Palm/Passion Sunday A

Last revised: May 4, 2020
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RCL: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
RoCa: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Matthew 26:14 – 27:66
Processional Gospel of Palms: Matthew 21:1-11

Philippians 2:5-11


1. Willard Swartley, “Discipleship and Imitation of Jesus/Suffering Servant: The Mimesis of New Creation,” in Violence Renounced, pp. 225-226. After quoting this text, he comments:

Even though this text does not use either of the key terms, imitation or type, it clearly portrays the believers patterning their conduct after the suffering and obedience of Christ Jesus. Hence this important text takes its place in this list. Further, this text is joined to imitation in Philippians 3:17 (see p. 225) by the similar exhortation, “be of the same mind” (touto phroneite in 2:5 and touto phronomen in 3:15).The context of this foundational confession on Jesus’ self-emptying and humbling to the cross is Paul’s admonition in vv. 3-4 to put away conduct that proceeds from mimetic rivalry: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Then follows: “let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”

2. René Girard, Violence Renounced; link to an excerpt on the importance of Imitatio Christi.

3. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 103, 139, 154, 210.

4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 172, 176, part of “The Church as a Structure of Agape Based on the Imitation of Christ Crucified,” pp. 174-182.

5. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from March 16, 2008 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto).

Reflections and Questions

1. To me, this is the quintessential biblical text expressing “good mimesis.” We are to have the mind of Christ, who even though he is equal to God, does not get caught up in rivalistic mimesis. Rather, he takes the role of the servant. This also ties in with John’s account of the Last Supper, the gospel text for Maundy Thursday: Jesus teaches his disciples servanthood, urging them to take him as a model.

Matthew 26:14 – 27:66


1. For an anthropology sometimes known as an “anthropology of the cross,” the resources abound as to unpacking the meaning of the Passion. What strikes me the most on Palm/Passion Sunday these days (i.e., since receiving my Girardian pair of glasses) is the role of the crowd in moving from the praise of Palm Sunday to the murderous shouts of Good Friday. “The Question of Anti-Semitism in the Gospels,” (Girard Reader, p. 211-221) is an article of René Girard‘s which focuses nicely on the role of the crowd in the gospels. He compares Herod, for example, in the beheading of John the Baptist, to Pilate, and says: “the two sovereigns yield to mimetic pressure; they become part of the crowd. The purpose is to show that a crowd in a lynching mood is the supreme power. For the Gospels, political power has been rooted in the crowd since the foundation of the world.” (See more on the crowd in the first “reflection” below.)

2. Other good Holy Week resources from René Girard include: “The Passion (excerpt),” Things Hidden, pp. 167ff.; The Scapegoat, chapters nine, “The Key Words of the Gospel Passion,” ten, “That Only One Man Should Die,” and twelve, “Peter’s Denial.” Finally, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, ch. 12, “Scapegoat” (excerpt), which begins with the observation, “The passion accounts shed a light on mimetic contagion that deprives the victim mechanism of what it needs to be truly unanimous and to generate the systems of myth and ritual: the participants’ unawareness of what is driving them.” And ends with the comment, “All discourses on exclusion, discrimination, racism, etc. will remain superficial as long as they don’t address the religious foundations of the problems that besiege our society.” The concept of “Scapegoat” forms the bridge.

3. Also, see Girardians Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, chapter 12, “‘It Is Accomplished (excerpt)'”; Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred, pp. 40-59; Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, “Third Act: The Bringer of Salvation Brought to Judgment” and “Redemption as Judgment and Sacrifice.”

4. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby, a sermon in 2014, titled “Friend, Do What You Are Here to Do.”

Reflections and Questions

1. Something else that has brought home the role of the crowd to me is that in our congregation we use a Palm/Passion Sunday liturgy by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (from Ragman), called “The Cry of the Whole Congregation,” which movingly gets the congregation to participate as the crowd. How did the “Hosanna!”‘s of Sunday turn to the “Crucify Him!”‘s of Friday? Were they that mistaken about Jesus? Or does the whole story say more about the crowd than it does about Jesus? If the latter, then it calls for an anthropological interpretation. It is the crowd’s need for a scapegoat that sets events in motion. Typically, one finds explanations that opt for the former, focusing on Jesus and people’s mistaken views about Jesus. One often hears the line of argument, for instance, that Zealots were hoping for a Messiah to lead them into victorious battle over their enemies and simply mistook Jesus to be that kind of Messiah, turning on him by Good Friday. In the past, I’ve indulged in those kinds of musings myself. But now they seem beside the point to me. Whether one was a Zealot, or Pharisee, or simple peasant, or Roman soldier, or Sanhedrin official, whether Herod or Pilate, they all came together out of their need to find some measure of peace through a scapegoat. It is the unity of an otherwise diverse crowd that is most telling. It is in the crowd that we locate the universal scope of the cross. Link to a sermon on these themes entitled “Brief Reflections on the Passion.”

Matthew 21:1-11


1. James Alison, a video homily for Palm/Passion Sunday A; in 2020 Alison began a new website during the pandemic, “Praying Eucharistically,” which included weekly homilies. This Gospel Reading sets the scene for Holy Week by helping us to understand how Jesus is doing something quite deliberate.

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