Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday

by Crossings

Matthew 26:14-27:66
(Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday)
analysis by Mike Hoy

DIAGNOSIS: The Disgrace of Deserters

Step 1– Initial Diagnosis: Deserting
Jesus warned his disciples on the night of his betrayal that they would all become “deserters” (26:31). Peter and the disciples protest — they are not deserters. “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you” (26:35). But it is evident from the beginning of this passion narrative, Judas’ plan to betray Jesus (26:14-15), to the end, the placing of the guards at the tomb (27:62-66), that the wheels are in motion not only to have Jesus eliminated but to leave his deserters without a cause. When Pilate asks, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (27:17), the crowd is manipulated to the cause of desertion, finding no seeming objection to Jesus’ blood being on them and their children (27:25). The choice for Jesus Barabbus does not save — it only confirms our deserting (and murdering) beings. And what of the self-proclaimed disciples-to-the-death in the midst of these cries for death? They have deserted, to the last one (26:56, 69-75).

Step 2– Advanced Diagnosis: Denying
The truth of the desertion can be disturbing. It leads Peter to weep bitterly (26:75); Pilate’s wife cannot find restful sleep (27:19); and Pilate finds himself powerless to do anything, washing his hands of the matter (27:24). But there are the more active forms of denial: the incited crowd, mimicking the agenda of the religious authorities, calling for his crucifixion; the soldiers who mock, spit, strike and strip him (27:27-31); the passers-by at the crucifixion deride (27:39); his lowly companions on the crosses next to him who “taunt” him (27:44). Even the women followers must keep their distance (27:55). Jesus has become, for one and all, a stigma — and a stigma to be kept firmly sealed in death (27:66).

Step 3– Final Diagnosis: Stigmatized
Those who have overseen the death of this stigmatized one, however, are ultimately left with a haunting, terrifying truth: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” The stigma with whom no one would finally have dealings turns out to be the very representative of God’s self. No wonder the religious authorities were “jealous” (27:18)! But now they, and one and all, have reason to fear. They have eliminated and sealed God from their lives, or so they think. But God will hold the final judgment on denying deserters — whether intentional or unintentional. When we consider our denying and deserting of all the stigmatized (cf. Matthew 25), even our denying and deserting of our own stigma of death (Ernest Becker), or our inclination to run from God — our original sin — none of us are left off the stigmatism as those who have engaged in the denying, deserting, and killing of God. Nor is God in his judgment of us all with this stigma.

PROGNOSIS: Grace for the Deserted

Step 4– Initial Prognosis: Bearing the Stigma unto Death
With his last cry, Jesus ups the ante on the depth of his desertion — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (27:46) The stigma on all of us who have been ourselves judged ultimately forsaken is born unto death by Jesus the Christ. He saves the deserted by becoming himself deserted, bearing their stigma (stigmata) of deserved death and putting it to death once and for all. Beyond his final breath, there is “his resurrection” (27:53).

Step 5– Advanced Prognosis: Bearing in the Stigmata
Since this Jesus has born with us in the midst of our desertion and seen us through to new life, we also get to hope in his stigmata that nothing can keep us down. We are privileged to have his body as our own (27:58-59), to keep the vigil (27:61), and to share in the hope that what is true for Jesus is also true for us. Our “tombs also were opened” with him (27:52-53). We are numbered among those “saints” who even in our own stigma of death in/with Christ are only “fallen asleep” to be “raised” to new awakenings.

Step 6– Final Prognosis: Telling the Promise
Despite the efforts to keep the promise from spreading, there is nothing that can keep Jesus the Christ’s saving victory entombed. Those who share in his stigma share in his promising word for the world, “He has been raised from the dead!” (27:64), perhaps in peril of having to bear their own stigmatism in the proclaiming. But for those who proclaim, who share in Christ’s stigmata, they are not finally silenced — not till the whole world can rest secure in the promise.


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