Reflections on April 5, 2020: Palm - Matthew 21:1-9
Passion - Matthew 26:14–15, 20-25, 30, 48-54, 57, 63-68, 27:2-10, 15-21, 24-26, 39-43, 50-54
Sermon "Save Us!" (Sermon Video)
The four gospels are not simply historical accounts of the life of Jesus but they also give specific communities glimpses into that life that hold words of grace for that community. This is why the gospels emphasize different accounts of Jesus' life. As John say, there are not enough books to hold all the things that Jesus said and did. The selected readings from Matthew's account of the triumphal entry and the passion contain aspects of the event that Matthew thought his community needed to hear. There is a chance that we need to hear that same message today.
Like all the gospels, Matthew has the crowd yelling “Hosanna” which means “save us”. They are not, however, crying out to the King or to the kingdom of David but to the “Son of David”. Matthew will repeatedly use the terms “Son of David/Man” and “Son of God”. When the people cry out “Son of David”, they are crying out to the man who feed the hungry and cured the sick. They are crying out to the man named Jesus to lead them. They are focused on the miracles and not the message.
In times like these, there are many people who are crying out to God to save them from hardship and illness. The truth, however, is that in the midst of life we are always in death. We exist in frail and mortal bodies that can just as easily die from COVID19 as from a car accident or an accidental fall. It turns out that my wife died of idiomatic (cause unknown) acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis – in other words her pancreas ruptured with no warning and very low chance of survival even with hospitalization. Death can happen at anytime. To ask God to save us from mortal death is to ask to be immortal. God eases suffering and remains with us during our darkest trials but God does not save us from being human or for that matter from life. Life is both night and day, winter and spring, Good Friday and Easter morning. Jesus knew this full well when he enter the city on Palm Sunday.
Like the crowd, Judas focused on regime change and physical salvation. Instead of seeing Jesus as the Messiah, Judas in Matthew refers to Jesus as “Rabbi” or teacher. His failure to understand led to the events of the crucifixion. Jesus, however, did not reject him but rather called him “Friend” even when he was being betrayed. The great tragedy of Judas was that he never fully understood what Jesus had come to save. If he had, he would not have killed himself.
The sad thing is that the Jewish leaders didn't get it either. They knew the term “Son of God” and “Messiah” but they didn't really believe it. Being religious leaders had cause them to loss their faith. Religion was something you did and not what you believed in your core. Those on the outside saw – Pilate, his wife, and even the centurion. But those who were “priests” and “scholars of God's word” were blind to the truth. The truth that God's kingdom is first spiritual and then physical. The created world is an outward and visible sign of a deeper inward and spiritual truth. Humanity may think that they rule the world but we exist within the kingdom of God.
Repent, believe, the kingdom of God is at hand. This was the message of Jesus. All the parables and miracles were done to point to this simple truth. Jesus came to save our souls. This is what it meant to be the Messiah, the Son of God. It meant that through Jesus, our relationship with God was healed and our loneliness was over. Death of the mortal body is no longer the end for our souls will be with God. The One who made us not only holds but will resurrect us. As Paul say, how this will be is a mystery but with God all things are possible. This is the foundation of our faith. COVID19 nor the cross can kill our souls for we have been saved by Jesus. The body may end but life continues. God's love will always make a way even during Holy Week or a pandemic.