A message from Veronica Lawson, RSM:
Dear All, Given the rapidly changing world scene, I have decided to prepare only two reflections at a time. I want to bring whatever is happening in our Earth community into dialogue with God’s Word. We may be living a very different reality in two weeks’ time. Hence the change of plan. Veronica Lawson
This year, we are invited to hear Matthew’s passion narrative through the lens of a global community threatened by a virus. The prospect of untimely death for many is an ever present reality. Even more abhorrent to most of us is the ongoing practice of capital punishment, particularly when a just person is put to death for specious reasons or to political ends. That’s what confronts us in today’s gospel, although the gospel writers pay little attention to the details of the suffering and death of Jesus: they are more interested in the meaning of these events.
The Romans execute Jesus outside Jerusalem when the city is filled with Jewish pilgrims, there for the Passover festival. For Jesus’ friends and followers, every subsequent Passover is celebrated in the light of his death by crucifixion. They share their memories and reflect on the meaning of his death in the light of their sacred traditions. Every element of the Passover story, the ancient story of God’s deliverance of their ancestors, resonates with echoes of the experience of Jesus who is now present to them in a new way. Little wonder, then, that the final events of Jesus’ life were probably the first part of his story to be committed to writing.
Though Matthew draws much of his material from Mark, he fashions the tradition into a new narrative and adds several distinctive features. “To fulfil all righteousness” is Jesus’ stated mission (3:15). He has declared “blessed” those who suffer for the sake of righteousness (justice or right relationship)” (5:10). He now embodies his own teaching as the just or righteous one, the one in right relationship with God. The prayer on his lips as he faces death (Psalm 22) is that of the suffering just Israelite who is utterly faithful to his mission and whose trust in God never fails.
There are hints that Jesus’ death is not the end, but is rather the inauguration of the new age of God’s empire, a compassionate alternative to the brutality of Rome. In response to the high priest Caiaphas, Jesus points beyond death to his resurrected life “at the right hand of power….” Extraordinary signs follow his death: the tearing of the temple curtain; the trembling of the earth; the recognition by the Roman centurion and his companions that this man is of God; and finally, the opening of the graves and appearance of the dead in anticipation of the final resurrection. These signs offer the hope of reversal to all who have witnessed the events surrounding Jesus’ death. They offer hope to the women who have followed him all the way from Galilee and “ministered to him”. They offer hope to the male disciples who have deserted or denied him, to faithful disciples like Joseph of Arimathea, and even to his Roman executioners. They have the potential to bring hope to us all at this time, especially to those who are putting their lives on the line for others.