How does one relate the Sunday readings with one another? While it is not always advisable to connect one reading to another in a sermon, it can very well be done for purposes of meditation and prayer. In fact, I would recommend this latter as an “exercise” for fixing one’s “gaze”on the mystery of Christ. The fruits this would bear for the practise of the lectio divina would be obvious to the practioner. Augustine himself built up his robust knowledge of Scriptures by a similar exercise.
Below is a mind map of selected themes from the liturgy of Passion Sunday (Year A). Click on the thumbnail below for a bigger view of the image.
Purpose of the Mind Map. The mind map serves to show how the four readings for Passion Sunday are linked to one another using two key elements from the reenactment of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In this illustration, I use two: Jesus as king (from Zech. 9:9 as quoted in Matthew 21:5) and from Matthew 21:11 where the city trembling at an expected coup ask “Who is it?” and receives the answer “the prophet, Jesus from Nazareth.”
The Two Themes. The first theme is clear from the way Matthew presented Jesus in his genealogy. He is the Son of David, the expected Messiah. This theme is carried over into the profession of Peter in Matthew 16:16 where he declares Jesus to be “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”
The second theme is a bit recherché since there is only one place in Matthew where Jesus admits the label prophet for himself in an indirect way — Matthew 13:57 — a statement taken from Mark 6:3. In Matthew, Jesus refers to John the Baptist as a prophet, “and more than a prophet” (Matthew 11:9). The appellation “prophet” is rather attributed to Jesus by others (cf. Matthew 16:14). Hence, the answer of the multitudes in Matthew 21:11 is in keeping with the way Jesus is recognized. Seeing however that Matthew himself does not regard the appellation as a mistake, that he does present Jesus as the New Moses, and he reports the disciples as saying that people associate Jesus with Jeremiah (something in which he differs from Mark), and finally that Matthew directly cites Servant passages from Isaiah in two instances to explain what Jesus is doing (Matthew 8:17;12:17-18), then one can conclude that the response of the multitudes in Matthew 21:11 is a reference to Jesus as the Son of God, God’s “kid” in the mode of a servant. This last is I think consistent with the Temptation in the Desert and the taunts hurled at Jesus on the cross.
Lectionary Connections. The two themes described above blend in well with the first and second readings and automatically creates thematic associations with elements in Matthew’s Passion of Christ. Isaiah 50:4-9 (the first reading) speaks of the Servant’s fidelity to Yahweh in the face of opposition. It also speaks of the Servant’s confidence in God whom he knows will vindicate him. The Responsorial psalm is from Psalm 22 which the evangelists have used to as a kind of background music to their narration of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. The psalm not only describes an innocent man’s suffering, but also ends in a cry of thanksgiving, anticipating an act of salvation from God. One of the key passages of this psalm is the phrase ” I will declare your name to the brothers;I will stand in the midst of the assembly and praise you” (Ps. 22:22), a theme that John makes use in his resurrection narratives to refer to the Risen Christ who is always standing in the midst of the brothers.
The second reading from Phil. 2:6-11 is a classic in Christology. The Jesus’ self-emptying to the point of putting on the form of a slave who was “obedient even unto death” has merited for him “the name above every other name.” Here, the theme of obedience relates with that of the reading from Isaiah which has the Servant saying that God opens his ears every morning and makes him so confident as to bear any kind of violence sent his way. Faith in the sense of obedience and confident hope is here underlined. What the Servant expresses as a subjective reality is expressed by Paul objectively in his kenosis-exaltation schema .
Finally, the proclamation of the Passion of Christ ties up the themes mentioned above. The kingly thematic comes first with the question of Pilate, and continues in the mockery to which the battalion of soldiers subject Jesus. It then is continued to the charge that is placed above Jesus’ head as he hangs on the gibbet. The Servant theme is intertwined with Psalm 22 and — in the liturgical text — begins with the silence of Jesus. It is the silence of the Servant in the midst of suffering (cf. Isaiah 53:7). It is the silence of the Lamb of God whose blood was invoked by the same crowd who asked for it to be shed. Finally, when Jesus releases the Spirit in death, the centurion and those watching with him declare that Jesus is “Son of God”. What Jesus proved before the Tempter, what the Voice declared on two occasions, what Peter confessed, now becomes a declaration of faith from a pagan. The proclamation of the Passion however is not one of defeat. It carries a hint of Jesus’ victory. Once more the gospel reading ties up with the mood of the previous readings ending as it does with the expectation of the resurrection.
- Jesus Enters Jerusalem – a mindmap that shows how Matthew’s theological leaning modifies Marks account of Jesus’entrance into Jerusalem
- Behold Your King – the article on which is based the above graphical presentation
- An old but still very useful article about the things discussed above.
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