Palm Sunday – April 2, 2023
Lectionary Readings: Isa. 50:4-7; Ps. 21:8-9.17-20.23-24; Phil. 2.6-11; Matt. 26:14-27:66
Theme: To lament and praise.
In today’s Gospel according to Matthew for Palm Sunday, which marks the beginning of Holy Week, the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian world, we once again read about the passion and death of Jesus Christ. The reading includes the popular cry of Jesus before he died: “Eli, Eli, la’ma sabach-tha’ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me (Matthew 27:46, also in Mark 15:34).
Commenting on her forthcoming book, Redeeming Jesus’ Name, Sr. Maureena Fritz told the alums of Bat Kol Institute for Jewish Studies (now ISPS Ratisbonne Bat Kol Centre for Jewish Studies) during a Zoom meeting to celebrate the institute’s 40th anniversary , that Jesus lived and died a Jew.
The complaint on being abandoned uttered by Jesus is a Jewish prayer of lament. It is the opening verse of Psalm 22, one of the most popular psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures. Villanueva (2013) says the cry of Jesus is “important because it validates the cry of lament. Lament is not just an Old Testament thing; it is also part of the New Testament.” The complaint or lament is a most common type of prayer among the Jews. A study says that of the 150 psalms (in their present form), about 70 percent are psalms of lament, either as communal or individual complaints.
Villanueva says that Psalm 22 is a model of how we as believers are to pray before God, that is, with truth and full honesty. It is good to share with God what hurts us, and not just keep it inside us.
Villanueva says that many Christians today do not know how to lament. He says that some do lament but they rush on to praise as quickly as they can. He said that praises are forced because “we have not properly dealt with our questions, we do not really receive the answers.”
In his study of Psalm 22, Villanueva says that the psalm is a great help for it shows us the way forward and reminds us that there is a process. In Psalm 22, this process, begins with the crying to God (v. 2), our confronting our sense of abandonment by God (vv. 1-2), internal contradictions (vv. 4-8), naming our pain and suffering (vv. 12-18) and the pleading for help (vv.19-21). He notes that it is only after the psalmist has expressed his lament that the door of praise is opened to the saying of praises. He also says that the lament is not forgotten once the psalm has moved to praise. So we can not fully appreciate Easter, if we do not consider Good Friday.
In Psalm 22, the shame, pains, fears and brutality suffered are told in detail. There is no sugar-coating, no cover-up. Brugggermann and Bellinger Jr (2014) say Jesus’ cry concerns real suffering, real abandonment and real death. They also note that, just as in the cry of the innocent psalmist, Jesus begins with a statement of intimacy: “My God, my God” a Jewish prayer of complaint and petition often prayed not by strangers but by those with a “long history of positive interaction with Adonai.”
On the other hand, we can also note Jesus’ last words in Luke: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” Jesus, praying like a Jew, has taught us to build an intimate relationship with God: to call out to God and trust God in good and bad times. He teaches us to be honest with our thoughts and feelings before God, and that it is okay to lament.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Do you know how to lament before God? 2. Has there been a time you felt thatGod had abandoned you? What has been the biggest pain or complaint you have brought forth to or shared with God?
Bibliography: Brueggemann and Bellinger, Jr., Psalms (New York, 2014); Villanueva, The Book of Psalms 1-72(Manila, 2013); Wenham, Psalms as Torah (Michigan: 2012)
Minerva Generalao, Philippines, July 2014 Bat Kol Alumna