March 20, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Palm Sunday
Reading I (Isaiah 50:4-7) Reading II (Philippians 2:6-11)
Gospel (St. Matthew 26:14-27:66)
In the Gospel reading that we just heard, Our Lord spoke on two occasions, saying, This is the way it has to be in order to fulfill the prophets. This is a very important statement because Jesus Christ came to fulfill completely the law and the prophets. God says through the prophet Amos that He will do nothing in this world without first telling us through His servants the prophets. Therefore, what we can do is search the Scriptures and we can find all the various prophecies regarding the Messiah. We will see that God never said that He would send Mohammed or Buddha (or anyone else, for that matter), but He did say that He would send His own Son. The Second Psalm, for instance, says, You are My son, this day I have begotten you.
When we look at the Old Testament, the Jewish rabbis had gone through with a fine-tooth comb and they had realized that there were 350 specific prophecies regarding the Messiah, 350 different things that needed to be fulfilled. Some of them could be fulfilled by any number of people. He had to be born in Bethlehem. Well, there were lots of boys born in Bethlehem over the years. He had to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey. Well, there were thousands of men who rode into Jerusalem on donkeys. But there were lots of other things. He had to be born of a virgin. There is only one Person in human history Who has fulfilled that. He would have to be crucified.
When we look at Psalm 22, which is what we heard in the Responsorial Psalm today, this is a psalm of prophecy. It is a prayer. It is a most amazing thing because one has to wonder what King David had seen or endured 1,000 years before Jesus came, because in Psalm 22 he talks about how they have put holes in my hands and my feet; I can number all my bones; they cast lots for my vesture; they wag their heads and laugh. You read down Psalm 22 and you begin to see that this is not a cry of a man who is despairing on the cross, which is what so many people seem to think when they hear those words: My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? That is the first line of the Twenty-second Psalm. It is not a cry of despair; it is a prayer. It is Our Lord’s way of showing us that what is happening to Him is the fulfillment of what had been spoken.
And so in all 350 things, we see the fulfillment in Jesus Christ. There is no one else in human history who has even come close to fulfilling all of these things. There is only one Person in human history Who has fulfilled every last one of them, right to the point of Zechariah saying, They will look upon him whom they have pierced through, and they will mourn over him as one mourns for an only son. This is, again, exactly what we see.
It is also quite interesting to hear in the Gospel reading the words of the high priest, the words which are placed upon the lips of the people today, speaking as the high priest and the Pharisees, and in essence quoting almost word for word what we read in the Book of Wisdom in the second chapter when they tell him, If you are God’s son, come down from that cross. Recall what they said in the Book of Wisdom that this is what these evil people thought, thinking not aright: Let us condemn the just man to a shameful death. Let us have proof of his goodness and his meekness, for if God is his Father, as he claims, God will save him. Well, they were thinking not aright. They looked at Jesus upon the Cross and they said, Come down from that cross and then we will believe in you! Our Lord, on the other hand, stayed upon the Cross so that we could believe in Him. Nowhere was it ever prophesied that the Messiah would come down from His cross, but it was prophesied very clearly that He would have to be crucified with holes in His hands and His feet, and that He would be put to death – and put to a shameful death.
But it is very interesting that the Church gives to us the reading from the prophet Isaiah, one of the Suffering Servant songs. We hear about how He gave His face to those who spit upon Him, His beard to those who would pluck it, and His back to those who would beat Him. At the end of the reading it says, But the Lord God is my help, therefore I am not ashamed. And knowing, it says, that He would not be put to shame, He turned His face like flint. We condemned Him to the most shameful, inhuman sorts of things that we could think of, but He was not put to shame because He was doing the Will of His heavenly Father.
As we heard in the second reading from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, Jesus humbled Himself. He humbled Himself so far that it was not enough for Him to be conceived in the womb of a human woman, it was not enough for Him to be a tiny helpless human baby who was dependent on His mother, it was not enough for Him to live a life of poverty and to be ridiculed throughout His entire life, but, as Saint Paul tells us, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient even to death on a cross. That is the humility of Almighty God Who has come to us to teach us what love is.
And so it is only by looking at the Cross and by looking upon Him on the Cross that we have salvation. There is only one means to salvation, and that is the Cross of Jesus Christ. Unlike the chief priest and the Pharisees who said, Come down from that cross and we will believe, we must be like Our Lady and Saint John who stood at the foot of the Cross right where the chief priest and the scribes were as well. They believed because He fulfilled the Scriptures and did not come down from that cross. The Cross, as Saint Paul tells the Corinthians, is a stumbling block to the Jews and it is foolishness to the Greeks. It is a scandal to those who do not believe, but he says: For those who believe, it is the wisdom of God and it is the power of God. Saint Paul had determined that he would preach nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. The Cross of Christ is our only hope – there is nothing else. Search the world and you will find nothing that will bring you to heaven except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Search the Scriptures and you will find nothing that is going to bring salvation to your soul except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
How grateful we must be that He did not come down from the Cross. And how in our hearts we have to look at Him Who had been condemned to a shameful death and see that He is not ashamed, but rather that He is exalted because of His humility, that He is brought into the fullness of heaven and brings to the fullness of life all of those who will follow Him to the Cross in what is not in the least bit shameful but is a perfect act of love. So the Church asks us now in this final week, in this most holy of all weeks as we prepare ourselves for the celebration of Easter, that we will enter with Our Lord into His Passion, that we will meditate upon these things that we have just read in the Gospels, that we will look at the prophecies. Read Isaiah 52 and 53, read the Suffering Servant Songs, read Psalm 22, read Psalm 69; see the things that were there that were prophesied thousands of years before Jesus came, and see their fulfillment in Him. Do not wish that He would come down from the Cross in order to believe, but rather be like Mary and John; stand at the foot of His Cross and – precisely because He did not come down from the Cross – believe, and know that there is no other means of salvation than the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.