Text Study for the Palm/Passion Sunday

The Rev. Joseph Winston April 17, 2011

Matthew 21:1-11
It is important to remember as we enter Holy Week, that Matthew gives us the following portrait of Jesus: He is in control of what is happening, He is fulfilling the Scripture, and through it all He is the Lord and the Son of David.1 Matthew 21:1 reached Bethphage – The name “Bethphage” means “house of figs.” This small village was located to the east of Jerusalem.2 The Mount of Olives is parallel to the east side of Jerusalem.3 This means that Jesus is approaching Jerusalem from the East.4 at the Mount of Olives – The Mount of Olives is the site of a eschatological battle: Zechariah 14 1 Behold, a day of the L ORD is coming, when the spoil taken from you will be divided in the midst of you. 2 For I will gather all the nations against Jerusalem to battle, and the city shall be taken and the houses plundered and the women ravished; half of the city shall go into exile, but the rest of the people shall not be cut off from the city. 3 Then the L ORD will go forth and fight against those nations as when he fights on a day of battle. 4
Daniel J. Harrington, S.J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991), p. 296. 2 Ibid., p. 293. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid., p. 295.


On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward. 5 And the valley of my mountains shall be stopped up, for the valley of the mountains shall touch the side of it; and you shall flee as you fled from the earthquake in the days of Uzzi’ah king of Judah. Then the L ORD your God will come, and all the holy ones with him. (RSV) Josephus in Ant. 20:162-72 tells of a man who said that he could destroy Jerusalem’s walls while he was at the Mount of Olives.5 Matthew 21:2 find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. – Zechariah 9:9 reads, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. (RSV)” It seems that the author of Matthew took this literally and doubled the animals.6 The world for colt π λος could mean young horse but in the light of Zechariah 9:9, it must be read as a young donkey.7 We are to understand this direct reference to Zechariah as an indication that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy.8 Matthew 21:3 The Lord needs them. – We do not know if Jesus had made arrangements to borrow the animals.9 The use of κύριος (Lord) would indicate to the church that God needed the animals.10 Matthew 21:4 This took place to fulfill – The author of Matthew explicitly tells the listeners what is happening. spoken through the prophet – There will be two (Isaiah and Zechariah) prophets not one. Matthew 21:5 Tell the daughter of Zion – This is from Isaiah 62:11 (“Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of
Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 293. Ibid. 7 Ibid. 8 Ibid., p. 294. 9 Ibid., p. 293. 10 Ibid.
6 5


Zion, ‘Behold, your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.’ ” RSV)11 Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey. – This portion is from Zechariah 9:9. Notice that Matthew leaves out “triumphant and victorious is he,” which focuses the prophecy on meekness.12 Matthew 21:6 Matthew 21:7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them – It is unclear if “them” refers to one animal with its cloaks or to two animals with cloaks on each of them.13 Matthew 21:8 A very large crowd – The Greek reads δ πλε στος χλος, which is ‘”the large crowd.” This translation by the NRSV is better than the RSV “most of the crowd” and it is almost identical to what the KJV used. cut branches from the trees – The use of palms was appropriate for the feasts of Tabernacles and Hanukkah (Leviticus 23:39-43; 1 Maccabees 13:51; 2 Maccabees 10:7).14 Matthew 21:9 Hosanna – The Greek transliteration of the Hebrew means “save, please.”15 The function here is a royal greeting rather than a plea for help.16 Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! – This quote is from Psalm 118:26a (Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD KJV or Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. NRSV). It is important to remember the context that is contained in this psalm. Listen to what comes before: Psalm 118:22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. 23 This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. 24 This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (NRSV)
11 12

Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 293. Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid., p. 294. 16 Ibid.


Matthew 21:10 all the city was stirred – The Greek verb for stirred is σείω that refers to the shaking of the earth in an earthquake.17 Matthew 21:11 This is the prophet – Up to this point in the story, Jesus has not been a prophet it Jerusalem.18

Isaiah 50:4-9a
The narrator in Isaiah tells us that he has been given by God the ability to sustain the tired and the weary with a word from God. The second half of the reading is often associated with Jesus and His trial and death. Isaiah 50:4 The L ORD God has given me the tongue of a teacher – The prophet asserts that his calling comes directly from God. to listen as those who are taught – The teacher must look at the world like his students since this gives him a way to address the class. Isaiah 50:5 The L ORD God has opened my ear – Once again, the author states that this calling comes from the L ORD. Isaiah 50:6 I gave my back to those who struck me – Even in the midst of torture, the prophet continued to follow the L ORD. Isaiah 50:7 The L ORD God helps me – The aid comes in this present age. However, how does one speak to all those who have not clearly seen the work of the L ORD? Isaiah 50:8 Who will contend with me? – This verse continues the thought started in the previous line. The L ORD is the One who helps the author. This bold assertion is difficult to make in days where the people of God are slaughtered. Isaiah 50:9 All of them will wear out like a garment – Unspoken but definitely implied is that the L ORD’s chosen will last forever.
17 18

Harrington, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 294. Ibid.


Psalm 31:9-16
This portion of Psalm 31 describes a man in deep distress. His pain and suffering is so great that no one, not even his closest friends, want to be with him. His days are obviously numbered but his end is not happening fast enough for some. They want him out of the picture right now. In anguish, he pleads with the L ORD to bless him. Psalm 31:9 Be gracious to me, O L ORD, for I am in distress – The author calls out for help. my eye wastes away from grief – Right in front of everyone, his tears and life pour out on the ground. Psalm 31:10 For my life is spent with sorrow – His constant companion is pain and suffering. That is all he knows. Psalm 31:11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries – Even his worst enemies have pity on him. a horror to my neighbours – The people that live down the street cannot imagine meeting him in public. an object of dread to my acquaintances – His own friends never want to see him again. Psalm 31:12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead – Despite being in the land of the living, this person has been forgotten. Psalm 31:13 they plot to take my life – The suffering that he feels is not enough for some people. They want him dead. Psalm 31:14 I trust in you, O L ORD – The poet calls out to the L ORD and expect that He answer. Psalm 31:15 My times are in your hand – The minutes of life are carefully measured out by the L ORD. Psalm 31:16 Let your face shine upon your servant – The author wants the L ORD’s blessing on His life.


Philippians 2:5-11
In the “Christ Hymn” quoted by Paul, Jesus radically redefines the fundamental philosophical concepts we take for granted. Jesus, who Christians call God, comes both to serve and to love. Normally we believe that humanity helps god by bringing offerings, sacrifices if you will, of the best that the world has to offer. All of this is for one reason. The god must live at all costs. The next surprise is this. Jesus does not despise all the hard limitations that we encounter in existance nor does He in any way discount the flesh we wear. We on the other hand continue trying to slip out of this life into something else. Our attraction today lies in the areas of living forever through technology and also becoming one with the technology we create. Then as machine, life will be better. We will not be hurt, or age, or even die. Jesus rejects the idea that this way of life is living. Finally, becoming human obviously means that Jesus accepts not only God’s wrath but also God’s blessing. We soon will learn on Good Friday how paradoxical this reality really is. Jesus dies on a tree and it is God’s Word that all who die in the manner, God curses. (Deuteronomy 21:23). This means that Jesus receives both the condemnation by God for the manner of His death along with the honor of being lifted up by God as an example for the world to follow. This ground-shaking readjustment of priorities that Paul advocates stands in direct opposition to the teachings of all that emphasize the unique and particular situation of each believer. In other words, Paul does agree with anyone who might say you are not Jesus and this means you simply cannot follow His way to the cross. What makes no sense to us continues in the second verse of the hymn. The One who God calls guilty in God’s Holy Word is the most important One of all. So much so in fact, that all people from the start of time to the end of it all must give Him honor by publically acknowledging who is He really is. But recall once again that Jesus came to wait on us and not for us to serve Him. Another way to look at it is that He loves us and does not demand that we follow Him. So, Jesus must take another approach. He allows you to say no but all the while, He remains with you, serving you like a slave. The ending of the hymn contains another obvious contradiction. The One who God condemns does not bring any public or private shame to His Father. Rather, the Son is the One who the Father lifts up as a shining example for all to see. Philippians 2:5 Let the same mind be in you – This is much more than a mental 6

assent to the type of life Jesus leads. It is having the same will, an identical desire, along with following the similar plan that Jesus does. Christ Jesus – The anointed One of God was sent to accomplish His plan that at seems to us to be complete and total nonsense. Philippians 2:6 in the form of God – The Greek used for form is ορφή, a concept that includes shape and the idea of appearance that might change. We continue to use this word today. We talk about shape shifters that morph from one reality to the next. This certainly could lead to the understanding that Jesus is not truly God but someone that just looks like God. The same argument can be made when the author uses this same word ( ορφή) to describe Christ’s humanity (Philippians 2:7). One then could argue that Jesus only looked like a man but was something else all together. Another interpretation is that ορφή might address is the beauty of God.19 This reading would have Jesus not wanting to be desired as a picture of health since the attribute of eternal youth and along with it beauty really means Jesus never can really love anyone at all.20 Our artists and lovers know this to be true. Love requires the ability to be present with the beloved. You will be hurt in so many small and not so small ways. This changes you. Pain comes when your loved one is hurt and in some way your beauty slips away. Then there is the reality of death. It scars you for the rest of your life. It seems dubious at best to push any word in poetry too hard because the poet often takes liberties with words in order to advance the poem. It might be the word sounds right here. It could be the meter matches. Even possible is the idea of shock that bring a person to realize another important truth. This is why all discussion on poetry should look at the entirety of the text rather than the use of an individual word. as something to be exploited – Perhaps another way to capture the sense of the line found in this verse, ς ν ορφ θεο πάρχων ο χ ρπαγ ν γήσατο τ ε ναι σα θε would to be something like, “Who falls in the category of being equal to God but does not use it for plundering.” The word translated as plundering is from the Greek ρπαγ ός. Traditionally, this has been interpreted to be “grasping.”21 However, in Greek litera19 20

David E. Fredrickson, The Kenosis of Christ in the Politics of Paul, September 2005. Ibid. 21 Ibid.


ture this term is associated with abduction, specifically when a god takes a human for pleasure.22 This translation brings out the huge difference between Greek/Roman gods that need sacrifice to life and that take from humanity what they want. Today, we rarely see in the United States this idea that gods steal. Instead, we make our gods just like us. They are basically pretty nice fellows that might have some influence over a tiny part of our lives. Follow them and you might be rewarded with cash or glory, but you just do not know. Life is difficult. Markets crash. Company’s close. Players get hurt. This reality decreases the impact of the Christ Hymn. We do not need to be saved from gods that demand too much. We need to be transformed from cogs in a machine into humans. Philippians 2:7 but emptied himself – The Greek here is λλ αυτ ν κένωσεν. The first issue is what was put aside. Is it rights, powers, and privileges of the powerful God or is it something else all together? If Jesus only limits or refuses to pick up power, then this understanding allows the powerful of the world to justify their existence by believing they are Christ like. After all, they did not bring all their power to bear on the problems that face them.23 A different view of the same issue is to return to the creation. Adam and Eve want power that God does not grant them. Jesus then refuses to fall into this trap. He allows God to be God. This interpretation allows the following moral, “Know your place. Do not take what is not yours.” When this way in not followed, all sorts of sins can be justified in this manner. Another problem remains with this traditional way of closely examining what He left behind. The body of Jesus disappears since we are focusing on how force is used.24 Now, we are denying Jesus’ humanity. Furthermore, this idea makes no sense given Paul’s concern about the body and it also denies the creeds. The word of contention is the verb κενόω that carries the idea of pouring out along with the concept of loosing face. It is found in medical texts that indicate the proper balance of fluids is necessary for life.25 Poets use the same word too.26 Love melts the heart, consumes all your thoughts, and
22 23

Fredrickson, ‘The Kenosis of Christ’. Ibid. 24 Ibid. 25 Ibid. 26 Ibid.


you burn with desire.27 Taking this approach, there is little that Jesus can do. All of his passion is for humanity.28 That is how much He loves us. Shame is important in many societies and this is the second meaning of the verb κενόω. Throughout the life of Jesus, you can hear God’s loss of honor. The selection of a male born of a woman, a commoner at that, the poor acceptance of the Word, and the death by the state are but a few examples of God’s public humiliation. taking the form of a slave – The use of form ( ορφή) is ripe with problems. See the discussion of ορφή in Philippians 2:6. And being found in human form – The Greek here is κα σχή ατι ε ρεθε ς ς νθρωπος. The previously translated word used for form is not found here. In its place is scheme. A better translation might be, “And found in the human scheme.” Philippians 2:8 he humbled – The verb is ταπεινόω that means lowering. Jesus gave up His rank, power, and prestige to be with the ones He loves. death on a cross – After the Holocaust, the Jewish community has little use for any explanation of suffering as a group.29 Despite this fact, suffering for the atonement of the other is not a Christian invention since it is clearly found in Isaiah and the Christian tradition draws on this fact.30 This does not make the Christ Hymn any easier for Jews to accept.31 As a group, Jews tend to be against the idea presented in Philippians 2:5-11 of pain as redemption since it is “too passive, too accepting, too much a willed suffering.”32 The argument also is made that “Christians are the basic cause of Jewish suffering.”33 The suffering servant described in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 tells us that this one’s pain is beneficial for others34 This is the typical Jewish interpretation of this
Fredrickson, ‘The Kenosis of Christ’. Ibid. 29 Robert Gibbs; Yikva Frymer-Kensky et al., editors, Chap. Suspicions of Suffering In ‘Christianity in Jewish Terms’, (Bolder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), Radical Traditions, p. 221. 30 Ibid. 31 Ibid., p. 222. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid., p. 223. 34 Ibid., p. 224.
28 27


text.35 How do we judge who can suffer? Can a child suffer so that I may live? Can I suffer so that a child may live? Today, justification of suffering is “offensive and provokes anger.”36 However, this makes it difficult, if not impossible, to finding the sense of one’s own suffering.37 The Old Testament reminds us that anyone whose action is worthy of death must die on a tree and that One, God curses (Deuteronomy 21:23). Philippians 2:9 God also highly exalted him – Some sort of transformation occurs in the Trinity since the One cursed by God is the One who now is held up as a model for all to follow.38 This modification in the Trinity has practical applications that are frankly frightening. It all begins with the idea of change. God’s self is no longer set in stone. Perhaps then, God lacks a preset plan of what to do in the world.39 This action by God implies that the Father had a “favorable reception of and agreement with the Crucified’s character.”40 gave him the name – The One who gives the name Joshua – that is the Name, read here L ORD, that saves (Jesus) – is no other than His Father. Philippians 2:10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend – This phrase stands in direct conflict with other parts of the poem. Jesus gives up power or decides to be with us since He loves us so much. The proper response to either interpretation is showing Christ’s superiority to the rest of humanity. Of course, those who follow Jesus appreciate what He did. Is that enough reason for the respect? It still seems out of character to what Jesus does. Service means one must be ready to do whatever the master requires. Scrubbing the floor never is easy. You need to be on your hands and knees to do a good job. Pulling weeds is the same. Get down on all four and do it. When you hear the name of Jesus, God the Father expects you to drop to your
Gibbs, ‘Christianity in Jewish Terms’, p. 224. Ibid., p. 225. 37 Ibid., p. 226. 38 David Fredrickson, ‘What Difference Does Jesus Make For God?’ Dialog 37:2, p. 108. 39 Ibid., p. 105. 40 Gary M. Simpson, ‘No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity’, Word & World XVIII Summer (1998):3, p. 271.
36 35


knees. It cannot be for the reason that Jesus is above you. After all, He is your slave. You kneel because it is time to pitch in and help your fellow worker Jesus. in heaven and on earth and under the earth – The reign of Jesus includes all of creation, God’s abode, and the place of the dead. Philippians 2:11 and every tongue should confess – The Greek translated as “confess” comes from ξο ολογήσηται. This compound word has two major parts. At its center is λόγος. The Word requires someone to say it.41 Before the λόγος is ο, which means as one. We join with God in saying that Jesus is Lord. This of means that God is to be now known as the Crucified One.42 This changes the image of God and with that comes a host of problems people do not like to hear. For example, “Is God finished with change or is something else in store?” Or, “Did God not know that this needed to be done and why did God set up creation that forces this change?”

Matthew 26:14-27:66

Fredrickson, David, ‘What Difference Does Jesus Make For God?’ Dialog 37:2. Fredrickson, David, ‘Confessing Jesus as Lord: Selected Epistles (Epiphany to Palm Sunday)’, Word & World, XVIII Winter (1998):1, pp. 88–93. Fredrickson, David E., The Kenosis of Christ in the Politics of Paul, September 2005. Gibbs, Robert; Frymer-Kensky, Yikva et al., editors, Chap. Suspicions of Suffering In ‘Christianity in Jewish Terms’, (Bolder, CO: Westview Press, 2000), Radical Traditions, pp. 221–229.
David Fredrickson, ‘Confessing Jesus as Lord: Selected Epistles (Epiphany to Palm Sunday)’, Word & World, XVIII Winter (1998):1, p. 89. 42 Ibid.


Harrington, S.J., Daniel J.; Idem, editor, The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, Sacra Pagina Series, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1991). Simpson, Gary M., ‘No Trinity, No Mission: The Apostolic Difference of Revisioning the Trinity’, Word & World XVIII Summer (1998):3.


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