Fr. Gerald M. Musa

HOMILY: I wonder why Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. Generally, we associate the word passion with strong emotions of fear, love, hatred and anger. Passion is also unlimited zeal : I wonder why Palm Sunday is also called Passion Sunday. Generally, we associate the word passion with strong emotions of fear, love, hatred and anger. Passion is also unlimited zeal and enthusiasm and this enthusiasm can be negative or positive. In the expression of emotions, we hear stories of passionate lovers such as Romeo and Juliet and in the expression of enthusiasm we recall stories of passionate leaders like Nelson Mandela. We also read stories of leaders who had destructive passions such as Rudolf Hitler, Idi Amin, etc. Scriptures warn against negative passions such as anger, lust and hatred and encourages crucifying passions of the flesh (Galatians 5:24).

So, if passion is about emotion and enthusiasm, then what has passion got to do with the suffering and death of Jesus? The entire life of Jesus was full of passion. He carried out his mission with passion and zeal for his work consumed him (John 2:17). Nevertheless, the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus is specifically called passion because no part of the life of Jesus evokes so much emotion, passion and compassion.

Stories of the passion of Jesus, also known as Passion Narratives are in the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These stories give us a vivid account of the mental, physical and spiritual anguish (suffering) of Jesus. The Passion story begins from the last supper to his death on the cross. The Sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary provide a good summary the Passion narrative. These five mysteries: the agony in the garden; the flogging (scourge); crowning with thorns; carrying of the cross and crucifixion were all moments of intense struggle and emotion. Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, in 2004 attracted millions of viewers because of the graphic presentation of the passion of Christ. The movie demonstrates the intensity of the suffering and anguish of Jesus.

The Mass for Passion Sunday consists of two parts and it is a Mass with mixed feelings of Joy and Sadness. The triumphal entry evokes joy and the passion story inspires sober reflection. The Gospel passage for the procession with branches quotes from the Old Testament to show that Jesus is the new king who comes: “Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (cf. Matthew 21:1-11). Jesus chose a donkey (an ass) rather than a horse as a mark of his total humility and it is this humility that Paul proclaims with great excitement, saying: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (cf. Philippians 2:6-11).

Furthermore, Psalm 22 gives us a picture of the suffering of Jesus and his cry of abandonment: All who see me scoff at me; They mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads: Indeed, many dogs surround me, They have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones. They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.

The Passion of Jesus is also an eloquent story of betrayal by a trusted friend and confidant. His passion tells us that suffering is not reserved for sinners but that the innocent also suffers. John Piper, author of the Book, “The Passion of Jesus Christ says: “Christ did not die to make good works merely possible or to produce a half-hearted pursuit. He died to produce in us a passion for good deeds.” Therefore, ultimate lesson of the passion story is positive: the tree of death (the cross) is transformed into the tree of life.

The climax of the season of lent is the Holy Week, beginning with Passion Sunday. Most significant days within the Holy Week are Holy Thursday (Last Supper), Good Friday (suffering, crucifixion and death), and Holy Saturday/Easter Sunday (resurrection). The passion, crucifixion, death and resurrection are simply called Paschal Mystery.

I wish you a very fruitful Holy Week.

Passion Sunday, Year A: Gospel of Matthew 2:1-11;Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14-27:66




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