April 18, 2011

Homily for Palm Sunday, 2011

Father Rene Butler

We are so used to the story of the Passion of Jesus that we forget that each of the four Gospel accounts contains material not found in the other three.

Unique to Matthew is the scene where Judas brings the money back to the chief priests and then hangs himself, and the chief priests buy the potter’s field. Likewise, there is the moment when Pilate’s wife sends him a message to have nothing to do with Jesus.

Most troubling is the verse which reads: “The whole people said: ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children.’” It is troubling for two reasons: First, because it was a terrible thing to say. Second, and most important, this verse has historically been used – abused – to justify hatred and persecution of Jews over the centuries. We forgot what Jesus said in Luke’s Gospel, as he was being crucified: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

In the Old Testament, we have the image of the saving blood of the paschal lamb, the blood which was applied to the door frames of the Israelites at the first Passover, to preserve them from the destroyer.

Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of the sacrifice and said: “This is the blood of the covenant.”

In the New Testament this imagery continues, applied to the blood of Jesus.

“This is my blood of the covenant. It will be shed for you and for many.” No one is excluded. We are “purchased with his blood.” We are “justified by his blood.”

We have “redemption through his blood.” He has “made peace through the blood of his cross.”

The blood of Christ is “more effective” than that of goats and other animal sacrifices.
Jesus “sanctifes the people with his blood.”

His blood “cleanses from all sin.” “We overcome the enemy (the accuser, Satan) by the blood of the lamb.”

The Christian understanding of the blood of Jesus is surely not what his enemies intended when they said, “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Those words expressed in typically emphatic language the depth of their anger toward Jesus and their frustration with Pilate.

But that does not matter now, and really shouldn’t matter to any Christian. The fact is that Pilate was not “innocent of this man’s blood.” Neither are we. As St. Paul wrote: “All (Jews and gentiles) have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Our salvation lies in the the blood of Jesus. His blood is “upon us” – all of us – for all generations: not as a curse, but as blessing

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