Bible Study: Palm Sunday (A)

April 13, 2014

Lesley Mazzotta, General Theological Seminary

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Matthew 27:46)

The Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings:

Isaiah 50:4-9aPsalm 31:9-16Philippians 2:5-11Matthew 26:14- 27:66

Isaiah 50:4-9a 

Isaiah 50 is the third of four servant songs found in Second Isaiah (Chapters 40-55). In this mysterious text, we meet a nameless prophet, looking for the meaning of suffering in his life. He is persecuted by his enemies: They strike his face, pull his beard, insult him and spit on him; yet despite the dire conditions, he puts complete faith in God.

He praises all that God does for him:

“The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher” (verse 4).

“The Lord GOD has opened my ear” (verse 5).

“The Lord GOD helps me” (verse 7).

“The Lord God who helps me” (verse 9).

God is in the midst of his struggle, which allows our prophet to walk through his pain and transform it, providing “the weary with a word” (verse 4 ) and a listening ear to those in need.

This is the true meaning of our Christian journey. We believe that God is always with us and intimately knows our pain, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Therefore, we, too, can transform our pain and serve others with faith and love, just as Jesus did until his final breath.

How do you see God in the midst of your life struggles?

How might our greatest challenge be transformed by God into an opportunity to care for others who are suffering in the world?

Psalm 31:9-16 

This psalm, like our Isaiah passage, is a prayer of one who suffers from rejection in the world, but chooses to fully trust in God. It reminds me of a homeless man I once met in New York City. He had a dirty face, ragged clothes, a bloodied arm and one missing leg. Despite these ailments, he was kneeling at the street corner, holding an open Bible and praying.

I imagine that this man prayed something similar to Psalm 31, crying out for God’s mercy. He was “consumed with sorrow” (verse 9), weak “because of affliction” (verse 10) and “useless as a broken pot” (verse 12). People rushed by him, “forgotten like a dead man, out of mind” (verse 13). I walked by, too, but before I did, I noticed his face. It was lifted toward the sky, glowing with God’s light.

This is the beginning of Holy week, when Jesus cries out to us in the deepest sorrow and pain imaginable. As Christians, we always find the courage to walk with him. How can we do the same for all people, even a forgotten child of God who, like Jesus, still finds the faith to pray?

Have you ever felt your “life is wasted with grief”(verse 10). How did your faith sustain you at this time?

Discuss people who cry out in our society. What do they need? How can we better serve them with God’s loving-kindness?

Philippians 2:5-11 

St. Paul begins this section of his letter to the Philippians with a clear command: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” At a time when the Roman Empire bred a culture concerned with wealth, power and status, Paul is inviting us to turn away from societal influence and focus on Jesus’ humble teachings and ways.

Serve others. Love your enemies. Do not store up treasures on Earth. Do not judge. Give to please God, not to be seen. Turn the other cheek. Do not exalt yourself. Feed the hungry. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Do not let the sun go down on your anger. Clothe the naked. Do not worry about your life. Be merciful. Have complete faith in God.

Paul goes on to remind us that the one who dies on Good Friday is not a false prophet who lost his life in vain. Jesus is the exalted son of God, and “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (verses 10-11). The way to true wealth, power and status is to empty ourselves of our worldly ways and follow Jesus, forever worthy of honor, obedience and praise.

Discuss the influence of today’s society and how it affects your ability to follow Jesus.

How do you honor, obey and praise Jesus Christ, the Lord?

Matthew 26:14- 27:66

When we read through this lengthy section of Matthew’s gospel, we see many examples of the worst of humanity: betrayal, corruption, denial, fear, anger, distress, jealousy, abuse, cruelty, anguish, neglect, taunting, confusion, temptation, despair. In the midst of it all is Jesus, our suffering yet humble and obedient servant.

Jesus knows what is going to happen. He knows he will be betrayed. He knows he will endure great pain. Yet he does not do what seems natural to us. He does not run, hide or lie to save himself. Even as he begs God to “let this cup pass” by him, he still trusts enough to pray for God’s will and continue to fulfill his purpose on earth.

Astonishingly, in these unbearable circumstances, Jesus’ actions are full of grace and love. He shares a Passover meal with Judas, his betrayer. He teaches the lesson of the sword to his captors. He shows peace when condemned by authorities. He stays silent when taunted on the cross. Jesus goes through everything and anything to show God’s mercy and forgiveness, in the darkest day to the most misguided people. Could we ever do the same?

What do you say to God in your most anguished prayers?

How can Jesus’ actions be an inspiration for us as we walk through the dark days of our lives?

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