Who do you say that I am?"
What Is Holy Week?
Week, or Great Week as it is also called, concludes the preparation
for Easter. The church in her liturgy does in a particularly
intense way this week what she does all year, which is, present the
Gospel revealed in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Gospel readings
for this week follow the Biblical order of Matthew, Mark, Luke and
John, a tie between the events of the Gospel accounts and the
liturgy that not even the three year Vatican II lectionary and its
wannabes could break.
Palmarum or Palm Sunday offers
the Passion account of Matthew. Monday in Holy Week does not have a
Passion account, but rather the passage from John where Judas'
unbelief, which like so many after him was disguised as a concern
for the poor, is expressed six days before Passover, when Jesus was
in Bethany, where Lazarus had died and and who was now at table with
Jesus. Tuesday in Holy Week offers the Passion account of Mark.
Wednesday offers that of Luke, and is sometimes called Spy Wednesday
in reference to Judas' betrayal. Maundy Thursday (aka Green
Thursday) and Good Friday (aka Lamentation Friday) both offer the
Passion account of John, Thursday for the institution of the
Eucharist and Friday for the Crucifixion.
way, the church reads through all four accounts of Jesus' suffering
and death, in New Testament order, culminating in the account of St
John, which is read over two days, and also commemorates the events
in the order they happened. Holy Thursday has the part from St John
about the Last Seder of the old covenant becoming the Divine Service
of the new covenant, and the sacrament of Communion in his body and
blood he instituted that night, but not yet the part about the
crucifixion nor any veneration of the cross. Good Friday has the part
about the crucifixion and death in which he gave his body and blood
for us historically, and the veneration of the cross, but not
Communion which he gave for us sacramentally the night before he
suffered as the pledge of the redemption gained in his historical act
the night he suffered.
Thus we have Jesus' entry into
Jerusalem, the sacramental event of his body and blood, and the
historical event of his body in blood, in both the readings and the
services in their order.
Palmarum, or Palm Sunday.
events we the church remember this Palmarum day ask us who do we
say Jesus is, because they present one answer to this question. We
already know the end of the week's story -- the man welcomed with
wild cheering by the crowds this day in a few days will be executed as a
criminal among criminals.
But this day, such an
end is not in sight -- except to Jesus. Covering a person's path is a
sign of great esteem, widely practiced in the ancient near East and
still a part of our mentality, as in "roll out the red carpet" from
the custom of royalty. Joshua was given the same triumphal accord.
Joshua -- who led the people into the Promised Land as the Lawgiver
Moses could not. Joshua -- a name that is with the name Jesus a
variant of the same name, who would lead the people into the eternal
Promised Land as the Lawgiver Moses could not. Here, perhaps, was
the Messiah! Here, perhaps, was the triumphal entry into Jerusalem
of the Messiah predicted by Zechariah, to whom our Gospel account,
So how does the wild joy of seeing
what is or at least may well be the Messiah come turn to a criminal's
execution? It is not because Jesus turns out not to be Messiah, but
because Messiah turns out not to be the Messiah we want.
not Zechariah speak of the removal of chariots and war horses from
Jerusalem, breaking battle bows, with a reign of peace from the
Jordan throughout the Earth? Yes he does, but let us not
congratulate ourselves by saying that thinking of the Messiah in the
political and social terms of removing the Roman occupation from
the land was the failing of the Jews of Jesus' place and time,
something that no Jew or Gentile in more enlightened times, oh, say
us in our time, would ever do.
It wasn't a reaction
to the Romans. The mainstream of the entire Prophetic tradition, from
the Prophets themselves to the atmosphere in which the Apostles
were raised to our own time, is that Messiah is a man, not God, not a
God-Man, who will usher in a lasting era of universal peace here in
this world, not a world to come, in which the light of the true God
first given to a nation called out from the nations will be
extended to all nations -- nothing about sin, forgiveness,
Is that not the Messiah we all want
-- Jew and Gentile alike, then as now? A Messiah in earthly terms,
one who will straighten out the mess of things here on earth, with
no reference to the mess being of our making, one who allows us to
live long and prosper right here, one who asks not repentance and
conversion but simply to do good works like he did, one who is about
giving us a purpose driven life rather than giving us the sacrifice
that takes away our sin, one who is about about giving us our best
life now rather than eternal life, one whose religion is not about
what he has done but what we will do to follow him? And do we not,
Jew and Gentile alike, then as now, turn away from him when he turns
out to be not the Messiah we wanted?
do not believe Jesus is Messiah not because they fail to see how
Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophecy, but because they do not see
the Messianic prophecy as pointing to anything like Jesus. This was a
persistent problem even for the Apostles. Gentiles typically do not
believe Jesus is the Messiah not because they fail to see how Jesus
fulfills the Messianic prophecy, in fact many of them say he does,
but because they too find the Messianic prophecy to be a matter of a
good man showing us the way to live as good people, to become
better people, and find in Jesus such a man. That is why Scripture
describes the Gospel as a stumbling block to the Jews and
foolishness to the Gentiles.
In the Hellenistic,
which is to say Greek based, culture that surrounded Jesus' time and
place, many religions existed featuring gods who had miraculous
births, worked miracles, acted on behalf of man, entered the city,
died and rose again, and whose followers partook of rites of bathing
and eating and sacrifices, called mysteries, which the Romans
termed sacraments. The Greek Dionysus, whom the Romans appropriated as
Bacchus, the Persian Mithra and the Egyptian Osiris are the best
examples but there are many others.
Is this Jesus
too? Is he simply another failed Jewish Messiah, whose followers,
when what will happen after Messiah comes didn't happen after he
came, simply recast Messiah in the Hellenistic terms to fit Jesus so
they could continue to say he was Messiah after all, thereby
obscuring his true value as a moral teacher? Or, is he simply another
Hellenistic mystery cult figure, perpetuated by those who derived
power from presiding over the mysteries, obscuring the real Jesus
and his true value as a moral teacher?
Who Do Men Say That I Am?
he didn't see that coming? That's why he asked the question "Who do
you say that I am?" But note, that was not Jesus' first question.
The first question was "Who do men say that I am?" And indeed, who DO
we say that he is -- one of the great prophets of Hebrew Scripture
come back, one of the great moral teachers in human history over
whom, as with other great teachers, has been laid religious fables by
those who claim to follow him but in fact falsify the historical
person for a figure of faith, and in any case, a teacher, a model, an
Would we not cover the path of such a
figure with palms, since that is the saviour we want? And would we
not be just as mistaken as those who covered his path thinking here
was deliverance from the Roman oppression and the start of the era
of peace? And, on finding out that is not who he is, would we not
shout as well, Away with him!
Who Do You Say That I Am?
is still who men say he is. So then he asks, Who do you say that I
am? Simon answered, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
And Jesus told him flesh and blood had not revealed this to him,
but his Father who is in heaven. Flesh and blood, that is, human
wisdom, never reveals this unto us because it is beyond all human
wisdom and contradicts all human wisdom. Therefore it cannot be
arrived at by human wisdom nor chosen by human decision, but is the
gift of the God and only the gift of God.
abilities even with Law and Prophecy and Writings from God could not
grasp it; human wisdom apart from revelation constructs bits and
pieces of it around mere fable characters who cannot deliver. Either
way the natural knowledge of God written in every human heart
strives for something it senses is there but cannot discern, and
which can only be given by the gift of God.
Sanhedrin had it exactly right. Jesus was not executed because he
said he was the Messiah. One can claim that, and simply be wrong or
right. The Messiah is a great man, but a man. He was executed
because he said he was God. One cannot claim that without
blaspheming God -- unless it is true. We'll take a Messiah who is a
great man and leader and teacher, we'll lay palms to cover his path,
we'll rejoice that what we want is at hand, but when it turns out
instead he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things of the elders
and chief priests and scribes and be killed to be raised again on
the third day, well, it shall not be like that with the Messiah we
want, and thus we become an offence to him, Satan, savouring the
things of Man rather than God.
Who do men say Jesus
is? All kinds of things, as we have seen. Things for which we will
joyfully lay palms to cover his path, or at least accord him a place
in the gallery of the great teachers and moral figures to be so
And then he asks each of us, Who do YOU say that I am?
Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!
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