The Trial and Execution of Jesus

Palm Sunday Year A

Matthew 27: 11 56


At this solemn time in the Christian Calendar the full account of the Passion of Jesus is read each day from one of the Gospels. The word "Passion" is the traditional term used for the sufferings of Jesus, leading to his crucifixion.

The word comes to us from the Latin "patior", I suffer. The same Latin root gives us "patiens", meaning, "bearing", or "enduring", and obviously, "patient." The term is therefore very applicable to describe the monumental suffering of Jesus when we read how it all unfolded in the Gospels.

Instead of us trying to cover the whole account of the Passion, we have selected for meditation a portion of 45 verses in Matthew 27. Again, instead of our usual narrative, we will focus on one meditation point in each section of the reading. At the end there is supplementary reading from an old but vibrant commentary on this wonderful account. This would be immensely valuable spiritual reading during the time up to Easter Day.

Notes On the Text

Verses 11 14 Jesus Faces Pilate

If we read any Gospel account of the Passion, two things are immediately obvious:

a) There is a lack of condemnation by the disciples or by the writer.

b) The only ones accusing and cursing are Jesus' opponents.

In this short section Jesus declines to answer any of the charges made against him. They are all false, and he refuses to give them a status they do not deserve.

Verses 15 26 Taking the Place of Barabbas

Even the Emperors at Rome came out in a cold sweat at the mention of Pilate's name; such was his reputation for cruel brutality and ruthless extermination of troublemakers.

Even he can see no purpose whatsoever in executing this poor bewildered, gentle man! When the rabble-rousers start chanting for the crucifixion of Jesus, Pilate, in a rare moment of social justice, tries to moderate the extreme views of the religious authorities.

"Why, what evil has he done?"

Sadly Jesus' opponents detect they have Pilate on the back foot. There will be no let-up from now on!

Verses 27 31 The Soldiers Mock Jesus

The King of Kings is crowned with a hastily made crown of poisonous spines. As if that isn't enough they beat it down on his head with a light rod, to get all the spines digging into Jesus' head.

The soldiers enjoy the spectacle. The blood everywhere goads them on. They taunt our Lord and push him around. Jesus remains entirely silent.

Verses 32 44 The King On A Cross

The authorities get their way and make the most of it. When the cross is raised and bedded firmly in the ground, the most senior religious authorities try to make a deal with the Lord.

"If he is the King of Israel,

let him now come down from the cross,

and then we will believe in him."

In other words, provide us with evidence so overwhelming that we will simply be unable not to believe. We had better not get too indignant. After all this is still the most common challenge put to God, if he wants to have plenty of followers. We had better recognise that in our times many people crave for just this sort of evidence if they are to "believe". The associates of some so-called evangelists and the promoters of some places of pilgrimage (or should we say the travel agents and tour organisers who are doing very well out of piety) consistently proclaim that they can lead you to miracles which speak for themselves!

All this is actually the antithesis of faith. At Calvary, Jesus would have none of it.

Verses 45 56 Jesus Dies On the Cross

  • All through his Passion, Jesus has been very quiet and restrained, except when he speaks from the cross. Then his voice is loud: very loud!
  • Jesus did not die the ordinary death of people crucified. Generally they spent long periods in agony, and exhaustion, progressing eventually to unconsciousness in a coma. Our Lord was conscious to the very last breath.
  • There are many explanations (some of them very strained) for the recitation of Psalm 22 (or at least the first verse) by Jesus.
  • For a devout practising Jew, as Jesus most certainly was, this is a perfectly normal thing to do in dire circumstances. Whether he actually recited verbally, or within, the whole Psalm is immaterial. To any devout Jew, the recollection of one thought from a Psalm engaged them in the sentiments of the whole. There is no mystery about Jesus saying:

"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

This is the Word Made Flesh, God the Son, the all truly human Son of Man scouring the depths of human predicament. It is not a cry of interior abandonment. It is the fully human Jesus of Nazareth who at the depths of crisis can affirm his total acknowledgement of God the Father - his Father. This is no fragile, delicate, effeminate relationship! This is man of God to God of man.

By reading the whole of Psalm 22 (which is essential to know our Lord's mind at this moment) we will sense his vision of what will one day come to be; and it is very exciting!

  • When our Lord is ready, and not before, he cries out with a loud voice the final time, and yields up his breath. That is his act of loving submission to his Father.
  • It was impossible for anyone to take Jesus' life. Jesus did not hang on the cross until he died in agony. He himself dismissed the breath of life. His was not a forced sacrifice but a free will offering for sin. (Recall John 10: 17 and 18).
  • Jesus welcomes the supreme moment of his life with a loud cry of satisfaction. He bows his head, not in defeat, but in sublime victory.
  • The only comment of anyone present which was recorded by Matthew, was that of the Centurion in charge of the execution:

"Truly, this was the Son of God".

Click Here for the Suffering and Death of Jesus

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