Reflections on the readings for Sunday 17 April 2011
Matthew 21:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24; Philippians 2:6-11: Matthew 26:14-27:66
Matthew’s accounts of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and that of Jesus’ final hours with his disciples, his betrayal, arrest, trials, execution and burial, refer repeatedly to the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Sometimes it is the narrator who recognizes and draws attention to the links, in other places it is Jesus himself who makes the connections. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey is an enacted parable; he sees in his own ministry the fulfillment of the prophet Zechariah’s hopes for the descendant of David who would bring salvation to God’s people. The people lining the streets ‘get’ it – hence the cry ‘Hosanna to the Son of David … blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Jesus’ appropriation of this Scripture passage (Zechariah 9:9-12) extends also to the Last Supper where the words ‘my blood of the covenant’ echo the prophet’s words. Jesus answers the chief priest’s question by quoting from the prophet Daniel, and his cry of dereliction from the cross are the opening words of Psalm 22.
There is a method of lectio divina (meditative reading of Scripture) that asks the question: “Where have I seen this, in my own life or that of others?” It leads us to recognize the truths of the Scriptural text in the world within and around us. Jesus’ developing understanding of his life and mission and of the future that awaited him were profoundly shaped by his own meditation upon Scripture. He would have recognized himself in the figure of the servant of the Lord described by the prophet Isaiah. The prophet’s words would have confirmed for him that his amazing ability with words was a gift from God and suggested for him how the gift could best be cultivated and used. It would also have alerted him from the outset to the opposition he could expect from the powerful, and shaped his way of responding to that opposition. In the psalms with their words of praise, thanksgiving, desperation and lament, Jesus would have found a mirror for his own experiences and a container for his emotions. Perhaps he recalled, when he uttered his cry of God-forsakenness on the cross, that the psalm which described so explicitly his own suffering does not end in despair, but looks forward to giving testimony to God’s deliverance.
St Paul uses the hymn celebrating Jesus’ self-emptying love to exhort his readers to love each other. He wants them to reflect upon the life of Jesus in such a way that it makes a fundamental difference to how they live. As Jesus recognized himself in and was shaped by the Scriptures, so we can recognize ourselves and others in the Scriptures and particularly in the life of Jesus and allow that vision to shape our thoughts, actions and responses, and so gradually to transform us.