5 April 2020Matthew 27:11-54
'Truly this man was God’s Son.' (v. 54)
Psalm: Psalm 31:9-16
On Palm Sunday our attention is normally drawn to Jesus’ triumphal entry in to Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 1-11), which provides an opportunity to join in the joyful celebration. It’s the party and parade that gives us a lift before we prepare ourselves to follow Jesus and his disciples through the more sombre events of Holy Week. It’s therefore all the more painful to be taken straight to the end of the week in today's reading and to witness again the unfairness of Jesus’ trial before Pilate, the brutality of his treatment by the soldiers, the mockery not just from those passing by but also from those that hung next to Jesus, and above all the horror and despair of the crucifixion itself.
Each event described by the Gospel writer highlights one injustice after another. Following a night-time interrogation by Caiaphas, the high priest, and other religious leaders (Matthew 26:57-68), during which Jesus had no representation supporting him as his closet follower denied that he even knew him (Matthew 26:69-75), Jesus is brought before Pilate, the Roman governor. After what seems the briefest of enquiries, and the unusual intervention from his wife worried about a dream, Pilate decides to seek a quiet life for himself rather than standing up to the crowd to do the right thing and find the man in front of him innocent. This signal from their boss in turn meant that rather than protecting Jesus from a potential lynch-mob the soldiers join in the mockery and abuse, and then finally take what few clothes he had and cast lots for them.
In these final moments, everything seems to have been stripped away from Jesus. Not only were his clothes removed as the soldiers prepared to crucify him, the message put above his head which said that “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (v. 37) was meant in mockery to indicate to all that saw it that this was a man without any kingdom, without any subjects, or indeed without any hope, something underlined by his anguished cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (v. 46) . He was no better than the bandits dying alongside him. He was worthless.
And yet, at the end of this humiliation and degradation, when all belief and hope seems to have been lost, the centurion, who had taken part in it all, gave witness to the reality, “Truly this man was God’s Son” (v. 54), and gave a signal of what was still to come.
- Pilate says that “I am innocent of this man’s blood” (v. 24). Do you agree?
- Simon from Cyrene is compelled to carry the cross (v. 32). Imagine what he felt both then and later.
- Jesus’ words on the cross echo the first verse of Psalm 22, a psalm that is interwoven in the crucifixion narrative. What reaction would you have had if you were one of the bystanders hearing these words?