Friday, April 7, 2017

Palm Sunday Cycle A

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Other Than INRI

We are familiar with INRI, the four letters on top of our crucifix. We learned during our catechism that the letters stand for Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews. The I stands for J in the English alphabet. In the original Greek it stands first for Iesous, that is Jesus, and the second I stands for Iudaiown, of the Jews.

As we grew we learned that this INRI was the crime ascribed to Jesus for which he was sentenced to death by crucifixion. In other words according to Pilate, the Roman governor who condemned him to death by crucifixion, this was the crime which Jesus committed which deserved the punishment of crucifixion. His crime was that he was the king of the Jews. The chief priests of the Jews wanted this to be changed to "This man claimed to be King of the Jews" (John 19:21-22) but Pilate told them, "What I have written, I have written."

But if we read carefully the Gospel reading for today which is the narrative of the passion of Jesus according to Saint Matthew we notice that according to the High Priest the crime which Jesus committed was not that he said that he was the king of the Jews. According to the High Priest the crime of Jesus was claiming that he was the son of man.

Notice the flow of Matthew's narrative in the trial of Jesus before Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Our Gospel reads "Then the high priest said to him, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Christ, the Son of God." 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.'" 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; what is your opinion?" They said in reply, "He deserves to die!"

According to the high priest Jesus had committed blasphemy for answering affirmatively to his question whether he was the son of God and claiming to be the son of man and for this crime of blasphemy he deserved to die.

That is a very strange crime indeed, the crime of answering that he was the son of God and claiming to be the son of man.

Our reading tells us something of this son of man, why it was blasphemy to claim to be such. It was blasphemy because Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven.'" Jesus used the scriptural passage of Daniel 7:13-14 to tell the High Priest what he meant by this phrase “son of man”.

The high priest reacted violently, tearing his garments, because he knew Jesus was claiming to be the king who would receive dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language would serve him, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, and his kingship will not be destroyed.

Caiaphas could not imagine that this man bound and a prisoner before him was in fact the ruler of this world. It was too much for him.

So today let us reflect on this phrase “son of man” claiming which for the high priest was Jesus' crime which deserved the sentence of death.

The phrase son of man was Jesus' favorite title. He most often referred to himself as the son of man. Bible scholars count 81 times when Jesus used this title referring to himself. In Matthew it occurs over 30 times, in Mark 15 times, in Luke 25 times, and in John a dozen times. It is always in the mouth of Jesus Himself that it occurs, except once, when the bystanders ask what He means by the title (John 12:34). Outside the Gospels, it occurs only once in Acts, in Stephen's speech (Acts 7:56), and twice in the Book of Revelation (1:13; 14:14).

What Jesus meant by this phrase is very clear in his reply to Caiaphas as recorded in our Gospel reading. Some scholars say that the phrase “son of man” merely means that Jesus was referring to himself as a human being, since man means a human being. But Jesus’ reply to the high priest leaves no doubt as to what Jesus meant by his use of this phrase. In his reply he quoted Daniel 7:13 and the sense of verse 14. These verses read, “As the visions during the night continued, I (Daniel) saw One like a son of man coming, on the clouds of heaven; When he reached the Ancient One and was presented before him, He received dominion, glory, and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away, his kingship shall not be destroyed.”

Caiaphas knew these verses. He knew that it was only God who could give such immense power to a man to govern this world forever and ever. For Jesus to claim that this power was given to him by God was blasphemy, arrogating to oneself a power which only God can give.

Caiaphas should have written above the head of Jesus on the cross, “This man committed blasphemy.” But he did not. Instead he let Pilate write those words, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

But the question now arises: Why was this Jesus’ favorite designation of himself? Why did he use this title for himself most often among all the others?

To answer this question we have a statement from Wallace Wattles, a business man who was a convert to socialism, who gave a lecture entitled “Jesus: The Man and His Work” at the Auditorium, Cincinnati, November 11, 1905.

His explanation of this phrase “son of man” is that Jesus’ use of this phrase indicated that he was on the side of all humanity against the abuses committed by people against it, whether these people are religious, political or otherwise.

In other words according to Wattles Jesus chose this title “son of man” because he stood for the welfare of every man, every human being.

It is strange that I have not found a professional Biblical scholar who espouses this view, that Jesus called himself son of man because he came to save humanity from the evils of the powers that were then subjugating the peoples of his day.

My reflection is that Jesus used this phrase most often among the other titles, such as son of David or even son of God, because this title clearly identified him as the expected Messiah, the king expected by the Jews to succeed David whose kingdom would have no end.

It also shows that Jesus was most conscious of himself as the expected Messiah. He knew that his coming passion and death would pave the way for the realization of this role in his life.

When Jesus says that he is 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' he meant that the rule and authority over this whole of creation was given to him. This is what is meant when we profess in our Apostles’ Creed, “and sits at the right hand of God”. He does not only sit there on the right hand of the Father as we see in some pictures of the Trinity. This phrase sitting at the right hand of God means that all dominion over all creation is given to Jesus and he actually is the one ruling this world. And his rule is effective and it cannot be overturned by any other force, whether physical or spiritual.

Jesus is in control of our world. During this Lenten season we reflect on the manner how this rule and authority was given to Jesus. It was through his obedience to God, obedience even to the sufferings and death he had to endure.

Our first reading in the Mass tells us about this obedience. Isaiah speaks for Jesus, “Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back. 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.”

Our second reading is most explicit on how Jesus became the actual ruler and king of the whole creation. “Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Perhaps an artist will someday paint a crucifix with another inscription on top of his or her picture. This inscription will not read INRI but SOM for “son of man”, Jesus favorite title, for which he was condemned by the Jewish leaders to die. 

Let us pray as we bow our heads. Jesus, you are indeed the son of man. This title was your favorite. Impress on our minds this title so that we will not forget that in everything we think, say or do you are in control, always. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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