Palm Sunday of the Passion: context

Entry_Into_Jerusalem1Context. The climactic events that have been repeatedly predicted since the Galilean ministry are now about to unfold (12:38–40; 16:4, 21; 17:12, 22–23; 20:17–19; 21:38–39; 23:32). Jesus was aware of the forces arrayed against him (26:2), yet he did not resist doing the will of the Father despite the suffering that would be involved (26:36–46). Ironically, the very religious leaders who opposed and sought to destroy Jesus were the unwitting instruments God used to fulfill his plan to exalt Jesus.

Jesus’ last week in Jerusalem is given extended treatment in all four Gospels. This fact, along with the notable lack of material about Jesus’ life before his public ministry, shows that the Gospels are not mere historical chronicles or biographies, but theologically motivated literary works. The Gospel narratives of events from Palm Sunday to the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry take up Matthew 21–28, Mark 11–16; Luke 19–24, and John 12–21; the last week of Jesus’ life occupies roughly one third of the total Gospel materials. It has been said that the Gospels are passion narratives with extended introductions, and this is only a slight exaggeration.

Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ suffering is prefaced with the stories of the Temple conflicts with the religious leaders (chs 21–23) and the Olivet discourse (chs 24–25). In both of these sections, Matthew’s material is more extensive than either Mark’s or Luke’s. When it comes to the passion narrative proper (chs 26–28), Matthew and Mark are parallel for the most part, with Luke and John, especially, contributing unique material. The general flow of Matthew’s material is as follows:

  • Preparation of the disciples (26:1–46)
    • Arrest at Gethsemane (26:47–56)
      • Trial before Caiaphas (26:57–68)
        • Peter’s three denials (26:69–75)
          • Trial before Pilate (27:1–2; 11–26) with interwoven account of Judas’ suicide (27:3–10)
          • Jesus mocked and crucified (27:27–56)
      • Jesus buried by Joseph of Arimathea (27:57–61)
    • Jesus’ resurrection and its denial (27:62–28:15)

Turner and Bock (p.234) note several events and elements in Matthew’s passion narrative (some form entire portions) that are unique to his Gospel and that presumably indicate his special literary and theological emphases:

  1. Jesus reminds the disciples of his impending death (26:1–2)
  2. The amount of money paid Judas is specified as thirty pieces of silver (26:15; cf. Exod 21:32; Zech 11:12)
  3. Judas asks Jesus if he is the betrayer (26:25)
  4. Jesus’ blood is presented as being poured out for the forgiveness of sins (26:28)
  5. The second prayer in Gethsemane is presented as a direct quotation (26:42)
  6. Jesus’ words to Judas after the kiss (26:50)
  7. Jesus’ comments after the high priest’s servant’s ear is cut off about violence, the availability of angelic help, and scriptural fulfillment (26:52–54)
  8. The high priest’s demand before God that Jesus speak (26:63)
  9. Sarcastic reference to Jesus as Messiah (26:68)
  10. Jesus is described as a Galilean (26:69)
  11. Peter’s second denial includes an oath (26:72)
  12. The purpose of the morning consultation is already decided: execute Jesus (27:1)
  13. Pilate describes Jesus as the one who is called the Messiah (27:17, 22)
  14. Pilate’s wife recounts a dream and calls Jesus innocent (27:19)
  15. Pilate washes his hands and the crowd took responsibility for Jesus’ death (27:24–25)
  16. The sign at the cross specifies the name of Jesus (27:37)
  17. Emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God (27:40, 43)
  18. Allusion to Psalm 22:8 (27:43)
  19. Account of the earthquake and opening of the tombs (27:51–53)
  20. Joseph of Arimathea is called a disciple (27:57)
  21. The Jewish religious leaders get Pilate to guard Jesus’ tomb (27:62–66)

In the introductory material/overview of the Gospel according to Matthew several themes were pointed out. Among them were (a) the privilege position of Israel in the plan of God and Jesus’ mission to them. Here at the end of the narrative is this a theme in transition to a new meaning? The Matthean idea of “fulfillment” was also discussed at length – how does Matthew use these chapters to continue that idea? Clearly the idea of on-going conflict is reaching a crescendo – but how would you describe the nature of the conflict?
There are many other questions that could be asked about the uniqueness and contribution of Matthew’s narrative – but in the interim let us explore the reading in depth.

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