PALM SUNDAY OF OUR LORD'S PASSION (Cycle A)

Readings:
Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem:

Mass Readings:
The First Reading Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:7-8, 16-19, 22-23
The Second Reading Philippians 2:6-11
Verses read before the Gospel: Philippians 2:8-9
Gospel Reading Matthew 26:14-66

All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Death and Life
On this day we commemorate Jesus' entrance in triumph into the holy city of Jerusalem to complete His work as mankind's Redeemer-Messiah.  He came to suffer, to die, and to rise again from the dead (Profession Rite).  The celebration of the event of Jesus' triumphal entrance into Jerusalem and the remembrance of His unjust execution, and His rising from the dead at the beginning of Holy Week emphasizes that the three elements of His suffering, death, and resurrection belong together in God's plan for mankind's redemption and that Jesus' death was not a defeat but a victory over the powers of sin and death.

Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem:

Antiphon Matthew 21:9 ~ Hosanna to the Son of David, the King of Israel.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna in the highest (also see Mt 23:39 and Ps 118:26a).
Our Procession Rite imitates the procession of Jesus and His disciples on Palm Sunday in the spring of 30 AD.  Coming from the village of Bethphage, Jesus and His disciples crossed the Kidron Valley and entered the walled city of Jerusalem through the arched gate that faced the Mount of Olives.  It was the gate that was closest to the Temple Mount and was located on the east side of Jerusalem.  In the Antiphon we imitate the crowd that shouted acclamations from the Messianic Psalms 118:25-26 (NJB) ~ We beg you Yahweh, save us [hosanna], we beg you Yahweh, give us victory!  Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming!  "Hosanna" is a word of Hebrew origin (hosi-a-na) that is composed of two words literally meaning "save now" or "save (we) pray" (cf., 2 Sam 14:4; Ps 106:47; Is 25:9; 37:20; Jer 2:27; etc.).  In Aramaic, the common language of the people in Jesus' time, the people were shouting hosa-na (International Christian Commentary: Matthew, page 124). 

Gospel Matthew 21:1-11 ~ Jesus' Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday
1 When Jesus and the disciples drew near Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tethered, and a colt with her.  Untie them and bring them here to me.  3 And if anyone should say anything to you, reply, 'The Master has need of them.'  Then he will send them at once."  4 This happened so that what had been spoken through the prophet might be fulfilled: 5 Say to daughter Zion, "Behold, you king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a cult, the foal of a beast of burden." 
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had ordered them.  7 They brought the ass and the colt and laid their cloaks over them, and he sat upon them.  8 The very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and strewed them on the road.  9 The crowds preceding him and those following kept crying out and saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest."
10 And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?"  11 And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."

In Matthew 21:1-5, Jesus prepares to enter the holy city.  Jesus sent two disciples to bring Him an ass and her colt from the village of Bethpage on the Mount of Olives.  In verse 5 Matthew reveals that this was to fulfill the prophecies of the restoration of Israel by the Messiah spoken by the prophets.  This is the 9th of the "fulfillment statements" in Matthew's Gospel (Jesus childhood: 1:23; 2:15, 17-18, 23; Galilean ministry: 4:14-16; 8:17; 12:17-21; 13:35; Jesus' last week in Jerusalem: 21:4-5; 27:9-10).  The "fulfillment" statement refers to two verses in the books of the prophets 8th century BC prophet Isaiah and the 6th century BC prophet Zechariah concerning the coming of the Messiah:

The words "daughter Zion" refers to the holy city of Jerusalem.  According to the prophecies, the Messiah will come not like a conquering king or military leader.  He will come humbly as a Savior to His people. 

The Gospel of St. John identifies this event as occurring on the day after Jesus dinner with Lazarus' family (Jn 12:1-2, 12-19).  According to tradition, and in agreement with the Gospels, the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem is celebrated as Palm (Passion) Sunday.  According to John 12:1 the dinner was six days (as the ancients counted with no zero place value) until the Passover sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan.  Therefore, Jesus had a Sabbath Saturday dinner with friends in Bethany.  Six days from Saturday, with Saturday counting as day #1, makes the day of the Passover sacrifice Thursday of Jesus' last week, Nisan the 14th and the day He rode into Jerusalem the first day of the week that we call Sunday. 

Matthew 21:6-11 records the Prophet-King's Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem.  The disciples followed Jesus' instructions and brought a donkey and its colt.  They laid garments on both animals and Jesus sat on the garments on the colt; that it was with its mother was a sign that the colt had never been ridden.  In the Holy Land today one still sees a mother donkey and a foal trotting beside her with both animals having garments put across their backs (Bishop, Jesus of Palestine, page 212).

Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the colt of an ass was a planned and highly symbolic act.  Old Testament prophets taught in parables and performed symbolic acts as part of their ministry.  For example, the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel taught in parables (short stories with a double meaning).  Isaiah's parable of the vineyard as a symbol for Israel (Is 5:1-2) is an example.  An example of a prophet called to perform a prophetic act, called an ot in Hebrew, is Jeremiah.  Jeremiah's entire life was a series of prophetic acts that were warnings from God to call the covenant people of Judah to repentance before God's judgment resulted in the lifting of God's protection and the destruction of the nation by the Babylonians (Jer 7:1-15).  Some examples of prophetic acts by prophets were Jeremiah's breaking a pottery flask in the sight of the elders, a symbol of the future "smashing" of Judah in judgment for terrible sins (Jer 19:1-13) and Ezekiel's series of prophetic acts that were signs of the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of Judea (Ez 4:1-6:14).  Jesus, God's supreme prophet, will perform a number of prophetic acts His last week in Jerusalem.  Jesus' symbolic act fulfilled prophecy and reenacted the ride of King Solomon into Jerusalem on his coronation day.

Sunday was Nisan the 10th.  The 10th was the day the Passover victims were chosen in the first Passover and it was the day Joshua led the children of Israel across the Jordan River in the conquest of the Promised Land (Josh 4:19).  Jesus is the true Passover victim that all other Passover lambs and kids only prefigured, and in His entry into Jerusalem He is beginning His conquest that will result in opening the true Promised Land of heaven to the faithful through His death and Resurrection.

Seeing Jesus, the crowd shouted acclamations from the Messianic Psalms 118:25-26 (NJB) ~ We beg you Yahweh, save us [hosanna], we beg you Yahweh, give us victory!  Blessed in the name of Yahweh is he who is coming!  "Hosanna" is a word of Hebrew origin (hosi-a-na) that is composed of two words literally meaning "save now" or "save (we) pray" (i.e., 2 Sam 14:4; Ps 106:47; Is 25:9; 37:20; Jer 2:27; etc.).  "Hosanna" had come to be used in the same way the English might shout out "God save the king," and this was the way the crowd shouted "Hosanna" as an acclamation of praise to the one greeted as the Messiah.  Psalms 113-118 is known as the great Hallel (praise God) psalms.  It was also called the Egyptian Psalms since 113-117 retold the story of the Exodus while 118 promised another liberator: an "anointed one" or "messiah" who was coming to save the people.

The four Gospels describe Jesus' entry into Jerusalem as the triumphal arrival of a king or military ruler.  Such a visit to the people by a ruler was a parousia, a Greek word meaning "coming," "arrival," or "being present among the people."  In the New Testament, the word gives expression to the Christian belief and expectation that Jesus will return to His people in the future (Second Advent of Christ).  It is the same term Christians used for the "presence" of Jesus Christ in the Eucharistic Banquet.   In the Old Testament the parousia of a king is described in:

The connection between Jesus' symbolic entrance and King Solomon's ride into Jerusalem on the day of his coronation was certainly not missed on the crowds.  Jesus received the same acclamation, with the people even referring to Him as "the son of David," quoting from Psalm 118 the passages referring to the promised Messianic king.  St. John also tells us the crowd not only quoted from the Messianic Psalms 118:26 ~ Blessed is he who is coming in the name of the Lord but also hailed Jesus as the king of Israel (Jn 12:13; also see 1 Kng 2:38-40; Ps 118:25-27, Jn 12:13).  Jesus told His disciples that the day would come when they would not see Him again until they said this verse (Mt 23:39).  These are the words we repeat in the celebration of the Mass just prior to the Eucharistic procession.

Matthew 21:10-11 ~ And when he entered Jerusalem the whole city was shaken and asked, "Who is this?"  11 And the crowds replied, "This is Jesus the prophet, from Nazareth in Galilee."
The Greek word for "shaken" is a word commonly used to describe earthquakes.  The strength of this word conveys the tremendous excitement with which Jesus was greeted by the pilgrims to the festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread and by the citizens of Jerusalem.  The crowd that followed Jesus to Jerusalem recognized Him as "the prophet."  He is the fulfillment of God's promise to Moses and the Israelites in Deuteronomy 18:18 ~ I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him.  For the significance of Jesus' prophetic ministry see CCC 436, 783, 873, 904.

The question of some in the crowd as to Jesus' identity is the question facing each of us on this day of commemoration.  True disciples recognize Jesus as God's prophet, priest, and king come to redeem His people and to raise them from death to life (CCC 788).  Can you profess with conviction that Jesus not only came on that day in history to begin the completion of His earthly mission but that He has personally come for you and has raised you from death to life so that you might listen to His voice and obey Mother Church on your journey to eternal salvation?

Psalm 24:1-10 ~ For a Solemn Entry into the Sanctuary (a psalm of David)
Antiphon I: During the procession, the choir and people sing the following that is repeated between verses of Psalm 24: "The children of Jerusalem welcomed Christ the King.  They carried olive branches and loudly praised the Lord: Hosanna in the highest."

1 The LORD'S are the earth and its fullness; the world and those who dwell in it.  2 For he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.
Repeat Antiphon I
3 Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD or who may stand in his holy place?  4 He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain, nor swears deceitfully to his neighbor.
Repeat Antiphon I
5 He shall receive a blessing from the LORD, a reward from God his savior.  6 Such is the race that seeks for him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.
Repeat Antiphon I
7 Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!  8 Who is this king of glory?  The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle.
Repeat Antiphon I
9 Lift up, O gates, your lintels; reach up, you ancient portals, that the king of glory may come in!  10 Who is this king of glory?  The LORD of hosts; he is the king of glory.
Repeat Antiphon I

This Psalm was sung on every first day of the week (our Sunday) in the Jerusalem Temple's twice daily liturgical worship services.  It is an encounter between the Lord, the King of Glory, and the righteous believer who has come to worship God in His holy Temple.  The poem, attributed to David of Bethlehem, the ancestor of Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 1:1), begins by proclaiming who the Lord is: He is the creator of the earth (verses 1-2).  The psalm then enumerates the conditions in which people are allowed to approach the Lord in His Temple: they are those who are sinless and whose hearts are clean (in a state of grace).  They are obedient to God and are not deceitful in their dealings with their neighbors; these can enter into God's presence and receive His blessing (verses 3-6).  The psalm ends with a profession of faith.  First the psalmist calls upon the Temple to "lift up" its gates and lintels so the King of Glory may enter (verses 7-8) and asks "Who is this king of glory" in two rhetorical questions before answering "The LORD of Hosts [literally Yahweh Sabaoth]; He is the King of Glory!"  It is because His sovereignty extends over the nations of the entire earth and every human being that He is worshipped as the King of Glory (verse 10)! 

The Fathers of the Church saw this psalm being applied to the Christian's soul as God's Temple of the New Covenant in Christ Jesus (St. Ambrose, Expositio psalmi, 118.14; also see 1 Cor 3:10-17).  God is ready to enter the Temple of the Christian's soul in the Sacrament of Baptism.  It is the Christian's prayer that he/she will be ready to open up the gates of his/her soul in faith so Christ, the King of Glory, will enter in, carrying with Him the triumph of His Passion.

Psalm 47:1-2, 4-9 ~ Yahweh the King of Israel is King of the World
Antiphon II repeated between the verses of Psalm 47: "The children of Jerusalem welcome Christ the King.  They spread their cloaks before him and loudly praised the Lord: Hosanna to the son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
1 All you peoples, clap your hands, shout to God with cries of gladness.  2 For the LORD, the Most High, the awesome, is the great king over all the earth.
Repeat Antiphon II
4 He chooses for us our inheritance, the glory of Jacob, whom he loves.
Repeat Antiphon II
5 God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.  6 Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise.
Repeat Antiphon II
7 For king of all the earth is God; sing hymns of praise.  8 God reigns over the nations, God sits upon his holy throne.
Repeat Antiphon II
9 The princes of the peoples are gathered together with the people of the God of Abraham.  For God's are the guardians of the earth; he is supreme.
Repeat Antiphon II

God is the king over all the earth and all its nations.  The psalm offers two invitations to sing God's praises (verses 1 and 6), followed by the reasons for why the people are to be involved in proclaiming praise to God (verses 2-5 and 7-9).  The first reason is because God is king over the earth and the second is to offer liturgical praise because, being king of all nations, God unites us as one people (verses 7-9).  Jewish liturgy recites this psalm on the Feast of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah).  Christians identify with this psalm by reflecting on the kingship of Jesus Christ and the universal Church's authority over the people of every language, race and nation (prophesied by Daniel in 7:13-14 and 27). 

In the Apostolic Age, the Church saw verse 5: God mounts his throne amid shouts of joy; the LORD, amid trumpet blasts.  6 Sing praise to God, sing praise; sing praise to our king, sing praise as being fulfilled in the Ascension of Jesus into heaven (Acts 1:1-11; Heb 9:24-28).  That is why this psalm is used on the Feast of the Ascension, proclaiming Christ's universal kingship that transcends the kingdoms of the world. The Church's character of universality is a gift from Christ whereby the Church seeks to fulfill her mission in reconciling all mankind to Christ and in helping all nations attain their eternal destiny (Vatican II, Lumen gentium, 13).  Reciting this psalm in our solemn procession on Palm Sunday, we offer our acclaim for Christ's divine kingship which is linked to contemplation of our promised inheritance in the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem where Jesus is enthroned.  We acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the King over all the earth and over all the nations and peoples who dwell on the earth. 

Mass Readings:
The First Reading Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:7-8, 16-19, 22-23
The Second Reading Philippians 2:6-11
Verses read before the Gospel: Philippians 2:8-9
Gospel Reading Matthew 26:14-66

The First Reading Isaiah 50:4-7 ~ The Third Servant's Song (God's Suffering Servant)
4 The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them.  5 Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.  6 I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.  7 The Lord GOD is my help; therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

This passage begins Isaiah's third "Servant's Song." The Servant speaks directly to us in verses 4-9.  He tells us that he is God's faithful disciple, teaching the divine word and God's promise of redemption to a sinful and downtrodden humanity (verses 4-5).  He says that thanks to God's divine guidance he teaches as God directs him despite suffering persecution (verses 7-9), and because of his faith and obedience he will endure all persecution because he knows his suffering is part of God's divine plan (verses 5-7). 

Christians see the image of the Suffering Servant fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  During His three year ministry He faithfully taught about the coming of God's Kingdom (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15; Lk 4:14-15).  He did not resist His persecutors' insults nor did He turn away from those who beat Him, slapped His face, or spit upon Him (cf. Mt 26:67-68; 27:26-31; Mk 14:65, 15:15; Jn 18:22; 19:1).  Finally, they attempted to disgrace Him by crucifying Him like a common criminal (Mt 27:35-38; Mk 15:21-27; Lk 23:26-34, 38; Jn 19:17-24).  But He was not put to shame; instead He arose victorious on the third day, having defeated both sin and death (Mt 28:5-6; Mk 16:6; Lk 24:5-8; Jn 20:1-10).

Responsorial Psalm 22:7-8, 16-19, 22-23 ~ God Rescues the Upright from Suffering
The response is: "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" (Ps 22:1)
7 All who see me scoff at me; they mock me with parted lips, they wag their heads; 8 "He relied on the LORD; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, if he loves he."
Response: Psalm 22:1
16 Indeed, many dogs surround me, a pack of evil doers closes in upon me; 17 they have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.
Response: Psalm 22:1
18 They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.  19 But you, O LORD, be not far from me; O my help, hasten to aid me.
Response: Psalm 22:1
22 I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you: 23 "You who fear the LORD, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him; revere him, all you descendants of Israel."
Response: Psalm 22:1

This moving Psalms of David not only contains Jesus' first statement from the altar of the Cross from Psalm 22:1 in the response (Mt 27:46 and Mk 15:34), but it is a vivid description of what took place during Jesus' crucifixion.  It was a form of capital punishment that was unknown in David's day:

The psalm ends with the psalmist declaring that He will proclaim God's name in the liturgical assembly and then he calls upon God's covenant people: "You who fear the LORD, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him; revere him, all you descendants of Israel."  This is the praise and glory we proclaim to Jesus Christ in our liturgical assembly as we remember His Passion and death that God the Father transformed into victory and glory.  We who are the universal Christian assembly of Jesus Christ are now the true descendants of Jacob and the new Israel (CCC 877).

The Second Reading Philippians 2:6-11 ~ Meditating on the Lord's Humility in His Suffering and Death
6 Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  7 Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, 8 he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9 Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the same which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Most Bible scholars believe that verses 6-11 are from an early Christian hymn that is quoted by St. Paul in his letter to the Christian community at Philippi in Macedonia.  The hymn speaks of Jesus' humility in emptying Himself of His divine glory (kenosis in the Greek) in order to live a human life and to undergo suffering (verses 6-7).  Jesus is likely being contrasted to Adam.  It was Adam who, being created in the likeness and image of God, attempted to grasp equality with God through his sin of rebellion and pride in eating from the forbidden tree and condemned humanity to live in sin.  Jesus however, through His humility, was obedient to the Father in offering His life as a sacrifice for mankind's sins and was raised up by God to divine glory (8-11).

Verses read before the Gospel: Philippians 2:8-9 from the second Reading ~ 8 he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  9 Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the same which is above every name... The refrain is "Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, king of endless glory!"

The Gospel Reading Matthew 26:14-66 ~ The Passion of the Christ

Part I: Matthew 26:14-16 ~ The Betrayer
14 One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?"  They paid him thirty pieces of silver, 16 and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.
The Apostle Judas Iscariot was the son of a man named Simon (Jn 6:71; 13:26) and was probably from the Judean village of Kariot (ish means man as in ish Kariot "man of Kariot").
From the Gospel accounts we know that Jesus said he had an evil nature.  He was the treasurer of Jesus' community but he was a thief and stole from the contributions collected for the poor.  His offer to betray Jesus for money reveals his motive and shows that he loved money more than he loved the Christ (Jn 6:70-71; 12:4-6; 13:26-29 and Mt 26:15).

The amount the chief priests offered to pay Judas for betraying Jesus is significant and is related to Old Testament passages in Ex 21:32; Ps 41:10/9; and Zech 11:12-17:

The literal translation of Psalm 41:10 is Even the friend on whom I relied, he who eats my bread, lifted up his heel against me (IBHE, vol. II, page 1423)To "lift up his heel" is a Semitic expression for doing violence.  Jesus will use this expression at the Last Supper in John 13:18 as He quotes Ps 41:9 in referring to Judas.  St. Peter will link this passage to Judas in Acts 1:16, and it is part of the prophecy concerning the curse of the serpent in his struggle with the promised Redeemer who is the "seed of the woman."  See Genesis 3:15 in the literal Hebrew translation as God curses the serpent: I shall put enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed; [he/she/it]* will crush your head and you will strike his/her/its* heel (IBHE, vol. I, page 7; underlining added).  *The indefinite pronoun in Hebrew can be read as either he/she/ or it; the "you" and "your" in this verse are singular; see CCC 70, 410, 489.

Part II: Matthew 26:17-19 ~ Preparation for the Sacred Meal on the Day of the Passover Sacrifice
17 On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?"  18 He said, "Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, "The teacher says, 'My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples."'"  19 The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered, and prepared the Passover.

The Jewish Talmud is composed of the Mishnah and the Gemarah. The Mishnah is a record of the sacred Oral Tradition of the covenant people not recorded in Scripture and the practice of worship in the Jerusalem Temple.  It is the authoritative source of halacha (Jewish law), second only to the Bible itself.  The Gemarah is the commentary on the Mishnah (there is a Jerusalem and a Babylonian Gemarah).  The section Mishnah: Pesahim records all the ritual requirements for the observance of the Passover sacrifice and the feast of Unleavened Bread.  The knowledge recorded in the Mishnah was written down after the destruction of the Temple and was completed in its final editing c. 220 AD.  There will be frequent references to the Mishnah in this part of the lesson.

St. Mark identifies the day: On the first day of the Unleavened Bread, when they kill the Passover, his disciples said to him, "Where do you desire that going we may prepare that you may eat the Passover?" (Mk 14:12, underlining added; literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 140).  The Passover and the week-long celebration of Unleavened Bread are listed as two separate feasts in the Old Testament (i.e. Ex 12 -13; Lev 23:4-8; Num 28:16-25) and only Unleavened Bread is listed as a pilgrim feast in which attendance was required by every adult male (Ex 23:14-17; 34:18-23; Dt 16:5-17; 2 Chr 8:13).  However, in Jesus time (30 AD) the names of the two feasts were used interchangeably to refer to the entire 8 holy days.  The Jewish priest turned historian, Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD), records that in his time the term "Passover" came to mean the celebration of both feasts as one festival: As this happened at the time when the feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated, which we call the Passover (Antiquities of the Jews 14.2.1).  Like Josephus, St. John refers to the two feasts as "Passover" as do Jews today.  Actually, modern Jews do not keep the Passover.  They keep the feast of Unleavened Bread from the 15th-21st because there is no Temple or sacrificial altar where the Passover victims can be offered.  The Passover sacrifice was to be offered on the 14th of Nisan (Ex 12:6; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread began on the 15th

Note that in the Hebrew and Greek texts of the Old and New Testament the victim is never referred to as the Passover "lamb" as it is in many English translations.  The animal could be a lamb or a goat-kid (Ex 12:5).  The instructions for the selection of the victim in the first Passover in Egypt required the people to select: A flock-animal, a perfect one, a male, a yearling shall be to you.  You shall take from the sheep or from the goats.  And it shall be for you to keep until the fourteenth day of this month.  And all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evenings [twilights] (Ex 12:5-6, IBHE, vol. I, page 170).  Between the "twilights" can be interpreted as between dawn and dusk which is noon and agrees with the Jewish Mishnah.
The Gospel of Mark tells us Jesus sent two disciples to prepare the room (Mk 14:13) and St. Luke tells us the two who were sent were Sts. Peter and John Zebedee (Lk 22:8). 

When Peter and John arrived at the house, they discovered that an upper room had already been arranged with the banquet tables and the couches for reclining at the meal (Mk 14:15a).  However, as Jesus told them, Peter and John still needed to make certain necessary preparations (Mt 26:19).  They needed to be certain that there was an adequate supply of red wine for the banquet's four ritual communal cups and the additional wine that the guests were to consume during the meal (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1C).  They needed to insure that there were stone vessels filled with enough water for the three ritual hand washings (see Jn 2:6 where, for a wedding feast in Cana, there were 6 stone jars each holding 20-30 gallons of water for the ritual washings).  They needed to provide the other necessary foods for the women to prepare for the meal, and if it was not already prepared, they needed to set up a roasting pit and spit of pomegranate wood to roast the Passover sacrifice (Mishnah: Pesahim, 7:1B). 

In addition to all those arrangements, Peter and John also had to personally inspect the premises to be certain that all leaven, a sign of sin, had been removed (Ex 13:7).   Prior to noontime on the day before the beginning of Unleavened Bread (the day of the Passover sacrifice at sundown) it was necessary for the covenant people to do a thorough search of the rooms of their houses in Jerusalem to be certain that all leaven had been removed for the seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Ex 13:6-7; Mishnah: Pesahim, 1:3-1:4).  They were also required to begin their fast at noon: On the eve of Passover [meal] from just before the afternoon's daily whole offering, a person should not eat, until it gets dark (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1A).  The "afternoon's daily whole offering" is the afternoon Tamid liturgical worship service at the Temple and the "eve of Passover" refers to the Passover meal eaten on the first night of Unleavened Bread.  The Mishnah and the writings of the Rabbis only refer to the entire eight days as "Passover," as does the Gospel of John.

All the Gospels and two thousand years of Christian tradition agree that the Jewish festival of the Passover, when the Passover victims were slain, took place on the Thursday of Jesus' last week in Jerusalem, the day before His crucifixion on Friday (Jn 19:31).  Those of the covenant community who were offering the Passover sacrifice for their family and friends gathered at the Temple with their Passover victims at noon for the afternoon liturgical worship service.  The sacrificial ceremony of the Passover lambs and kids began immediately after the body of the afternoon Tamid lamb was placed on the altar fire (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:3).   

During the sacrifice of the Passover lambs and goat kids, the Egyptian Hallel Psalms (Ps 113-118) were repeated until all the animals had been sacrificed (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:7-10).  One animal could be offered for every group of not less than ten and not more than twenty people.  If the Passover victim was not enough to feed a larger group, a communion hagigah festival sacrifice could also be offered.  The bodies of the animals were skinned, the entrails were removed and cleansed, the inside fat was removed, and then the fat was put in a bowl where it was salted before being placed on the altar fire (Mishnah: Pesahim, 5:10).  When all the animals (Passover lambs and kids and the communion hagigah offerings) had been sacrificed, the Passover service was concluded by the burning of incense on the Altar of Incense in the Holy Place of the Sanctuary.

Flavius Josephus wrote that during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (54-68 AD) at one annual Passover service 256,500 sacrifices were slain.  He wrote that at the end of the afternoon the blood from the sacrificial victims splashed against the sacrificial altar reached the ankles of the priests, and the Kidron brook, where the Temple drains emptied out, became a river of blood (Wars of the Jews, 6.9.3 [424]).  When the liturgical celebration and sacrifice of the Passover was completed, the skinned body of every Passover lamb or goat-kid and free-will hagigah festival offering was taken by each group back to where they were staying in Jerusalem to roast the meat of the Passover victim and to cook the hagigah sacrifice (usually boiled). 

They had to be careful in roasting the Passover victim so that no bones were broken.  Anyone who carelessly broke a bone of the Passover victim was punished by receiving forty lashes and the sacrifice became invalid (Mishnah: Pesahim, 7:1B, 7:11C; Ex 12:46; Num 9:12).  It was also necessary to prepare the other foods which accompanied eating the meat of the sacrifice: the two kinds of bitter herbs, the vinegar or salted water for dipping the herbs, the chopped fruit mixture, and the baked loaves of unleavened bread (Ex 12:8-28; 13:3-10; Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:3).  The pilgrim Feast of Unleavened Bread that followed the Passover sacrifice allowed the covenant people to relive the themes of judgment and redemption that the Israelites experienced in the first Passover event and to eat the sacred meal of the Passover as a sign of covenant renewal and continuation.  So sacred was this meal that the penalty for deliberately failing to eat the sacrifice of the Passover on the first night of the Feast of Unleavened Bread was excommunication from the covenant people (Num 9:13).

The Law of Moses required that the Passover and the eating of the sacred meal on the first night of Unleavened Bread was to take place in the early spring during the first full moon of the spring equinox (Ex 12:6; Lev 23:5; Num 28:16; Mishnah: Pesahim, 1:1: Philo, Special Laws II, 150-155).  The Church establishes the date for Easter in the same way: on the first Sunday after the first full moon of the spring equinox. 

Part III: Matthew 26:20-25 ~ Jesus Announces His Betrayal
20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve.  21 And while they were eating, he said, "Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me."  22 Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to him one after another, "Surely it is not I, Lord?"  23 He said in reply, "He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me.  24 The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed.  It would be better for that man if he had never been born."  25 Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, "Surely it is not I, Rabbi?"  He answered, "You have said so."

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the Twelve.  Sundown began the next Jewish day, Nisan the 15th, and it signaled the beginning of the celebration of the pilgrim feast of Unleavened Bread.  The meal began after sundown and it had to be completed before midnight (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:1A; 10:9).  That night, by the light of the full moon, those invited to eat the sacred meal with Jesus made their way to an upper room in the oldest section of the city known as the City of David on Mt. Zion.  Only covenant members were permitted to take part in this ritual meal.  The sacred meal was reserved only for those in covenant with Yahweh who were circumcised (if male) and ritually clean, a condition that reflected the spiritual purity of the covenant member's circumcised heart (Ex 12:43-51). 

The liturgical service of the Passover sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan was not a pilgrim feast; therefore, it was not necessary to be present at the sacrifice of the Passover victims.  However, it was absolutely necessary to be present that night for the sacred meal.  In addition to the food served during the sacred meal there were four communal cups of red wine (and additional red wine for individual cups).  The four cups stood for the four ways God promised to redeem Israel in Exodus 6:6-8 and also represented the blood of the sacrificial victim that became the sign of their redemption in the first night of their redemption in Egypt that was smeared on the doorways of their houses from the threshold to the lintel to the door posts, forming a cross (Ex 13:21-23).

After the food was placed on the table in front of the host, the order of the meal called for the first dipping of the bitter herb in the vinegar or salted water (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:3).  The green herb was intended to remind them that God's creation and all that it contained was good (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, and 31), but the dipping of the bitter herb in salted water represented the destructive power of sin and the tears shed by all who suffered in bondage to in Egypt.  Jesus prayed over the herbs, dipped the first bitter herb (usually lettuce), ate and then passed the herbs and the salted water around the table to those assembled to dip and eat, reflecting on both man's blessings and the curse of sin.  Later there would be a second dipping of a bitter herb and the charoset fruit mixture.

It was after the either the first dipping but more likely the second dipping, while they were still eating, that Jesus said: "Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me" (Mt 26:21).  This is confirmed by St. John who wrote: So he dipped the morsel and took it and handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot (Jn 13:26b).  The morsel referred to in this verse, if it is the second dipping, is the bitter herb (for example lettuce) wrapped in a piece of unleavened bread with the mixed fruit, the "sop" that was given first to the most honored guest during the ritual meal.   The disciples did not know who would betray Jesus after Jesus told them it was one who dipped the sop in John 13:26 because they all had just eaten the bread dipped in the haroset, probably several times; they didn't know to which of them He was referring.  Judas, realizing Jesus was speaking of him, got up and went out.  This was not the first time Jesus had spoken of His betrayer.  The first time was a year earlier around the time of Passover in John 6:64, 70-71.

Once again we have confirmation that Jesus is in control of His own destiny.  He knows He will be betrayed and He knows His betrayer.  It is tragic that Judas, even faced with the accusation of his treachery, does not turn back from the course he has set for himself.  His exit from the lighted room of the assembly to go into the outer darkness of the night is an image of his departure from the light of Christ into the darkness of sin and death.

Part IV: Matthew 26:26-30 ~ The Offering of the Body and Blood of Christ
26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, "Take and eat; this is my body."  27 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink for it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.  29 I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father."  30 Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.  

26 While they were eating ... That they ate the sacred meal of the Passover victim before Jesus gave them His Body and Blood is confirmed in all the Gospel accounts of the Last Supper (Mt 26:21; Mk 14:22; Lk 22:14-15; Jn 13:26b).  As they were finishing eating the meat of the Passover sacrifice, Jesus surprised them by taking up some of the unleavened bread.  According to the ritual of the meal, after eating the Passover victim no other food was to be consumed.  They were to wash their hands a third time and drink from the third communal cup, the Cup of Blessing, also called the Cup of Redemption (1 Cor 10:16) with the after-meal blessing.  Then those assembled were to complete the singing of the Hallel psalms with the drinking of the fourth communal cup, the Cup of Acceptance.  Between the communal cups of wine, the people may drink from their individual cups, but between the third and fourth communal cups no other wine may be consumed (Mishnah: Pesahim, 10:7 III-IV).  The meal had to be concluded by midnight and the bones of the animal burned (Mishnah: Pesahim,10:9).

To their surprise, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, "Take and eat; this is my body."  27 Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink for it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.  29 I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father." 

The words "which will be shed" are literally in the Greek text "is being poured out" in the present participle and identify Jesus as the sacrificial victim.  The liturgical command "poured out" is the instruction in the blood ritual for a sin sacrifice in the book of Leviticus (IBHE vol I, Lev 4:7b, 18b, 25, 30b).  Jesus' actions not only fulfilled His promise in the Bread of Life discourse (Jn 6:22-59) that those who eat His flesh and drink His blood will have eternal life because His flesh is true food and His blood true drink, but His dress in the seamless garment of a priest (Jn 19:23-24), His ritual words that repeat the words of the covenant ratification ceremony at Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:8), and words indicating the blood ritual for a sins sacrifice (Lev 4:30) signify that the Last Supper is a liturgical ceremony in which a new covenant is being formed and a sin sacrifice is being offered. 

Literally offering Himself (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in what Jesus has announced is a New Covenant sacred meal that night in the Upper Room, Jesus was beginning His journey to the altar of the Cross.  It was also the fulfillment of the prophecy that one day God will bring His people a new covenant (Jer 31:31) in which He will forgive His people's guilt and never more call their sin to mind (Jer 31:34).  Jesus' promise is that through His flesh and blood one is spiritually united to His very life and to the promise of eternal life (Jn 6:54-55).  Those present would have understood that in some way that the sacred meal had been transformed forever into something much more profound than eating the flesh of a sacrificial animal in memory of a past historical event that recalled God's redemption and Israel's thankfulness. 

We call the gift of this Sacrament that our Lord gave us on the last night of His life the Eucharist, a word derived from the Greek words eucharistein and eucharistia, meaning an expression of "thanks" or "thanksgiving" and comes from Jesus' words of thanks to the Father as He prayed over the bread and the wine that became His Body and Blood.  The Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of the glorified Christ, who is really and substantially present under the appearances of bread and wine.  It is in this way that He offers Himself in the sacrifice of the Mass to be received by His faithful covenant people who come to His altar in a state of grace to receive the spiritual food of Holy Communion.  The word "Eucharist" is used for all three aspects of Christ's one mystery:

  1. The Real Presence: Christ in His abiding Parousia (presence) in His Church on the earth today.
  2. The sacrifice of the Mass: Christ in His continuing action as our High Priest who continues to communicate to His Church the graces He merited on Calvary.
  3. Holy Communion: Christ uniting Himself in fellowship with the believer and nourishing his soul in preparation for eternal life.

He vows not to drink wine again until His Kingdom is established: 29 I tell you, from now on I shall not drink this fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it with you new in the kingdom of my Father." 30 Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
They do not drink the Cup of Acceptance that concludes the meal; instead they sing the last of the Hallel Psalms (Ps 118) and leave the city to cross the Kidron Valley to go to the Mt. of Olives.  It was not later than midnight.

Part V: Matthew 26:31-35 ~ The Prophecy of Peter's Denial of the Christ
31 Then Jesus said to them, "This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed'; 32 but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee."  33 Peter said to him in reply, "Though all may have their faith in you shaken, mine will never be."  34 Jesus said to him, "Amen, I say to you, this very night before the crock crows, you will deny me three times."  35 Peter said to him, "Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you."  And all the disciples spoke likewise.

Jesus prophesies that the Apostles will all face an ordeal.  What they experience will be a crisis of faith that includes a crisis of expectation of what they understand of Jesus' mission.  They all believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  They have all risked their lives following Him to Jerusalem, but they still cannot reconcile how the Son of God who has come to restore and redeem His people will allow Himself to be taken captive or suffer at the hands of mere men. 

In verse 31 Jesus quotes from Zechariah 13:7.  He is referring to a prophecy that He applies to Himself in the striking down of God's Shepherd and the scattering of the Apostles in that time of crisis.  The passage continues with a prophecy of God's judgment against the people who strike His shepherd, the destruction of Jerusalem that will follow and the preservation of a faithful remnant.  The prophecy ends with a promise of the coming of the Lord in judgment with His "holy ones" at the end of the Age of man.

Peter's response to Jesus' announcement that when He is killed the Apostles will desert Him is to bravely proclaim that, unlike the others, his faith in Jesus will never falter and he is willing to die for Jesus.  In Luke's Gospel, Jesus offers encouragement to St. Peter when He tells Peter that He has prayed for him and when Peter regains his faith he is to take a leadership role and to "strengthen his brothers" (Lk 22:32).

In verse 34 Jesus tells Peter that before the "cockcrow" Peter will deny Him a significant three times.  The "cockcrow" was a trumpet call at 3 AM that signaled the end of the third night watch and the beginning of the fourth and last watch from 3-6 AM.  The "cockcrow" is mentioned frequently in the Mishnah as a trumpet signal and also in the diaries of Christian pilgrims visiting Jerusalem in the 4th century AD.  In Jesus time and as long as the Temple stood it was, for example, the time when the altar in the inner courtyard of the Temple was cleansed (Mishnah: Yoma, 1:8), and it was the signal for the Superintendent of the Temple to call the priests to awake, ritually bathe and dress before presenting themselves for the first drawing of lots for preparing for the morning worship service (Mishnah: Tamid, 1:2).  Later it also became the signal when Christian pilgrims were called to early morning prayers.  The 4th century AD Spanish lady Egeria mentioned the signal of the "cockcrow" frequently in her diary and St. Hippolytus wrote that cockcrow prayers were always said in Church in obedience to evangelical counsel. With this last exchange, Jesus and the Apostles reach the Mt. of Olives and Jesus' appointment with His destiny.

Part VI: Matthew 26:36-46 ~ Jesus' Agony in the Garden
36 Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray."  37 He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.  38 Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death.  Remain here and keep watch with me."  39 He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will."  40 When he returned to his disciples he found them asleep.  He said to Peter, "So you could not keep watch with me for one hour?  41 Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak."  42 Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, "My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!"  43 Then he returned once more and found them asleep, for they could not keep their eyes opened.  44 He left them and withdrew again and prayed a third time, saying the same thing again.  45Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?  Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.  46 Get up, let us go.  Look, my betrayer is at hand." 

Under the light of the full moon (it is the 15th of the month of Nisan using the lunar calendar), Jesus and the Apostles made their way out of the city of Jerusalem and across the Kidron Valley to the Mt. of Olives.  There, Jesus began to pray to the Father concerning the covenant ordeal He was to face.  A covenant ordeal is when a servant of God is faced with the choice between obedience to the will of God that involves some sort of sacrifice in opposition one's own very strong desires.  The first covenant ordeal was Adam's test in the Garden of Eden when he was forbidden by God to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the fruit of which Adam and Eve greatly desired.  Unlike Jesus, Adam failed his test of obedience and chose to be disobedient concerning God's will for his life.

Matthew 26:37-38 ~ He took along Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to feel sorrow and distress.  38 Then he said to them, "My soul is sorrowful even to death.  Remain here and keep watch with me." 
Jesus' statement "My soul is sorrowful ..." may be an allusion to Psalms 42-43.  Psalms 42-43 forms a single lament in three sections, with each section ending in the identical refrain in verses 42:6, 12 and 43:5.

Matthew 26:39 ~  He advanced a little and fell prostrate in prayer, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will."  The Jewish custom of prostrating oneself when praying (especially for penitential prayers) is derived from Moses' statement concerning his posture in his prayers to God in the book of Deuteronomy (Dt 9:18:).  In verse 39 Jesus makes a petition to the Father saying: "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me' yet, not as I will, but as you will."  Jesus is fully man and fully God.  It is human nature to turn away from physical suffering.  The difficulty of the test makes Jesus' decision that much more poignant.  Jesus asks the Father, if it is within the Father's will, to spare him from the suffering that He knows He must endure.

Matthew 26:42 ~ Withdrawing a second time, he prayed again, "My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done!"  The "cup" Jesus refers to in each prayer is one of the images of the Old Testament prophets and refers to, in this case, the cup of suffering (see the chart "Images of the Old Testament Prophets"). In the symbolic images of the prophets, drinking wine is a symbol of covenant union with God as in the four communal cups of the Passover sacred meal (also see Ps 23:5; 116:13; Is 25:6).  But "the cup" is also a symbol of divine retribution and the judgment of God.  Judgment images are usually spoken of as "drinking the cup of God's wrath" as in Isaiah 51:17-23 (also see references to the cup of judgment in Ps 75:9; Jer 25:15-29; 49:12; 51:6-7; Ez 23:31-34; Hab 2:16; Rev 14:10; 16:19 and 18:6).  It is the same cup Jesus alluded to when He asked James and John Zebedee if they were able to drink from His cup (Mt 20:22). 

Jesus understands that it is God's will for Him to drink from the cup of suffering/the cup of God's wrath.  Jesus came to liberate man from the curse of sin and death.  To accomplish His mission, it was necessary for Him to take upon Himself the debt mankind owed for sin.  He was the sinless, unblemished victim offered up on the altar of the Cross, drinking the cup of God's wrath that each of us deserved so that we might be redeemed.  As St. Peter wrote:  free from sin, we might live for righteousness.  By his wounds you have been healed (1 Pt 2:24b).  He drank the "cup of suffering" so we might drink the cup of His Precious Blood in the New Covenant banquet of the righteous (see Is 53:5-12; 2 Cor 5:21; Rom 4:25; Gal 3:13; Heb 2:10; 9:28; 1 Pt 2:24-25.  Also see CCC 607, 612-13). 

Matthew 26:45-46 ~ Then he returned to his disciples and said to them, "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?  Behold, the hour is at hand when the Son of Man is to be handed over to sinners.  46 Get up, let us go.  Look, my betrayer is at hand." 
In these verses we are again reminded that Jesus is in control of His destiny as He announces His betrayal and approaching death.  The exhausted Apostles are physically unable to stay awake, as Jesus told them "the spirit is willing but the flesh is week" (Mt 26:41).  Jesus feels genuine sorrow and distress over the ordeal He is about to face in His "hour" (Mt 26:46; Jn 12:27), but He is willing to submit in obedience to God's plan for man's salvation and to embrace the prospect of suffering as He passes out of this world into the arms of His heavenly Father for the sake of those He loves (Jn 13:1-2).  The Gospel of John refers to Jesus "hour" seventeen times and Jesus directly mentions His coming "hour" ten times (Jn 2:4; 4:21, 23; 5:25, 28; 12:23, 27 (twice); 16:32; 17:1).  The final countdown to His "hour" began on Wednesday of Passion Week (His last day teaching at the Temple), when Jesus declared that the "hour" of His glorification had arrived (Jn 12:23). 

"His hour" refers to the completion of His mission and the appointed time of His Passion which will result in His glorification.  In His appointed "hour" Jesus will submit to the agonies of betrayal and bodily suffering, the humiliation of an illegal trial by His kinsmen, and the excruciating pain of Roman crucifixion.  But His humiliating death will be transformed into the "hour" of His exaltation in His bodily resurrection from the dead as He becomes the "first fruits" of the Resurrection and the source of eternal life for the world (1 Cor 15:20-28).

Part VII: Matthew 26:27-56 ~ The Betrayal and Arrest
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs, who had come from the chief priests and the elders of the people.  48 His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying, "The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him."  49 Immediately he went over to Jesus and said, "Hail, Rabbi!" and he kissed him.  50 Jesus answered him, "Friend, do what you have come for."  51 Then stepping forward they laid hands on Jesus and arrested him.  And behold, one of those who accompanied Jesus put his hand to his sword, drew it, and struck the high priest's servant, cutting off his ear.  52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its sheath, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  53 Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?  54 But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?"  55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me?  Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me.  56 But all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled."  Then all the disciples left him and fled.

Judas is accompanied by Roman soldiers led by an officer and guards from the chief priests and Pharisees.  The chief priests were fearful of attempting to arrest during the festivities with crowds of people surrounding Him.  While arresting Jesus after midnight on the Mt. of Olives lessens the threat of interference, the chief priests are not taking any changes that His followers or that sympatric pilgrims might be present who could try to prevent His arrest.  Perhaps Judas has also reported to the chief priests that some of Jesus' men are armed (Lk 22:38).

48 His betrayer had arranged a sign with them, saying, "The man I shall kiss is the one; arrest him."  49 Immediately he went over to Jesus and said, "Hail, Rabbi!" and he kissed him. 
To greet a kinsman with a kiss was customary behavior (Lk 7:45), but Judas' sign to Jesus' enemies in kissing Jesus makes his actions even more repugnant.  Notice that he calls Jesus "rabbi," which can be translated "sir" or "teacher."  Judas does not call Jesus "Messiah" or Kyrios meaning "Lord," a title that speaks of more than respect.  Kyrios it is a title of allegiance between Master and servant (Mt 10:24-25); it is an allegiance Judas is unwilling to give. 

Peter attempts to defend Jesus and strikes the high priest's servant, cutting off his ear.  Jesus offers one more miracle before His arrest to bring those coming to arrest Him to belief in Him; it is the healing of the severed ear of the high priest's servant.  It is one last testimony of the power of the Messiah.  Jesus says to Peter, "Shall I not drink the cup that the Father gave me?" referring to His cup of suffering.  Imagine Peter's shock.  Jesus refuses to protect Himself, and He will also not allow Peter to protect Him.

Matthew 26:53-53 ~ Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?" 
A "legion" is a Roman military designation for a unit of six thousand soldiers.  Jesus has the power to call twelve times that number to assist Him, or 72,000 angels; that is 71,928 more than the 72 men of the Sanhedrin who are preparing to sit in judgment against Him.  Jesus tells His disciples and the crowd that came to arrest Him that His enemies do not have power over Him.  As the Son of God He can command the angels, but this is the way events must unfold in order to fulfill God's plan that was foretold by the prophets.  Jesus is especially referring to Isaiah chapter 53 but also to Zechariah 13:7, a passage which Jesus quoted in 26:31.  He will repeat what He has said concerning the fulfillment of the writings of the prophets after His resurrection when He speaks to the disciples on the road to Emmaus and later to the Apostles in the Upper Room (Lk 24:25-27, 44).

Matthew 26:55 ~ At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to seize me?  Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me. 
The Greek word lestes can be translated "robber" or "bandit," but it can also mean "revolutionary" as Flavius Josephus, the 1st century AD Jewish priest/historian, uses the word (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.8.5 [160-172]).  This may be the way Jesus is using the word since the chief-priests are fearful that the people believe Jesus is the Messiah who will free them from Roman domination.  Ironically at Jesus' trial before Pilate, he will be accused of encouraging the Jews to revolt against Rome (Lk 23:5, 14), and the man the Jewish crowd chooses to free instead of Jesus is a lestes/ revolutionary (Jn 18:40).

Jesus reassures His Apostles, saying "But all this has come to pass that the writings of the prophets may be fulfilled" (verse 56), repeating what He stated in verse 54.  In their shock and confusion at the turn of events, all the disciples run away, fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah 13:7.

Part VIII: Matthew 26:57-68 ~ Jesus' Trial before the Sanhedrin (Jewish High Law Court)
57 Those who had arrested Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled.  58 Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest's courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome.  59 The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.  Finally two came forward 61 who stated, "This man said, 'I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.'"  62 The high priest rose and addressed him, "Have you no answer?  What are these men testifying against you?"  63 But Jesus was silent.  Then the high priest said to him, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God."  64 Jesus said to him in reply, 'You have said so.  But I tell you: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven.'"  65 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed!  What further need have we of witnesses?  You have now heard the blasphemy; 66 what is your opinion?"  They said in reply, "He deserves to die!"  67 Then they spat in his face and struck him, while some slapped him, 68 saying, "Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?"

The Great Sanhedrin was the highest judiciary and administrative authority of the covenant people (there were also local councils).  It was composed of the reigning high priest, senior chief priests, and the elders of the covenant people.  According to Acts of Apostles, both Pharisees and Sadducees sat on the council (Acts 23:6).  The Sanhedrin's function and composition is described in the Jewish Talmud in Mishnah: Sanhedrin.  According to the Mishnah the council met in announced sessions within the Temple in the Chamber of Hewn Stones, one of the south-western chambers in the Court of the Priests (Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 11:2).  There the seventy members were led by the reigning high priest (seventy-first member) who served as the court's president.  For this trial, the court did not meet in the Temple but in secrecy very early in the morning before dawn in the privacy of Caiaphas' palace.  It was an illegal session.

Matthew 26:58  ~ Peter was following him at a distance as far as the high priest's courtyard, and going inside he sat down with the servants to see the outcome.  The Gospel of John includes the information that Peter and another disciple (probably St. John Zebedee) followed Jesus and entered the courtyard of the high priest (Jn 18:15).

Matthew 26:59 ~  The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward.  Finally two came forward 61 who stated, "This man said, 'I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.'" 
The false witnesses must have been promised immunity for their false testimony since they knew the penalty for giving false testimony was death (Dt 19:16-21).  St. Mark writes that the false testimony of the witness did not agree (Mk 14:56).  Finally two men testified that Jesus threatened to destroy the Jerusalem Temple.  St. Matthew does not record the first Temple cleansing that is recorded in John 2:19 when Jesus told the crowd, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." Either these men were present at that event or they heard about Jesus' claim from others.  Everything about Jesus' trial was illegal according to the Law.

Finally the high priest, Joseph Caiaphas, challenges Jesus concerning the testimony against Him, but Jesus remains silent; it is a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7 ~ Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb let to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.  Exasperated, the High Priest commands Jesus to answer in the name of God: 63 But Jesus was silent.  Then the high priest said to him, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God."  Obedient to the command of the anointed high priest, 64 Jesus said to him in reply, "You have said so.  But I tell you: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven'" (emphasis added).  Jesus only answers when put under an oath before God.

Jesus quotes two significant passages from the Psalms and the book of Daniel to the chief priests.  The second passage is where Jesus takes His favorite title for Himself and applies it to the Scripture passage that identifies the divine Messiah as one who looks like a man:

The two quotations seal His fate.  He has clearly identified Himself as the Messiah in Daniel's vision of the divine Messiah in Daniel 7:13-14, and He has already corrected the priests in their interpretation of Psalms 110:1, telling them it is a reference not to David's son but to the Messiah who is above David and who is David's "Lord" (Mt 22:45).

Matthew 26:65-66 ~ Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed!  What further need have we of witnesses?  You have now heard the blasphemy; 66 what is your opinion?"  They said in reply, "He deserves to die!" 
According to the Law, He who blasphemes is liable only when he will have fully pronounced the divine Name; if the blasphemy was proved then the judges stand on their feet and tear their clothing, and never sew them back up (Mishnah: Sanhedrin, 7:5E).  Jesus did not technically blaspheme, but claiming to be the Messiah and "making himself equal to God" (Jn 5:18) is enough for Caiaphas who immediately tore his robes (also see Mk 14:63).  The tearing of the judges' robes and the prohibition against repairing the garment symbolized that the offender had broken with the covenant in such a way that his membership in the covenant family could never be restored.  

Knowing that the witnesses have failed to provide enough to condemn Jesus, Caiaphas says to the council, "He has blasphemed!  What further need have we of witnesses?  You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?" In other words, the members of the council are now the witnesses against Jesus.  Addressing the court Caiaphas asks what is their opinion and in response the members of the council condemn Jesus to death. They said in reply, "He deserves to die!" 

67 Then they spat in his face and struck him, while some slapped him, 68 saying, "Prophesy for us, Messiah: who is it that struck you?"  Jesus' treatment is a fulfillment of the abuse suffered by God's Servant in Isaiah 50:6 and 52:14.

Part IX: Matthew 26:69-27:2 ~ Peter Denies the Christ
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard.  One of the maids came over to him and said, "You too were with Jesus the Galilean."  70 But he denied it in front of everyone, saying, "I do not know what you are talking about!"  71 As he went out to the gate, another girl saw him and said to those who were there, "This man was with Jesus the Nazorean."  72 Again he denied it with an oath, "I do not know the man!"  73 A little later the bystanders came over and said to Peter, "Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away."  74 At that he began to curse and to swear, "I do not know the man."  And immediately a cock crowed.  75 Then Peter remembered the word that Jesus had spoken: "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times."  He went out and began to weep bitterly.  When it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.  They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 

While Jesus is facing His ordeal inside the palace of the high priest, His Vicar is facing his ordeal in the courtyard.  Three times Peter is questioned in three different locations: by a young woman servant in the courtyard, by the same girl at the gate, and a third time in the outer court by a man who probably recognized Peter's Galilean accent.  Suddenly Peter hears the signal of "cockcrow."  The "cockcrow" Peter heard must be the trumpet blast signaling the end of the third watch that was given at the Temple (Mishnah: Sukkot, 5:4; M. Yoma, 1:8) and at the Roman fortress called the Antonia.  Mark records that Jesus told Peter he would betray Him before the cockcrows twice (Mk 14:30), and in the high priest's courtyard, as Peter denied Christ the third time Mark records Peter heard the second "cockcrow" (Mk 14:72).  It is 3 AM.  The Romans called the trumpet blast at the end of the Third Watch the "gallicinium," in Latin, "cockcrow." 

Why was it necessary for Peter to face this ordeal?  He was the first to profess Jesus as his Lord Messiah, the only Apostle brave enough to attempt to walk on the stormy sea to Jesus, and he was ready to defend Jesus with his life.  This fisherman was physically and spiritually courageous.  Perhaps Peter needed to experience the despair of the sinner to have enough compassion to be the kind of leader Jesus needed to guide the ship of His Church.  If Peter only saw sinners as the weak and despised, he would not have had the love for sinners he needed to properly shepherd the flock of the New Covenant Church.  If Christ could forgive him for his thrice-time betrayal and still love him, how could Peter deny Christ's forgiveness and the Church's love to those sinners seeking forgiveness and reconciliation?

Matthew 27:1-2 ~ When it was morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.  They bound him, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. 
The chief priests and elders wanted to condemn Jesus to death, but they did not have the power to publically execute Him.  As soon as dawn broke they officially condemned Jesus and took Him to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who was visiting in the city from his headquarters in Caesarea Maritima.  Pontius Pilate was a member of the Roman equestrian class and had ruled Judea as the Roman Prefect since 26 AD.  He was to become the second longest ruling governor of the province, being relieved of his duties in 36 AD. 

There were two reasons the Jewish leaders took Jesus to the Romans.  The Sanhedrin did not have the power to condemn Jesus to death. They also didn't want to turn Him into a martyr.  They needed the Roman Empire to condemn Him as a common criminal and execute Him to discredit Him with the people (see Jn 19:31 and Mt 26:4).  In the provinces over which the Roman state ruled directly, only the Romans had the power over life and death.  Herod Antipas was able to execute St. John the Baptist because he directly ruled Perea, even though he was a vassal of the Romans.

In the Jerusalem Temple the chief priests were preparing for the morning liturgical worship service, the communal twice Tamid sacrifice, and the compulsory Sacred Assembly on the first day of Unleavened Bread and its associated sacrifices (Num 28:17-25).  At the trumpet signal of the "cockcrow" a priest began to cleanse the altar of sacrifice while his brother priests rose, bathed and dressed in their liturgical garments (Mishnah: Tamid, 1:2).  At dawn as Jesus was sentenced to death and taken to Pilate, the unblemished male lamb of the morning Tamid was being led from the Lamb Chamber to be tied near the altar for everyone to judge it's perfection before the High Priest, Joseph Caiaphas (or his representative) pronounced it "without fault" and suitable for sacrifice, even though its perfection had been judged the night before (Mishnah: Tamid, 3:3-3:4). In addition to the Tamid lamb and the communal sacrifices of the first day of Unleavened Bread, the people who were in a ritually "clean" state were expected to bring their individual festival communion sacrifices (hagigah) that they would eat together in groups of family and friends in the city that day.  The hagigah peace offering could not be offered by a person who had become ritually defiled (Mishnah: Pesahim, 6.3), and it was because of this prohibition that the chief priests and elders had refused to enter Pilate's Praetorium (Jn 18:28; Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, page 200).

Matthew 27:3-10 ~ Judas' Suicide
3 Then Judas, his betrayer, seeing that Jesus had been condemned, deeply regretted what he had done.  He returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood."  They said, "What is that to us?  Look to it yourself."  5 Flinging the money into the temple, he departed and went off and hanged himself.  6 The chief priests gathered up the money, but said, "It is not lawful to deposit this in the temple treasury, for it is the price of blood."  7 After consultation, they used it to buy the potter's field as a burial place for foreigners.  8 That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood.  9 Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, 10 and they paid it out for the potter's field just as the Lord had commanded me."

Judas loved money more than he loved Jesus, but perhaps he didn't consider that his betrayal of Jesus could lead to Jesus' death.  Suddenly he seems to regret his actions and is concerned about the consequences of what he has done in condemning an innocent man and how it might affect his own life.  He tries to return the money, but he does not plead for Jesus' life.  How tragic that he does not understand that the remedy for his sin is confession and penance.  Both Judas and Peter have betrayed Christ, but Peter will return to Jesus and will be strengthened by his experience.  At the end of his life, Peter will die for Christ just as he promised Jesus he would the night of the Last Supper (Mk 14:31).  Judas, however, hung himself in his despair (Mt 27:5) and later his rotting body fell and burst open (Acts 1:18-19). 

Matthew 27:8 ~  That is why that field even today is called the Field of Blood.
The chief priests who have Jesus' blood on their hands are worried about putting the money into the Temple treasury, and so they purchase some land from a potter as a grave yard for foreigners who die in Jerusalem.  The burial ground was called "field of blood" because it was purchased with "blood money." The "field of blood" refers to Judas' blood and not to Jesus.  Acts 1:19 gives the Aramaic equivalent "Akeldama/Hakeldama."

Matthew 27:9-10 ~  Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet, "And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of a man with a price on his head, a price set by some of the Israelites, 10 and they paid it out for the potter's field just as the Lord had commanded me."
This is the last of the ten "fulfillment statements" in St. Matthew's Gospel (see Jer 19:11 and Zech 11:12-13).  The ten "fulfillment" statements in St. Matthew's Gospel show that everything God did in the Old Testament was part of His divine plan in preparation for the Advent and the Passion of the Messiah.

Jesus' Trial before the Roman Governor

 

Part X: Matthew 27:11-14 ~ Jesus is Taken to Pilate
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"  Jesus said, "You say so."  12 And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he made no answer.  13 Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many things they are testifying against you?  14 But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was greatly amazed.  15 Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished.  16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.  17 So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, "Which one do you want me to release to you, Barabbas, or Jesus called Christ?"  18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they handed him over.  19 While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man.  I suffered much in a dream today because of him."  20 The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus.  21 The governor said to them in reply, "Which of the two do you want me to release to you?"  They answered, "Barabbas!"  22 Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus called Christ?"  They all said, "Let him be crucified!"  23 But he said, "Why? What evil has he done?"  They only shouted the louder, "Let him be crucified!"  24 When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood.  Look to it yourselves."  25 And the whole people said in reply, "His blood be upon us and upon our children."  26 Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.

Jesus does not attempt to defend Himself, as in His questioning by the Sanhedrin; it is another fulfillment of Isaiah 53:7.  Pilate asks Jesus "Are you the king of the Jews?" and Jesus responds "You say so" as He also responded in 26:25 to Judas and in verse 64 to Caiaphas.  Jesus' statement of affirmation is different from how it was perceived by Caiaphas and perhaps at first by Pilate (see Jn 18:36).  It appears to be an affirmation, but His response is couched in irony because neither Judas nor Caiaphas nor Pilate really understand what the title "king of the Jews" means for Jesus, although He will tell Pilate that His kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36) and Pilate will believe Him.  Pilate is amazed at Jesus' refusal to defend himself and he is amazed at Jesus' composure.  He was probably used to common men dissolving in hysterics and pleading for their lives. There are the political overtones to the charge that Jesus claims to be the "Son of God."  The charge that Jesus claims to be the "Son of God" could be construed as a challenge to the Roman emperor since Tiberius claimed to be the son of the god Caesar Augustus. 

The choice Pilate offers the people between freeing Jesus the Son of God and Barabbas (son of the father/father's son) is ironic.  Pilate is giving them the choice between Jesus the righteous Son of God and a murderer who is the son of a human father; it is a clear choice is between what is good and holy and what is evil.  It is the same choice all men and women face every day.
Pilate astutely perceives that the Jewish leaders' reason for wanting Jesus executed was their jealousy/envy even though He was their kinsman.  Ironically it was the same sin that led to the first murder in salvation history; it was the same ugly sin that led Cain to murder his brother Abel.

Matthew 27:19 ~ While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man.  I suffered much in a dream today because of him."
The "bench"/bema is the Roman governor's seat of judgment.  The word bema refers to the tribunal/judicial bench or raised area from which an official decision was handed down.  The name of Pilate's wife according to Christian tradition was Claudia Procula. In the Gospel of John we are told that Pilate proclaims Jesus' innocence with the words "I find no fault" three times (see Jn 18:38; 19:4, 6).  These are the same words that High Priest Joseph Caiaphas (or his representative) will speak when approving the perfection of the Tamid lamb selected that morning for sacrifice.  It is ironic that in the whole unruly scene at the Praetorium that only a Gentile man and woman have the insight to recognize Jesus' innocence.

The crowd calls for the release of Barabbas, and 22 Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus called Messiah?"  They all said, "Let him be crucified!"  23 But he said, "Why?  What evil has he done?"  They only shouted the louder, "Let him be crucified!"  Under the influence of their religious leaders, the crowd calls for Jesus crucifixion.

Matthew 27:24-26 ~  When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood.  Look to it yourselves."  25 And the whole people said in reply, "His blood be upon us and upon our children." 
It was a Roman officials' duty to keep order in the Provinces and bring in the taxes that kept the empire alive.  As an act of self-preservation, Pilate submits to the verdict of the crowd, but in a symbolic act he washes his hands as a sign that he does not concede that Jesus deserves to die.  The Jews clearly understood Pilate's symbolic act in protesting Jesus' innocence (see Dt 21:6-9; Ps 26:6-11; Is 1:15-17).

Pilate tells the crowd that Jesus' death is their responsibility and the crowd answers back by uttering a curse on themselves and on the next generation, accepting the responsibility for Jesus' death and, unknown to them, in killing "the Lord's anointed."  Ironically Jesus prophesied that the judgment for the death of all God's holy prophets would fall upon "this generation" (Mt 23:35-36), but Jesus did not come to inflict a curse upon His people, He came to save the "lost sheep" of Israel and to take the curses of their covenant failures upon Himself.  His blood would indeed be upon them and upon their children for the sake of their salvation.

Matthew 27:26 ~ Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.
Earlier in the trial, Pilate had Jesus scourged in an unsuccessful attempt to satisfy the Jewish leaders and to be able to release Jesus (Lk 23:22; Jn 19:1-4).  Now Pilate sends Jesus to be scourged again according to Roman custom.  The scourging of a criminal before execution was the established practice.  The idea was to make a deep impression on those who witnessed the execution to prevent the repetition of the kinds of crimes against the state that necessitated crucifixion.  Crucifixion was reserved for only foreign criminals and never for a Roman citizen.

Despite the lack of evidence, in the end it was the charge of sedition for which Jesus was condemned.  The placard listing Jesus' crime that Pilate had put above Jesus' head on His cross (a common practice) read "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" in Hebrew, Latin and Greek and was ironically the complete truth (Jn 19:19-20).  Perhaps the blood thirsty crowd at Jesus' trial were men and woman recruited by the Jewish leaders.  Jesus had many supporters, so many that the religious leaders were afraid to arrest Jesus during the day when so many people were listening to Jesus teach.  Jesus Himself mentioned this when He was arrested (Mt 26:55).  In these early morning hours (Jesus was taken to Pilate at dawn), those who believed Jesus was the Messiah were probably still in bed after the long night celebrating the sacred feast of Unleavened Bread. 

Part XI: Mathew 27:27-32 ~ The Crown of Thorns
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the Praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him.  28 They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak about him.  29 Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head, and a reed in his right hand.  And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!"  30 They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking him on the head.  31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.  32 As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross. 

... and gathered the whole cohort around him.  A cohort was composed of 600 men and formed a tenth part of a legion.  Matthew may not intend to suggest 600 men gathered around Jesus but rather that all those men of a particular cohort who were present in the hall gathered around Jesus to torment Him.  They place three objects on Jesus: a scarlet military cloak, a crown made of thorns, and a reed.  Their intention was to dress Jesus like a king since He was charged with sedition against the empire by claiming to be "King of the Jews" (Mt 27:29, 37).  The thorn spikes in the crown of thorns they made for Jesus was probably intended to represent the radiant crown of the emperor depicted on Roman coins, and the reed was probably intended to represent a king's scepter, a sign of royal authority.  What is ironic about the soldiers' cruel treatment in dressing Jesus this way and greeting Him "Hail, King of the Jews," part of the traditional greeting for the Roman Emperor, is that Jesus really is the king of the Jews and in fact, the King of kings.

Matthew 27:31 ~ And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucify him.
The soldiers' mistreatment of Jesus, including mocking Him, spitting in His face and striking him, recalls the prophecy of God's suffering servant by the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 53:1-12.  That entire passage describes Christ's Passion, but two verses that are especially close to the suffering Jesus endured at the hands of the Roman guards are verses 3 and 7-8: He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem (Is 53:3) and Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth.  Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away ... (Is 53:7-8a).

In the third prophecy of His Passion, Jesus told the Apostles that the chief priests and scribes would condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified (Mt 20:17-19).  The fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy once again demonstrates that He is fully in control of His destiny.  Those condemned to crucifixion were usually tied to a wooden crossbeam and were forced to carry it to the site of the execution.  Perhaps Jesus had become too weak from His scourging to carry His crossbeam the entire distance.  The Roman soldiers impressed a man who was probably a Jewish pilgrim into public service, a man named Simon who was a native of the city of Cyrene in North Africa, today in the modern state of Libya.  St.  Luke relates that a large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented Him, and that two criminals who were also condemned to death were led away with Him. 

Part XII: Matthew 27:33-44 ~ The Crucifixion
33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of the Skull, 34 they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall.  But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink.  35 After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; 37 then they sat down and kept watch over him there.  37 And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.  38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left.  39 Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, and come down from the cross!"  41 Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him 42 and said, "He saved others; he cannot save himself.  So he is the king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.  43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him.  For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'"  44 The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.

Matthew 27:33-34And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of the Skull)...  Golgotha is the Greek transliteration of the Aramaic name of the crucifixion site that was called gulgulta, meaning "skull."  The identification of the crucifixion site as Golgotha is found in Mathew 27:33, Mark 15:22 and in John 19:17Matthew 27:32 and Mark 15:21 explicitly state the site lies outside the city; the Gospel of John says it is near the city (19:20).   We know it was close enough to the city for the on-lookers to read the trilingual plaque that Pilate ordered to be place on Jesus' cross, probably as they looked down upon scene of Jesus' crucifixion from the top of the city wall.  Excavations beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcher revealed burials that were centuries older than when Jesus was crucified and suggest that the name "skull" was given to the site because it was an ancient graveyard.

 ... they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall.  But when he had tasted it, he refused to drink.  In the Temple that morning, the unblemished, yearling male Tamid lamb was led from the chamber called the Lamb Office to the site of its execution near the altar; it was a communal sacrifice for the atonement and sanctification of the covenant people: They gave the lamb which was to be the daily whole offering a drink from a golden cup (Mishnah: Tamid, 3:4B).

Wine mixed with myrrh was prepared to dull the prisoner's pain and this was offered to Jesus (Mk 15:23).  The historicity of the Gospel account is confirmed by the 1st AD century historian Josephus who recorded that wealthy women of Jerusalem provided wine mixed with narcotics for those destined for crucifixion.  But according to Matthew, the Roman soldiers continued their abuse of Jesus by mixing gall into the treated wine.  Gall is a bitter discharge from the liver or the gall bladder, but it can also refer to any bitter substance or even poison.  That Matthew includes this information may be an allusion to the fulfillment of Psalms 69:22: Instead they put gall in my food; for my thirst they gave me vinegar.  "Vinegar" was cheap red wine.  Jesus will be given cheap wine/vinegar to drink just before He surrenders His life (Mt 27:48; Jn 19:28-30).  He only tastes the wine but does not drink it.  This may be to further connect Jesus' perfect sacrifice to the sacrifice of the morning Tamid at the Temple that was given a drink prior to sacrifice.  The Tamid was a sacrifice that had for centuries prefigured the sacrifice of Jesus as the true Tamid "standing" (as in continual) Lamb of sacrifice.

St. Mark is the only Gospel writer who records the time Jesus was placed on the Cross: It was the third hour [9 AM] when they crucified him (Mk 15:25).  The "third hour" Jewish time was also when the first Tamid lamb was sacrificed in the Temple worship service and its blood splashed against the sacrificial altar as the Levites blew the silver trumpets and the Temple doors were opened for the morning worship service (Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, page 108).  That morning was a compulsory Sacred Assembly and all religious Jews would be in attendance at the Temple, this includes the majority of Jesus' supporters who had no idea concerning the events unfolding at Golgotha.  As Jesus was suffering on the cross, the morning liturgy of the Tamid lamb continued in the Temple. 

Matthew 27:35-36 ~ After they had crucified him, they divided his garments by casting lots; then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 
It was the custom for the soldiers overseeing executions to divide the possession of the condemned.  The Roman soldiers "kept watch" over Jesus and the other two men in order to prevent any attempt to rescue them.  Psalms 22, written by King David in the 10th century BC, is a description of David's sufferings but also a prediction of Jesus' crucifixion long before the Persians ever invented crucifixion as a form of capital punishment.  Included in the psalms is the prediction that lots would be casted for Jesus garments, an event that was not part of David's history.  In verses 16-18 David wrote: 16 Indeed, many dogs surround me, a pack of evil doers closes in upon me; 17 they have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.  18 They divide my garments among them, and for my vesture they cast lots.  In John 19:23-24 we are told that Jesus' tunic was seamlessly woven from one piece of cloth.  It was obviously expensive so the soldiers cast lots to see which one would possess it.  The Gospel of John says this was to fulfill what was written in Psalms 22:18.  Jesus' seamless tunic recalls one of the vestments of the anointed High Priest of Israel (Ex 28:1-5; Lev 21:10) which, according to Josephus, was seamless (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.7.4 [161]; The Jewish Wars, 5.5.7 [231]) and which was only worn during a liturgical service in the Temple (Ez 42:14).

It significant that Jesus wore the seamless garment of a high priest at both the Last Supper and His crucifixion; it implies that it was a liturgical worship service at which Jesus officiated as the New Covenant High Priest of the sacred meal.  That He wore this garment at His crucifixion implies that Jesus was acting as the New Covenant High Priest officiating at the offering of His sacrifice on the altar of the Cross for the atonement sanctification of all people.  In the ritual meal of the Passover victim on the night of the Last Supper, the disciples washed their hands (part of the ritual of the meal) and feet (washed by Jesus in Jn 13:5).  Josephus records that before performing their ministerial duties, priests washed both their hands and feet (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.6.2 [114]), information that adds another liturgical element to the events of the Last Supper. 

Matthew 27:37 ~ And they placed over his head the written charge against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews. 
It was a common Roman practice to post the crime for which a person was being executed and the name of the condemned man.  Such a plaque was called in Greek a titulus.  Pilate himself ordered the wording of the sign, much to the displeasure of the chief priests.  St. John writes that the inscription was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek and could be easily read by the crowds (Jn 19:20).

Matthew 27:38 ~ Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left.
All four Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified between two criminals (also see Mk 15:27; Lk 23:33; Jn 19:18).  As Jesus is situated between two men on an elevation with His arms outstretched on the Cross, commanding the climactic battle between good and evil, the scene is reminiscent of Moses standing on a hill with outstretched arms between Aaron and Hur in the Israelite's battle with the wicked Amalekites (Ex 17:8-13; CCC 440).  However, unlike the temporal consequences of Moses' battle, the outcome of Jesus' battle has cosmic and eternal implications.

Psalms 22:1a reads: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?  This is Jesus' first statement from the Cross.  Jesus' quote from this Psalms is not as some have wrongly interpreted a cry of utter despair and hopelessness; far from it.  If one reads the entire Psalms 22, David's cry of distress ends in a shout of joy and his confidence that God has heard his prayer, will rescue him from his enemies, and future generations will be told of his deliverance.  Such psalms are called toda psalms (the Hebrew word toda means "thanks" or "thanksgiving").   Again, it is also important to note that this psalms, attributed to David and therefore written sometime in the early 10th century BC, is a description of a crucifixion centuries before the Persians invented this form of capital punishment.

Matthew 27:39-43 ~  Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, [and] come down from the cross!"  41 Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him and said, 42 "He saved others; he cannot save himself.  So he is the king of Israel!  Let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him.  43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him.  For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" 
These actions by Jesus' tormentors are also described in Psalms 22: All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me.  "You relied on the LORD, let him deliver you if he loves you, let him rescue you" (verses 8-9).  The scene in Matthew 27:39-42 and the enmity against Jesus by the chief priests, Pharisees and elders also recall the condemnation of the righteous by the wicked described in Wisdom 2:12-13, 16a-20.

Matthew 27:43b ~ The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing him in the same way.
The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all mention the two men crucified on either side of Jesus (Mk 15:27, 32; Lk 23:33, 39-43), but Luke records the change of heart of the man to the right of Jesus (Lk 23:39-43). 

Part XIII: Matthew 27:45-56 ~ The Death of the Redeemer-Messiah
45 From noon [the sixth hour] onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon [the ninth hour].  46 And about three o'clock [the ninth hour] Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken [abandoned] me?"  47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "This one is calling for Elijah."  48 Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink.  49 But the rest said, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him."  50 But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.  51 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth quaked, rocks were split, 52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.  54 The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, "Truly, this was the Son of God!"  55 There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.  56 Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.  [..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, pages 88-89.

While the Gospels of Matthew and Mark mention the total darkness that began at noon, St. Luke identifies the darkness as a total eclipse of the sun: It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon [the third hour].  And the sun was darkened... (IBGE, vol. IV, page 242, Lk 23:44-45)This is a miracle that cannot be explained away by some coincidence of nature.  The liturgical calendar was a lunar calendar and the day of Jesus' crucifixion on the 15th of Nisan was during a full moon cycle: And this feast is begun on the fifteenth day of the month in the middle of the month, on the day on which the moon is full of light, in consequence of the providence of God taking care that there shall be no darkness on that day (Philo, Special Laws II, 155). Total or partial eclipses do not occur during full moon cycles, and they only last for minutes not for hours.  Both Christian and non-Christian writers recorded the phenomena. 

This cosmic event and its aftermath fulfill the prophecy of the 8th century BC prophet Amos: On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun set at midday and cover the earth with darkness in broad daylight.  I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentations.  I will cover the loins of all with sackcloth and make every head bald.  I will make them mourn as for an only son, and bring their day to bitter end (Am 8:9-10; emphasis added).  Wearing sackcloth and shaving one's head is a sign of affliction and mourning in the ancient Near East (Is 15:2; Jer 7:29Mic 1:16).

As Jesus suffered on the altar of the cross, the Temple was in darkness, but the liturgical ceremony and sacrifices for first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread continued by the light of the altar fire.  At noon the second lamb of the Tamid sacrifice was led out and tired near the altar before it was inspected one last time by the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas.  Declared "without fault," it was given a last drink (Mishnah: Tamid, 3:4B; 4:1); this may be the point at which Jesus was offered a second drink (Lk 23:35-36); the first offer was before He was crucified (Mt 27:34-35; Mk 15:23-24).  You may recall that Pilate declared Jesus "without fault" (Jn 18:38; 19:4, 6).

Matthew 27:46 ~  And about three o'clock [the ninth hour] Jesus cried out in a loud voice, Eli, eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken [abandoned] me?"
Jesus last four statements come very close together.  It is about three in the afternoon.  This is Jesus' fourth statement from the Cross.  St. Matthew records Jesus' statement in Hebrew either to draw His Jewish audience to the passage in the Hebrew Scriptures of Psalm 22:1a or because this is one element that has been retained from his Gospel that was originally written in Hebrew (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.1.1).  St. Mark records Jesus' statement in the Aramaic that Jesus would have spoken aloud ( Mk 15:34 ). 

Matthew 27:47-49 ~ Some of the bystanders who heard it said, "This one is calling for Elijah."  48 Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink.  49 But the rest said, "Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him."
The crowd mistook the words "Eloi," "my God," for the name of the prophet Elijah who they evidently recall was prophesied to be a precursor to the coming of the Messiah (Mal 3:23/4:5) and whose mission they may have confused with the passage in Malachi 3:1 that speaks of God's messenger who will "prepare the way" by suddenly coming to the Temple, which Jesus did in His Temple cleansings.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark and John record that Jesus was given a final drink of wine.  However, only the Gospel of John mentions that Jesus requested the drink, saying "I thirst" (Jn 19:28), that the Roman soldier extended the drink of wine to Him on a hyssop branch, and that Jesus spoke the words "It is fulfilled;" the same last words as those of the host of the Passover meal when the 4th Cup, the Cup of Acceptance, has been consumed. 

Mathew 27:50 ~ But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. 
When Jesus willing gave up His life, He breathed out His spirit/life force upon the face of the earth just as in the first Creation event when the divine Ruah, the "breath/spirit" of God swept across the face of the earth (Gen 1:2).  This moment is the beginning of the New Creation event!

In the offering up of His perfect sacrifice, Jesus came into His Kingdom.  What He spoke of figuratively in His agony in the garden of Gethsemane was now symbolically fulfilled as He drank the wine of God's wrath as well as the wine of the 4th Cup of the ritual meal that He did not pass at the Last Supper and which signified the acceptance of the covenant with Yahweh.  All was "fulfilled," as He promised in Matthew 5:17-18 and announced in John 19:28.  Therefore, He accepted on behalf of all people the cup that sealed the covenant with God in a new and eternal covenant which offered mankind the purification of sins through the blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn 1:29).  Through His Passion the debt of sin is paid in full and the New Covenant is inaugurated in the sacrificial blood of the Christ the Lamb which will become the Eucharistic cup of Acceptance for the restoration of fellowship with God in the New Covenant Church.  He willingly gave up His spirit for the sake all mankind and for the Kingdom of Heaven on earth that was to be the vehicle to lead all members of the human family to salvation.

The Synoptic Gospel accounts agree that it was the ninth hour Jewish time, or three in the afternoon Roman and modern time, that Jesus died.  At the Temple it is the same hour that the second Tamid lamb was sacrificed (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 14.4.3[65]).  Jesus' death on the altar of the Cross, offering up to the Father in a single perfect sacrifice His humanity and His divinity, has been uniquely prefigured in the centuries old Tamid ("standing") sacrifice: the single sacrifice of two unblemished male lambs (Ex 29:38-42; Num 28:4-8). 

Matthew 27:51 ~  And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom.  The earth quaked, rocks were split...
There were two "veils" in the Temple.  One covered the entrance to the Temple's Holy Place and the second inner veil was the covering across the entrance to the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies was where God's presence resided in the midst of His people and was the sacred space in which the heavenly and earthly Sanctuaries were linked (Ex 25:8, 40; Ex 26:31-35; 35:12; 39:34; Lev 24:3; 2 Chr 3:14).  Matthew is referring to the inner veil.  The word "veil" gives the wrong impression of this barrier.  It was a textile that hung from a height of about 30 feet and was the thickness of a man's hand.  Since the sin of the Golden Calf (Ex 32), only the anointed High Priest had access to the Holy of Holies once a year on the feast of Atonement/Yom Kippur (Lev 16:1-18). 

At the ninth hour (three in the afternoon), as Jesus gave up His life on the altar of the Cross, the assigned chief priests had entered the Holy Place as soon as the afternoon Tamid lamb was slain at God's sacrificial altar.  It was their duty to trim the wicks of the oil lamps of the golden Menorah (lampstand) and to cleanse the ashes from the golden Altar of Incense that stood in front of the veil that shielded the Holy of Holies in preparation for the burning of incense at the conclusion of the afternoon liturgy.  Imagine the shock of the chief priests as the earth shook and the veil was torn as though by invisible hands from the top to the bottom (Mt 27:51).  The ripping of the veil symbolized the fact that God had accepted His Son's perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind and was giving humanity access to the most holy place of all, the heavenly Sanctuary that had been barred to man since the Fall of Adam.  Christ conquered the serpent and became the promised Mediator between man and God (Gen 3:15; CCC 536 and 1026).  These were the signs the prophets predicted in the coming of the Final Age of Man (see Ps 68:9; 77:19; Mt 24:7-8).

Matthew 27:52-53 ~ 52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised.  53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
Only Matthew records the appearance of saints in association with Jesus' resurrection.  This event is the first expression of faith in the liberation of the dead by Christ's descent into Sheol/Hades (see 1 Pt 3:19-20; 4:16; CCC 633).  We do not know what became of these saints, and event Jesus prophesied in John 5:25-28.  We do not know if they continued to live out their lives on earth as a reminder of the Resurrection and as an encouragement to the fledgling New Covenant Church like the resurrected Lazarus (Jn 11:38-44; 12:1-2), or perhaps they ascend to the Father with Jesus forty days later.  For the Jews, the "resurrection of the righteous ones" was a sign of the Last Age of Man and the coming of the Messianic Era (see Is 26:19; Ez 37:1-14; Dan 12:2-3).  For Christians this event prefigures the promise of a bodily resurrection when Christ returns.  It is also evidence that the effect of Jesus' resurrection changed the whole balance of nature.  He came to redeem mankind from the effects of sin but also to redeem the natural world which had been wounded, like humanity, by the corrupting power of sin.  That is why, in His Second Advent, all of creation will be transformed into the new heaven and new earth (see 1 Thes 4:16; Rev 21:1-4).

Matthew 27:54 ~ 54 The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, "Truly, this was the Son of God!" 
The declaration of the Roman officer and his men prefigures the beginning of the evangelization of the Gentiles. They are the first Gentiles to proclaim Jesus "the Son of God."  They may not have completely understood what they were saying, but it will be a declaration that will be carried into the Gentile nations of the earth.

Matthew 27:55-56 ~  There were many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him.  56 Among them were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.
According to the Gospel of John, the only male disciple at the Cross was the "beloved disciple" who the Church Fathers identify as St. John Zebedee.  Isn't it ironic that it is the women who stayed with Christ to the end?  They will be rewarded for their faithfulness.  A woman will the first disciple to see the Resurrected Jesus.  Counting the Virgin Mary, there are eight women disciples named in the Gospels.

It is important to remember that the Jews collectively are not responsible for Jesus' death.  No human agency had power over Jesus.  This was God's plan.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:  The Jews are not collectively responsible for Jesus' death: The historical complexity of Jesus' trial is apparent in the Gospel accounts.  The personal sin of the participants (Judas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate) is known to God alone.  Hence we cannot lay responsibility for the trial on the Jews in Jerusalem as a whole, despite the outcry of a manipulated crowd and the global reproaches contained in the apostles' calls to conversion after Pentecost.  Jesus himself, in forgiving them on the cross, and Peter in following suit, both accept 'the ignorance' of the Jews of Jerusalem and even their leaders.  Still less can we extend responsibility to other Jews of different times and places, based merely on the crowd's cry: "His blood be on us and on our children!"  a formula for ratifying a judicial sentence.  As the Church declared at the Second Vatican Council: 'Neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during his Passion....  The Jews should not be spoken of as rejected or accursed as if this followed from Holy Scripture.'  All sinners were the authors of Christ's Passion (CCC# 597).

Part XIV: Matthew 27:57-61 ~ The Burial of Jesus
57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who was himself a disciple of Jesus.  58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be handed over.  59 Taking the body, Joseph wrapped it in clean linen 60 and laid it [in] his new tomb that he had hewn in the rock.  Then he rolled a huge stone across the entrance to the tomb and departed.  61 But Mary Magdalene and the other Mary remained sitting there, facing the tomb.  62 The next day, he one following the day of preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, "Sir, we remember that this impostor while still alive said, 'After three days I will be raised up."  64 Give orders, then, that the grave be secured until the third day, lest his disciples come and steal him and say to the people, 'He has been raised from the dead.'  This last imposture would be worse than the first."  65 Pilate said to them, "The guard is yours; go, secure it as best you can."  66 So they went and secured the tomb by fixing a seal to the stone and setting the guard.

St. Mark includes the information that Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin and that the day Jesus died was Preparation Day (Friday) for the coming Sabbath (Mk 15:42-43).  It became the Sabbath at sundown; therefore, Jesus' body was removed from the Cross prior to sundown in accordance with the Law (Dt 21:22-23).  Placing Jesus' body in this rich man's tomb was a fulfillment of Isaiah 53:9 in the Septuagint translation: And I will give the wicked for his burial, and the rich of his death; for he practiced no iniquity, nor craft with his mouth.

The body of Christ was wrapped in a clean linen shroud which many Christians believe is the Shroud of Turin (Mk 15:46; Lk 23:53; Jn 19:40).  There is no mention of washing Jesus' body in any of the Gospel accounts, which was the typical practice in a natural death (see Acts 9:37).  However, not washing Jesus' body is in accordance with Jewish customs for one who died a violent death since the blood, which gives life, must not be removed from the body.  This is the practice in Israel today for those killed by suicide bombers.  The Shroud of Turin not only has the negative image of a man who died from crucifixion, but the blood of the victim is on the Shroud.  However, even a victim of violent death would have his body prepared with herbs and spices.  This was the case with Jesus' body (Jn 12:7; 19:40), and there is ample evidence of this practice on the Shroud of Turin which has pollen from a number of plants that grow in the region of Jerusalem.

Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother or sister of James and Joseph kept watch over the location of the tomb.  This day was the Saturday Sabbath and was the Great/High Sabbath of the holy week of the feast of Unleavened Bread (Jn 19:31).  The presence of the guards and the officially sealed tomb, which the chief priests demanded, only served as more proof that Jesus' Resurrection the next day will be a supernatural event.

Catechism References for the readings:
Commemoration of the Lord's Entrance into Jerusalem:

The Procession:
Antiphon Mathew 21:9 (CCC 439)
Gospel Matthew 21:1-11 (CCC 559)
Antiphon Psalm 24:6 (CCC 2582); 24:7-10 (CCC 559); 24:8-10 (CCC 269); 24:9-10 (CCC 2628)

The Mass Readings:
Isaiah 50:4-7 (CCC 713); 50:4 (CCC 141)
Philippians 2:6-11 (CCC 2641, 2667); 2:5-8 (CCC 461); 2:6 (CCC 449); 2:7 (CCC 472, 602, 705, 713, 876, 1224); 2:8-9 (CCC 908); 2:8 (CCC 411, 612, 623); 2:9-11 (CCC 449, 2812); 2:9-10 (CCC 434); 2:10-11 (CCC 201); 2:10 (CCC 633, 635)
Gospel Reading Matthew 26:17-29 (CCC 1339); 26:20 (CCC 610); 26:26 (CCC 1328, 1329); 26:28 (CCC 545, 610, 613, 1365, 1846, 2839); 26:29 (CCC 1403); 26:31 (CCC 764); 26:26-44 (CCC 2849); 26:38 (CCC 363); 26:39 (CCC 536, 612); 26:40 (CCC 2719); 26:41 (CCC 2733, 2846); 26:42 (CCC 612); 26:52 (CCC 2262); 26:53 (CCC 333, 609); 26:54 (CCC 600); 26:64-66 (CCC 591); 26:64 (CCC 443); 26:66 (CCC 596)

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2014