Revised Common Lectionary Commentary

Passion Sunday - Liturgy of the Palms - April 5, 2020

Saint Dominic contemplating the Scriptures

Saint Dominic
contemplating the Scriptures

Comments have been prepared by Chris Haslam using reputable commentaries, and checked for accuracy by the Venerable Alan T Perry, of the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. While not intended to be exhaustive, they are an aid to reading the Scriptures with greater understanding.

Comments are best read with the lessons.

Feedback to is always welcome.

Lessons for this week from the Vanderbilt University web site

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Symbol of St Matthew


This gospel is the first in the New Testament, but it was probably the second to be written. Scholars recognize that it borrows material from Mark, and from a sayings source containing sayings of Jesus and known as Q (for Quelle, German for source). The author shows an understanding of Jewish culture and religion not found in the other gospels. It was probably written about 80 to 90 AD, possibly for a largely Jewish audience.

Matthew 21:1-11

In Matthew, Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem from the east, from Jericho ( 10:29). The “Mount of Olives” ( 21:1) is east of the city; “Bethphage” is one of the few villages on it. It is likely that “the village” ( 21:2) is Bethany, where Lazarus, Mary and Martha live.

The disciples are to find a “donkey” ( 21:2) with her “colt”, a “foal” ( 21:5). That the owner of the animals will send them “immediately” ( 21:3) suggests that he is a follower of Jesus. Jesus is “king” ( 21:5), but a “humble” one, not the political and military leader people expected. 21:7 says Jesus “sat on them”; perhaps he sits on the mother donkey, and the “foal” trots alongside.

Matthew, keen to show that Jesus fulfils Old Testament prophecies, recalls Zechariah 9:9: there a king comes to Jerusalem in the manner that Jesus does now. Spreading “their cloaks on the road” ( 21:8) honours Jesus, as it did Jehu when he was proclaimed king. Only John 12:13 tells us that the “branches” were from palm trees.

The crowds outside the city shout “Hosanna” ( 21:9): here a cry of joyous acclamation; they hail him as heir to the throne of David, then shout part of Psalm 118:26. He deserves honour and praise not only from people, but also from angelic beings “in the highest heaven”.

Jesus’ reception in the city ( 21:11) is different: the crowds there see him as the prophet from Galilee, not understanding his mission. His entry does cause “turmoil” ( 21:10): the Greek word is also used to refer the effect of an earthquake!


Psalms is a collection of collections. The psalms were written over many centuries, stretching from the days of Solomon's temple (about 950 BC) to after the Exile (about 350 BC.) Psalms are of five types: hymns of praise, laments, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, and wisdom psalms. Within the book, there are five "books"; there is a doxology ("Blessed be ... Amen and Amen") at the end of each book.

Psalm 118:1-2,19-29

Vv. 1-2 are a call to thanksgiving: God’s mercy, his “steadfast love”, is everlasting. May “Israel” (v. 2) (and) “those who fear the Lord” (v. 4) proclaim this! Vv. 5-13 say that, when the psalmist (possibly the king) was in distress, he “called on the Lord”, who heard him. With God on his side, there is nothing to fear; trusting in God is better than trusting in humans. Surrounded by his enemies, “in the name of the Lord I cut them off” (v. 11), with God’s help.

V. 15 recalls Exodus 15:2a, part of Israel’s classic victory song sung by Moses and the Israelites after crossing the Reed (Red) Sea. The “glad songs” are heard in the Temple, the community of the faithful.

The psalmist expects to live to old age (v. 17); he will proclaim God’s acts of power. He has suffered greatly at God’s hands, as a discipline, but God has preserved his life. He seeks entrance to the Temple (“gates of righteousness”, v. 19) to give thanks; only the godly may enter therein (v. 20). V. 22, possibly based on an ancient proverb, may speak of the king’s rise to power or of his victory. On this day (v. 24) God has either saved his people or punished the ungodly – or both. This is a time for rejoicing. In v. 26, all proclaim he who was “rejected” (v. 22), but is now God’s chosen ruler. Note the progression in vv. 26-29: “festal procession”, “extol” (raise up), everlasting love.

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