if these things are done when the wood is green
what will happen when it is dry?”
Now two others, both criminals,
were led away with him to be executed.
When they came to the place called the Skull,
they crucified him and the criminals there,
one on his right, the other on his left.
Then Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
They divided his garments by casting lots.
The people stood by and watched;
the rulers, meanwhile, sneered at him and said,
“He saved others, let him save himself
if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.”
Even the soldiers jeered at him.
As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.”
Above him there was an inscription that read,
“This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying,
“Are you not the Christ?
Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply,
“Have you no fear of God,
for you are subject to the same condemnation?
And indeed, we have been condemned justly,
for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes,
but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said,
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
He replied to him,
“Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”
It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon
because of an eclipse of the sun.
Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”;
and when he had said this he breathed his last.
Here all kneel and pause for a short time.
The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said,
“This man was innocent beyond doubt.”
When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle
saw what had happened,
they returned home beating their breasts;
but all his acquaintances stood at a distance,
including the women who had followed him from Galilee
and saw these events.
“We found this man misleading our people; he opposes the payment of taxes to Caesar and maintains that he is the Christ, a king.”
How easy it is to accuse someone and receive the trust of the masses. Why are we so quick to judge someone? They say first impressions are important, but that’s only because people are so judgemental. Many people with Pontius Pilate who heard these accusations probably never met Jesus. Their impression of him may have been based solely upon what the chief priest and scribes were saying about him. They may have heard of Jesus and his deeds, but this was the first time they saw him in the flesh: as an accused man. How many people do I know who have a bad reputation, yet I don’t know anything about them personally–just what other people have told me about him or her? Has this led me to judge them as well, without knowing their acts?
“Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.”
Indeed, he is King of the Jews; he is the son of David, the one the Jewish prophets spoke of, the one promised by the Jewish God, the Messiah who has come to save the Jewish people. But Pilate is not concerned about any of that. He just cares about whether or not Jesus is claiming authority over Caesar, because in Rome’s eyes Caesar was King of the Jews.
Herod was very glad to see Jesus; he had been wanting to see him for a long time
This was Herod Antipas, the son of King Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus about 30 years earlier when Jesus was just an infant, because there were rumors that Jesus would some day claim his throne. Herod the Great’s son doesn’t have the same concerns as his father, apparently. We get the sense that he feels secure in his reign. Both Pontius Pilate and King Herod Antipas seem ambivalent about the real issues surrounding Jesus’ trial. Their concerns are superficial and worldly as they do not see the Kingdom of God Jesus has come to establish. They only see their own kingdoms and those of man.
“I have conducted my investigation in your presence and have not found this man guilty”
Herod and Pilate did not find Jesus to be guilty. Their verdict would not change, even as Jesus is sentenced to death. They both knew an innocent man was being sentenced to death, and yet to them it was okay because his blood was not on their hands. The sins of apathy, negligence, and cowardice are on display here. They’d rather see an innocent man suffer than do something to stop it. If Pilate, or Herod, were just common men without any authority, their judgment of Jesus wouldn’t matter. But since they are in positions of power, their judgment does matter. We’ve heard many people in authority today use similar tactics, saying things like “That’s above my paygrade.” When the lives of innocent people are in the balance, and you have the authority to save those lives or condemn them to death, your judgment does matter. We cannot change what happened. Jesus was condemned to death unjustly. That’s history. But we can learn from the mistake Pilate made, and–if we are in a position of authority–we can take our position seriously and notice that the fate of other people will be determined by decisions we make. We can’t just brush off the responsibility, and blame it on other people like Pilate did. Let’s not be swayed by the decisions of the crowd. Let’s stand by justice instead.
he handed Jesus over to them to deal with as they wished.
Pilate probably had Roman soldiers at his command. He could have ordered them to protect Jesus from the crowd. This scene demonstrates the danger of apathy and cowardice. If I try to evade difficult decisions, oftentimes that results in me being complicit with evil. Not protecting the innocent is just as bad as harming them, especially if I have the power to protect them. Pilate was more concerned about his reputation among the people than he was about justice and protecting the innocent.
A large crowd of people followed Jesus
Some of the people were mourning. Many of the people following Jesus, however, were probably from the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” It’s strange that we don’t see that much condemnation of Jesus himself these days. For the most part, he is at least considered a wise, compassionate religious leader. The condemnation today is much more directed toward his followers, who are constantly being calumniated just like Jesus was. When it comes to Jesus, many people take the position of Pilate: ‘I have nothing against him. He seems like a good and innocent man.’ But when it comes to Christians, the people who follow Jesus, many say we are hypocrites. This corresponds well with the Church teaching that we are now the body of Christ. Those who followed Jesus to the cross are the ones who went before us. They probably walked their own way of the cross shortly after Jesus did, just for following him. We are called to do the same if we are to call ourselves Christian. A large crowd should be following Jesus all the way to the cross. We are that crowd, bearing our own crosses.
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
The Church teaches that in order for a sin to be a sin, I have to know that it is a sin, I have to know that I am doing it, and I have to be willing to do it. Jesus is saying there is at least some lack of knowledge involved in the decision of the crowd to condemn him. But if it weren’t a sin, there would be no need for God to forgive them. So is the Church wrong in saying it’s not a sin if we don’t know what we’re doing? No. The crowd did know what they were doing, just not to the degree that Jesus wants them to know and understand. So condemning him to death was still a sin, but Jesus is pleading to his Father to show them mercy. Mercy is very complex. I talk about it every week–just about–because its characteristics require explanation. God does not just show mercy for no reason. As Shakespeare said, “Love reasons without reason.” In other words, God has reasons for loving us that we do not understand. The crowd did not understand this kind of love either, and that is what Jesus is talking about here. The crowd did not understand God’s love for them, and interpreted it as blasphemy instead. Jesus is not simply pardoning the atrocious decision for the crowd to condemn him to death. He is reminding the Father of the unique situation that his plan for humanity’s salvation has presented. Few people understood that God loved humanity so much that he would send his only son to die for us. Anyone who claims that he is God’s son who has come to save the world, therefore, must be speaking blasphemy. Should the crowd be blamed for not knowing or understanding the prophets well enough? It would have been better if they studied the Scriptures more, but they should be forgiven for not understanding God’s unthinkable plan.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.”
If you could travel back in time and witness the condemnation and death of Jesus, what would you do? Would you try to stop the crowds and authorities from sending him to be crucified? Would you stand between the crucifiers and say, “This man is innocent. If you must condemn someone, condemn me instead,” and hope for them to listen? What if you could stop Jesus from dying? I can picture the dialogue now. I can see myself pleading to the crucifiers. “This man has done no wrong and you all know it.” Jesus may have told me, “This is the Father’s will. It must be done. There is no other way to save you, to save everyone.” I might have said, “Yes, there is. You don’t have to die. You could live on, continuing to teach and heal. You could save us all that way. You could reach out to each of us personally in the flesh. You are God. You could live forever and touch every life from now until the end of the world, showing them the truth, healing people of every illness, removing pain and death from the world and teaching saints directly to do the same. You don’t have to die for us. Please don’t die. There are so many other ways to save us.” Then I would turn to the crucifiers and say, “Take me instead. There would be no outcry, because I am no one, but I am also much more deserving of death.” To the crowd who condemned him I would say, “It’s me you want to kill, not Jesus. I am the one who has blasphemously dragged God’s name in the dirt by claiming to follow him and then failing over and over again. I am the imposture and hypocrite. Jesus’ life is too valuable to take.” Then Jesus, knowingly, would turn to me and say, “My death is the only way to pay the debt for your sins and those of everyone else. I am the spotless lamb, and that is the only price that will cover the cost of sin. This is a debt you cannot pay.”
I would gladly give my life to spare yours, but that wasn’t your plan. Instead, you gave your life to spare mine. Now I can live on for eternity and face death with the hope of heaven. All I need to do is follow you. It’s simple but not easy. I pray for the faith, hope, and love I need to be your disciple. It is so difficult to do in a world that wants to crucify your body, the Church. I get caught in the web of lies designed to draw people away from you all of the time. But there you are through it all, and if I am willing to look for you I will find you. You hold fast to the truths you taught, you remain the spotless lamb who died for our sins so we can have a clearer view of heaven. Help me to keep that hope and faith alive. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
As we prepare for this Sunday’s long Gospel, let’s remember to just listen. Just close your eyes and picture the story unfolding before you. We have to hear this story every year, at least every year, because there is so much to learn from it. Every line is packed with truth, wisdom, and beauty. Every time we read it, if we listen closely enough, something new will stand out for us. What stands out for you this time?
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.