The Trial and Execution of Jesus
Palm Sunday Year A
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Matthew 27: 11 — 54
At this solemn time in the Christian Calendar the full account of the Passion of Jesus is read from each of the Gospel accounts. The word “Passion” is the traditional term used for the sufferings of Jesus, leading to His crucifixion.
Our word “passion” comes to us from the Latin “patior”, to suffer. The same Latin root gives “patiens”, meaning, “bearing”, or “enduring”, and obviously, “patient.” The term is therefore very applicable to describe the monumental suffering of Jesus when we read how it all unfolded in the Gospels.
Instead of us trying to cover, in detail, the whole account of the Passion, we have selected for meditation a portion of 43 verses in Matthew 27. Again, instead of our usual narrative, we will focus on one main meditation point in each section of the reading.
Recommended Devotions on our website:
1. Little Office of the Passion
especially any Thursday evening to Friday night.
2. Visit to the Crucifix
any time, any day.
Some Reflections on the Text
Verses 11 — 14 Jesus Faces Pilate
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned
him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.”
12 And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders,
he made no answer.
13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many
things they are testifying against you?”
14 But he did not answer him one word, so that the
governor was greatly amazed.
If we read any Gospel account of the Passion, two things are immediately obvious:
a) There is a lack of condemnation by the disciples or by the writer.
b) The only ones accusing and cursing are Jesus’ opponents.
In this short section Jesus declines to answer any of the charges made against Him. They are all false, and He therefore refuses to give them a status they do not deserve.
Verses 15 — 26 Taking the Place of Barabbas
15 Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed
to release to the crowd one prisoner whom they wished.
16 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called (Jesus)
17 So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them,
“Which one do you want me to release to you, (Jesus)
Barabbas, or Jesus called Messiah?”
18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed
19 While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a
message, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man. I
suffered much in a dream today because of him.”
20 The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to
ask for Barabbas but to destroy Jesus.
21 The governor said to them in reply, “Which of the two do
you want me to release to you?” They answered, “Barabbas!”
22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus
called Messiah?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!”
23 But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only
shouted the louder, “Let him be crucified!”
24 When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that
a riot was breaking out instead, he took water and washed his
hands in the sight of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this
man’s blood. Look to it yourselves.”
25 And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon
us and upon our children.”
26 Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had
Jesus scourged, he handed him over to be crucified.
Even the Emperors at Rome came out in a cold sweat at the mention of Pilate’s name; such was his reputation for cruel brutality and ruthless extermination of troublemakers.
Yet, on this occasion, even he can see no purpose whatsoever in executing this poor bewildered, gentle man! When the rabble-rousers start chanting for the crucifixion of Jesus, Pilate, in a rare moment of social justice, tries to moderate the extreme views of the religious authorities.
“Why, what evil has he done?”
Sadly Jesus’ opponents detect they have Pilate on the back foot. There will be no let-up from now on!
Verses 27 — 31 The Soldiers Mock Jesus
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the
praetorium and gathered the whole cohort around him.
28 They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military
cloak about him.
29 Weaving a crown out of thorns, they placed it on his head,
and a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they
mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
30 They spat upon him and took the reed and kept striking
him on the head.
31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of
the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to
The King of Kings is crowned with a hastily made crown of poisonous spines. As if that isn’t enough, they beat it down on our Lord’s head with the rod they had put in His hand, to get all the spines digging into His head.
The soldiers enjoy the spectacle. The blood everywhere goads them on. They taunt our Lord and push Him around. Jesus remains entirely silent, yet totally dignified, despite the unjustified treatment.
Verses 32 — 44 The King On A Cross
32 As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon;
this man they pressed into service to carry his cross.
33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha
(which means Place of the Skull),
34 they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. But when
he had tasted it, he refused to drink.
35 After they had crucified him, they divided his garments
by casting lots;
36 then they sat down and kept watch over him there.
37 “And they placed over his head the written charge
against him: This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.
38 Two revolutionaries were crucified with him, one on his
right and the other on his left.
39 Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads
40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and
rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the
Son of God, (and) come down from the cross!”
41 Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders
mocked him and said,
42 He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the
king of Israel! Let him come down from the cross now,
and we will believe in him.
43 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants
him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'”
44 The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also
kept abusing him in the same way.
The self-proclaimed enemies of our Lord get their way and make the most of it. When the cross is raised and bedded firmly in the ground, the most senior religious authorities try to make a deal with the Lord.
“If he is the King of Israel,
let him now come down from the cross,
and then we will believe in him.”
In other words, provide us with evidence so overwhelming that we will simply be unable not to believe. We had better not get too indignant. After all, this is still the most common challenge put to God, if He wants to have plenty of followers. We would do well to recognise that in our times many people crave for just this sort of evidence if they are to “believe”. The associates of some so-called evangelists and the promoters of some places of pilgrimage (or should we say the travel agents and tour organisers who are doing very well out of piety) consistently proclaim that they can lead you to miracles which speak for themselves! We need to be very discerning in such matters. All this can actually be the antithesis of faith. At Calvary, Jesus would have none of it. Little has changed over the centuries, and we need to be rather careful about making the same mistakes.
Verses 45 — 54 Jesus Dies On the Cross
45 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land
until three in the afternoon.
46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?”
47 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is
calling for Elijah.”
48 Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked
it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him to drink.
49 But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to
50 But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up
51 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two
from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split,
52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who
had fallen asleep were raised.
53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection,
they entered the holy city and appeared to many.
54 The centurion and the men with him who were keeping
watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake
and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the
Son of God!”
• All through his Passion, Jesus has been very quiet and restrained,
except when He speaks from the cross. Then His voice is loud: very loud!
• Jesus did not die the ordinary death of people crucified. Generally they
spent long periods in agony, and exhaustion, progressing eventually
to unconsciousness in a coma. Our Lord was conscious to the very
• There are many explanations (some of them rather strained) regarding
the recitation of Psalm 22 (or at least the first verse) by Jesus.
• For a devout practising Jew, as Jesus most certainly was, this is a
perfectly normal thing to do in dire circumstances. It is
immaterial whether He actually recited the whole Psalm audibly or
within. To any devout Jew, the recollection of one thought from a
Psalm engaged them in the sentiments of the whole. There is no
mystery about Jesus saying:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is the Word Made Flesh, God the Son, the all truly human Son of Man scouring the depths of the human predicament. It is not a cry of interior abandonment. It is the fully human Jesus of Nazareth who at the depths of crisis can affirm His total acknowledgement of God the Father — His Father. This is no fragile, delicate, effeminate relationship! This is man of God to God of man.
By reading the whole of Psalm 22 (which is essential to know our Lord’s mind at this moment) we will sense His vision of what will one day come to be; and it is very, very exciting!
• When our Lord is ready, and not before, He cries out with a loud voice
the final time, and yields up His breath. That is His act of loving
submission to His Father.
• It was impossible for anyone to take Jesus’ life. Jesus did not hang
on the cross until He died in agony. He Himself dismissed the breath
of life. His was not a forced sacrifice but a free will offering for sin.
(Recall John 10: 17 and 18).
• Our crucified Messiah welcomes the supreme moment of His life with
a loud cry of satisfaction. He bows His head, not in defeat, but in sublime
• The only comment of anyone present which was recorded by St. Matthew,
was that of the Centurion in charge of the execution:
“Truly, this was the Son of God”.
Blessed be the most Holy Name of Yeshua — Jesus, Son of God
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(Mark 16: 15)
The real Jesus, is the real answer to the real needs of the world!
Let us remember God’s teaching, contained in His Word and in doing
The Trial and Execution of Jesus
Palm Sunday Year A St. Matthew 27: 11 to 54
1. Throughout the world today, especially the “West”, people are
2. All the way through the tragic drama narrated for us, our Lord
3. The solemn reading of Psalm 22 during these days of Holy
Let us pray for one another to remain loyal to our Lord even when so much seems to be falling apart. Let us seek genuinely His Gospel teaching and constantly renew our faith in Him. Powerful movements in contemporary society are seeking with all their might to remove Christianity especially from Western society. This situation is tragic, but we cannot become traumatised by fear or sorrows: we have to rally to our Saviour’s call — “If any would come after me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.”
Matthew 27: 11 — 54
Lent 2 Year A
11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and he questioned him, “Are
12 And when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, 7 he made
13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they are
14 But he did not answer him one word, so that the governor was
15 8 Now on the occasion of the feast the governor was accustomed to
16 9 And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called (Jesus)
17 So when they had assembled, Pilate said to them, “Which one do you
18 10 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had handed him over.
19 11 While he was still seated on the bench, his wife sent him a message,
20 The chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for
21 The governor said to them in reply, “Which of the two do you want me
22 12 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus called
23 But he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” They only shouted the
24 13 When Pilate saw that he was not succeeding at all, but that a riot
25 And the whole people said in reply, “His blood be upon us and upon
26 Then he released Barabbas to them, but after he had Jesus scourged,
27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus inside the praetorium
28 They stripped off his clothes and threw a scarlet military cloak 16
30 They spat upon him 18 and took the reed and kept striking him on
31 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the cloak,
32 19 As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this
33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place
34 they gave Jesus wine to drink mixed with gall. 20 But when he had
35 After they had crucified him, they divided his garments 21 by casting
36 then they sat down and kept watch over him there.
37 “And they placed over his head the written charge 22 against him:
38 Two revolutionaries 23 were crucified with him, one on his right and
39 24 Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads
40 and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in
41 Likewise the chief priests with the scribes and elders mocked him
42 He saved others; he cannot save himself. So he is the king of Israel!
43 26 He trusted in God; let him deliver him now if he wants him. For he
44 The revolutionaries who were crucified with him also kept abusing
45 27 From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three
46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice,
47 29 Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling
48 Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in
49 But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.”
50 30 But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit.
51 And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to
52 tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen
53 And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they
54 32 The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over
1 [1-31] Cf ⇒ Mark 15:1-20. Matthew’s account of the Roman trial before Pilate is introduced by a consultation of the Sanhedrin after which Jesus is handed over to . . . the governor (⇒ Matthew 27:1-2). Matthew follows his Marcan source closely but adds some material that is peculiar to him, the death of Judas (⇒ Matthew 27:3-10), possibly the name Jesus as the name of Barabbas also (⇒ Matthew 27:16-17), the intervention of Pilate’s wife (⇒ Matthew 27:19), Pilate’s washing his hands in token of his disclaiming responsibility for Jesus’ death (⇒ Matthew 27:24), and the assuming of that responsibility by the whole people (⇒ Matthew 27:25).
2  There is scholarly disagreement about the meaning of the Sanhedrin’s taking counsel (symboulion elabon; cf ⇒ Matthew 12:14; ⇒ 22:15; ⇒ 27:7; ⇒ 28:12); see the note on ⇒ Mark 15:1. Some understand it as a discussion about the strategy for putting their death sentence against Jesus into effect since they lacked the right to do so themselves. Others see it as the occasion for their passing that sentence, holding that Matthew, unlike Mark (⇒ Mark 14:64), does not consider that it had been passed in the night session (⇒ Matthew 26:66). Even in the latter interpretation, their handing him over to Pilate is best explained on the hypothesis that they did not have competence to put their sentence into effect, as is stated in ⇒ John 18:31.
4 [5-8] For another tradition about the death of Judas, cf ⇒ Acts 1:18-19. The two traditions agree only in the purchase of a field with the money paid to Judas for his betrayal of Jesus and the name given to the field, the Field of Blood. In Acts Judas himself buys the field and its name comes from his own blood shed in his fatal accident on it. The potter’s field: this designation of the field is based on the fulfillment citation in ⇒ Matthew 27:10.
5 [9-10] Cf ⇒ Matthew 26:15. Matthew’s attributing this text to Jeremiah is puzzling, for there is no such text in that book, and the thirty pieces of silver thrown by Judas “into the temple” (⇒ Matthew 27:5) recall rather ⇒ Zechariah 11:12-13. It is usually said that the attribution of the text to Jeremiah is due to Matthew’s combining the Zechariah text with texts from Jeremiah that speak of a potter (⇒ Jeremiah 18:2-3), the buying of a field (⇒ Jeremiah 32:6-9), or the breaking of a potter’s flask at Topheth in the valley of Ben-hinnom with the prediction that it will become a burial place (⇒ Jeremiah 19:1-13).
6  King of the Jews: this title is used of Jesus only by pagans. The Matthean instances are, besides this verse, ⇒ Matthew 2:2; ⇒ 27:29, ⇒ 37. Matthew equates it with “Messiah”; cf ⇒ Matthew 2:2, 4 and ⇒ Matthew 27:17, ⇒ 22 where he has changed “the king of the Jews” of his Marcan source (⇒ Mark 15:9, ⇒ 12) to “(Jesus) called Messiah.” The normal political connotation of both titles would be of concern to the Roman governor. You say so: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 26:25. An unqualified affirmative response is not made because Jesus’ kingship is not what Pilate would understand it to be.
8 [15-26] The choice that Pilate offers the crowd between Barabbas and Jesus is said to be in accordance with a custom of releasing at the Passover feast one prisoner chosen by the crowd (⇒ Matthew 27:15). This custom is mentioned also in ⇒ Mark 15:6 and ⇒ John 18:39 but not in Luke; see the note on ⇒ Luke 23:17. Outside of the gospels there is no direct attestation of it, and scholars are divided in their judgment of the historical reliability of the claim that there was such a practice.
9 [16-17] [Jesus] Barabbas: it is possible that the double name is the original reading; Jesus was a common Jewish name; see the note on ⇒ Matthew 1:21. This reading is found in only a few textual witnesses, although its absence in the majority can be explained as an omission of Jesus made for reverential reasons. That name is bracketed because of its uncertain textual attestation. The Aramaic name Barabbas means “son of the father”; the irony of the choice offered between him and Jesus, the true son of the Father, would be evident to those addressees of Matthew who knew that.
10  Cf ⇒ Mark 14:10. This is an example of the tendency, found in varying degree in all the gospels, to present Pilate in a relatively favorable light and emphasize the hostility of the Jewish authorities and eventually of the people.
12  Let him be crucified: incited by the chief priests and elders (⇒ Matthew 27:20), the crowds demand that Jesus be executed by crucifixion, a peculiarly horrible form of Roman capital punishment. The Marcan parallel, “Crucify him” (⇒ Mark 15:3), addressed to Pilate, is changed by Matthew to the passive, probably to emphasize the responsibility of the crowds.
13 [24-25] Peculiar to Matthew. Took water . . . blood: cf ⇒ Deut 21:1-8, the handwashing prescribed in the case of a murder when the killer is unknown. The elders of the city nearest to where the corpse is found must wash their hands, declaring, “Our hands did not shed this blood.” Look to it yourselves: cf ⇒ Matthew 27:4. The whole people: Matthew sees in those who speak these words the entire people (Greek laos) of Israel. His blood . . . and upon our children: cf ⇒ Jeremiah 26:15. The responsibility for Jesus’ death is accepted by the nation that was God’s special possession (⇒ Exodus 19:5), his own people (Hosea 2:23), and they thereby lose that high privilege; see ⇒ Matthew 21:43 and the note on that verse. The controversy between Matthew’s church and Pharisaic Judaism about which was the true people of God is reflected here. As the Second Vatican Council has pointed out, guilt for Jesus’ death is not attributable to all the Jews of his time or to any Jews of later times.
14  He had Jesus scourged: the usual preliminary to crucifixion.
15  The praetorium: the residence of the Roman governor. His usual place of residence was at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast, but he went to Jerusalem during the great feasts, when the influx of pilgrims posed the danger of a nationalistic riot. It is disputed whether the praetorium in Jerusalem was the old palace of Herod in the west of the city or the fortress of Antonia northwest of the temple area. The whole cohort: normally six hundred soldiers.
17  Crown out of thorns: probably of long thorns that stood upright so that it resembled the “radiant” crown, a diadem with spikes worn by Hellenistic kings. The soldiers’ purpose was mockery, not torture. A reed: peculiar to Matthew; a mock scepter.
19  See the note on ⇒ Mark 15:21. Cyrenian named Simon: Cyrenaica was a Roman province on the north coast of Africa and Cyrene was its capital city. The city had a large population of Greek-speaking Jews. Simon may have been living in Palestine or have come there for the Passover as a pilgrim. Pressed into service: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 5:41.
20  Wine . . . mixed with gall: cf ⇒ Mark 15:23 where the drink is “wine drugged with myrrh,” a narcotic. Matthew’s text is probably an inexact allusion to ⇒ Psalm 69:22. That psalm belongs to the class called the individual lament, in which a persecuted just man prays for deliverance in the midst of great suffering and also expresses confidence that his prayer will be heard. That theme of the suffering Just One is frequently applied to the sufferings of Jesus in the passion narratives.
21  The clothing of an executed criminal went to his executioner(s), but the description of that procedure in the case of Jesus, found in all the gospels, is plainly inspired by ⇒ Psalm 22:18. However, that psalm verse is quoted only in ⇒ John 19:24.
22  The offense of a person condemned to death by crucifixion was written on a tablet that was displayed on his cross. The charge against Jesus was that he had claimed to be the King of the Jews (cf ⇒ Matthew 27:11), i.e., the Messiah (cf ⇒ Matthew 27:17, ⇒ 22).
24 [39-40] Reviled him . . . heads: cf ⇒ Psalm 22:8. You who would destroy . . . three days; cf ⇒ Matthew 26:61. If you are the Son of God: the same words as those of the devil in the temptation of Jesus; cf ⇒ Matthew 4:3, 6.
25  King of Israel: in their mocking of Jesus the members of the Sanhedrin call themselves and their people not “the Jews” but Israel.
28  Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?: Jesus cries out in the words of ⇒ Psalm 22:2, a psalm of lament that is the Old Testament passage most frequently drawn upon in this narrative. In Mark the verse is cited entirely in Aramaic, which Matthew partially retains but changes the invocation of God to the Hebrew Eli, possibly because that is more easily related to the statement of the following verse about Jesus’ calling for Elijah.
29  Elijah: see the note on ⇒ Matthew 3:4. This prophet, taken up into heaven (⇒ 2 Kings 2:11), was believed to come to the help of those in distress, but the evidences of that belief are all later than the gospels.
30  Gave up his spirit: cf the Marcan parallel (⇒ Mark 15:37), “breathed his last.” Matthew’s alteration expresses both Jesus’ control over his destiny and his obedient giving up of his life to God.
31 [51-53] Veil of the sanctuary . . . bottom: cf ⇒ Mark 15:38; ⇒ Luke 23:45. Luke puts this event immediately before the death of Jesus. There were two veils in the Mosaic tabernacle on the model of which the temple was constructed, the outer one before the entrance of the Holy Place and the inner one before the Holy of Holies (see ⇒ Exodus 26:31-36). Only the high priest could pass through the latter and that only on the Day of Atonement (see ⇒ Lev 16:1-18). Probably the torn veil of the gospels is the inner one. The meaning of the scene may be that now, because of Jesus’ death, all people have access to the presence of God, or that the temple, its holiest part standing exposed, is now profaned and will soon be destroyed. The earth quaked . . . appeared to many: peculiar to Matthew. The earthquake, the splitting of the rocks, and especially the resurrection of the dead saints indicate the coming of the final age. In the Old Testament the coming of God is frequently portrayed with the imagery of an earthquake (see ⇒ Psalm 68:9; ⇒ 77:19), and Jesus speaks of the earthquakes that will accompany the “labor pains” that signify the beginning of the dissolution of the old world (⇒ Matthew 24:7-8). For the expectation of the resurrection of the dead at the coming of the new and final age, see ⇒ Daniel 12:1-3. Matthew knows that the end of the old age has not yet come (⇒ Matthew 28:20), but the new age has broken in with the death (and resurrection; cf the earthquake in ⇒ Matthew 28:2) of Jesus; see the note on ⇒ Matthew 16:28. After his resurrection: this qualification seems to be due to Matthew’s wish to assert the primacy of Jesus’ resurrection even though he has placed the resurrection of the dead saints immediately after Jesus’ death.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
Appendix Psalm 22