At the end of the Gospel during the blessing of the Palm Branches, we hear the evangelist report that the people of Jerusalem ask "Who is this man?" The response they receive is that this is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth.
Before that question was asked, Jesus was referred to as the Teacher when he requested the service of the colt for his ride into Jerusalem. As he entered the city, the crowds hailed him as the Son of David.
When the Gospel for Mass was read, the story of the Passion is related about the man who is called Teacher, Rabbi, the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Son of Man, and the King of the Jews. However, the voices who name him use these terms in mockery and sarcasm. Some of them are uttered by unbelievers; others are said by his persecutors.
At the end of the Gospel, the Roman centurion and his cohort, pagans all, make a statement of faith, "Truly, this was the Son of God." What irony! Jesus came among his own people, but his own rejected him. The only ones to name him correctly are Roman soldiers who have just executed him. Previously in the Gospel, the demons which were expelled by Jesus were also able to name him. However, none of the so-called believers ever do so.
In another touch of irony, we are told by St. Matthew that the disciples who had gone to Gethsemane to pray with Jesus fled from him when he was arrested. The very ones who "left everything to follow him" in the opening chapters of the Gospel, leave everything to get away from him as his passion begins, in the hour of his greatest need.
St. Matthew's use of irony in writing the passion narrative is intended to pose the question for us. Who is this man? How do we name him? The most powerful way to answer the question is through the example of our lives. While we may be able to correctly identify him in our words, unless we do so by our living out the Gospel, our words are empty and will echo through the ages just as the words of the high priest, of Pilate, of Judas, and the soldiers continue to echo through the centuries.
I could not help but notice when I returned from Mass today where I basically preached the homily contained in this blog that Pope Francis asked many of the same questions in his off-the-cuff and unusual homily in Rome. I would urge you to "google" that homily and listen to the questions he raises.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator