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REFLECTIONS ON THE READINGS FOR PALM SUNDAY 5TH APRIL 2020
by Deacon Corinne Smith
First Reading: Isaiah 50:4-7
The four Songs of the Servant of the Lord occur in the second part of the Prophecies of Isaiah, pronounced by the prophet in the last days of the Babylonian Exile, a time which was vital for the consolidation and re-formation of Israel. They seem to hang together and form a body somewhat, but not entirely, separate from the rest of the prophecy. The third Song sings of the suffering accepted by the Servant for the Lord, humiliation, insult and spitting. Who, then, is this Servant? In its primary meaning it has been understood as the prophet himself, reflecting on his own experiences as God’s messenger to Israel, though the difficulty here is that, as well as having a mission to Israel, he is identified as part of Israel. Is that identification in the second Song a later addition? The sufferings described in other Songs must be personal. Perhaps it is the prophet precisely as identified with Israel. Should a further extension of the meaning be understood as the long-term suffering of the People of God in witnessing to the values of Judaism? Certainly Christianity sees the prophecies to be fulfilled in the mission and sufferings of Jesus.
Second Reading: Philippians 2:6-11
This hymn was probably not written by St Paul himself, but taken up by him into the letter, a very early Christian hymn. It celebrates the triumph of Jesus through his selflessness. The assertions at the end are staggering. The hymn claims for Jesus the titles and the worship which are due only to God. What is more, thisacknowledgement of Jesus does not detract from the glory of God, but is precisely
‘to the glory of God the Father’. This is perhaps the fullest statement in the writings attributed to St Paul and his circle of the divine glory of Jesus, and it is won by his
humiliation in death.
Gospel: Matthew 26:14-27:66
The accounts of the Passion given by the four evangelists are not identical. The basic outline of these dreadful events was clear enough. It is confirmed by the contemporary Jewish historian Josephus, who tells us that Jesus was crucified on the orders of the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate at the instigation of the Jewish leaders. The task of the gospel-writers is not to relay to us the raw facts, but to help us understand their significance. Each stresses a particular aspect. For instance, John underlines that this was the triumph of Jesus: he shows his divinity already at the arrest-scene. He himself yielded up his Spirit only when he had completed his task. Matthew’s preoccupation with Judaism dictates that he show in detail how the events accord with God’s plan revealed in the Jewish scriptures. Almost every incident is told in such a way that hearers familiar with the scriptures would catch allusions to the biblical writings: nowhere is this more obvious than in the account of the death of Judas. Though Pilate the ruler must bear the final responsibility, Matthew also stresses the pressure put on him by the crowd manipulated by the politically adept Jewish authorities, culminating in the horrific cry, ‘His blood be on us and on our children’ – an allusion to the sufferings undergone by the next generation during the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans. The significance of the events is further underlined by the apocalyptic earthquake at Jesus’ death, and by the immediate release of the blessed dead, who come at last into the Holy City.