Palm Sunday (B) Homilies

Our Sunday Visitor

He opens my ear that I may hear

Reading I:  Isaiah 50:4-7

  • The first reading from Isaiah is taken from the third “Song of the Suffering Servant.”
  • It shows us the disciple whose faithfulness is based on fidelity to God.
  • Although the passage was originally written about someone else, when we read this passage we immediately think of Jesus.
SOURCE: Content adapted from Our Sunday Visitor

Scripture in Context

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Visual Bible
by Stephen M. Miller

Commentary by Fr. Clement D. Thibodeau

The Third Song from the Suffering Servant in Isaiah calls out to the Lord in his suffering. It is not easy being God’s mouthpiece when the people refuse to hear God’s message. They want to follow their own devices. Isaiah himself had to suffer much in the rejection which he endured. It is a message of faithfulness. God is faithful. The Servant is faithful. We are not sure whether Isaiah meant that Israel was the suffering servant, or was it Isaiah himself? The Lord is always faithful to promises. The Servant pledges his faithfulness. “I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.” The Christian community has been consistent in applying these passages to Jesus. His passion and death represent the event of giving his back to be beaten, his beard to be plucked.

©2020 Father Clement D. Thibodeau. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Commentary by Fr. Eamon Tobin

This is the third of four “suffering servant songs” found in the book of Isaiah. As the early Christians read these passages, they see in them images of Jesus, the Suffering Servant of God. As we listen to this reading, we can see why it is chosen for today’s liturgy. The servant speaks of himself as a preacher of God’s Word. God opens his servant’s ear everyday to receive the Word, and he has been faithful in proclaiming it to others. However, those to whom he proclaims the Word have often not responded with gratitude. He has been beaten, spat upon, and his beard plucked. Despite this abuse, however, he remains steadfast, relying on God as his strength. “The Lord is my help. I will not be disgraced.” The phrase “set my face like flint” refers to the servant’s determination to be faithful to God.

©2020 Fr. Eamon Tobin. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.
Commentary by Sr. Mary M. McGlone

For reasons that this reading makes abundantly clear, Isaiah’s “Servant Songs” were a favorite of the early Christians as they tried to understand the passion and death of Jesus. Jesus’ death is the starkest of all examples of the undeserved suffering of a just person. How completely it disoriented his followers was well described by the disciples going to Emmaus who explained that Jesus was “a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people … our chief priests and rulers both handed him over to a sentence of death and crucified him” (Luke 24:19-20). What made it all as mysterious as it was scandalous was Jesus’ predictions that those events somehow coincided with God’s will.

Because we usually hear this passage from Isaiah in connection with the passion reading, we may proclaim it with a solemnity that belies the mood of the first few verses. If we allow the vocabulary of Verses 4 and 5 to guide us, there is considerable energy in the servant’s activity.

First, the prophet/servant admits openly that God has given him the gifts of a good education, what he calls a “well-trained tongue.” This statement presents him as someone with genuine confidence and appropriate humility. Unlike Moses, this man has oratorical skills. He immediately explains that those skills are a gift for the sake of others, and most specifically, for the weary. The servant is sent to the distressed and given every gift necessary to rouse them.

The servant portrays himself as someone sent by God to wake people up, to energize them and enliven their faith. One might picture any one of a number of leaders whose speech set hearts on fire and who could drag the weary, even the cynical, from their lethargy. As he describes his easy intimacy with the God who awakens him each morning, the servant underscores the fact that nothing he says comes from his own agenda. Every single day God gives him the grace of an ear to hear and a heart ready to obey. This is someone whose heart has been captivated and who has no hesitation about giving his life to God and to the message entrusted to him.

For anyone familiar with prophets, what happens next is disappointing but hardly surprising: The prophet is persecuted. But, this servant does not launch into a song of lament about what happened; what he describes is a kind of treatment that is more insult than injury. He has been spat upon and mistreated; his bones are not broken, his blood has not been shed, but he has been shamed, treated in a way intended to disgrace him in the eyes of the people.

This is where his faith in God overrides his self-preservation and any tendency to cling to ordinary conceptions of dignity. He confronted his persecutors with a face set like flint. He believed in God more than in his tormenters’ power. No matter what happened, he continued to say “The Lord God is my help, I shall not be put to shame.”

©2017 National Catholic Reporter. All Rights Reserved. Sr. Mary McGlone  is a Sister of St. Joseph of Carondelet. 2017 Reflections,  2020 Reflections can be read at National Catholic Reporter website.
Feasting on the Word

Hard vs. soft power

In international relations theory, a distinction is made between hard power, which is coercive (e.g., military action or economic sanctions), and soft power, which attempts to influence and persuade through noncoercive means. Perhaps this distinction casts light on our text. In contrast to the vision of hard power we find in verses 2b and 3, the Servant practices soft power. He (presumably the Servant is male in this text; he has a beard, after all) teaches instead of commands. He sustains the weary instead of crushing the wicked. He listens instead of pontificates. Instead of hiding from suffering borne of obedience, and instead of striking back, he offers his back and his cheek. He hopes, he trusts, he waits.  

The Servant sustains the weary instead of crushing the wicked. He listens instead of pontificates.
Christians have seen Jesus in this portrait—perhaps Jesus likewise saw himself. Jesus surely walked this alternative way, the way of soft power... A soft-spoken man named Mohandas Gandhi overthrows the British Empire in India without firing a shot. A prisoner named Nelson Mandela is set free and overturns the powers of apartheid in South Africa. An unassuming woman named Rosa Parks refuses to move to the back of the bus, and a system of segregation begins to collapse. A black Baptist preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. dreams of a day when his children will have the freedoms and opportunities promised to every child, and his inspiration and courage change hearts and laws in the United States.   These and countless other servants of God, in large and small ways, relied on soft power—not the power of coercion, but the power of suffering love. They saw a world no one else could see; they saw the world God intended to be. That hopeful vision empowered them to endure struggles and failures, to be emptied and poured out, so that they might be a light to the nations, so that God’s salvation might reach the end of the earth.

SOURCE: Content taken from The Catholic Study Bible Notes ; Donald Senior, CP, John J. Collins, Mary Ann Gettyr; Copyright © 2016. Oxford University Press; 3rd edition. All rights reserved.
Christ-Centered Exposition

Servant speaks in the first person

Throughout Isaiah 50:4-9, the servant (Christ) is speaking in the first person, talking about himself. He begins by revealing the source of his astonishing teaching ministry, saying that the Lord God has given him the tongue of an instructed person and that the effect of the Father’s words is the sustaining of the weary. The servant goes beyond this to speak even of the practical side of how this comes about: every morning the Father would waken the Son and pour words of instruction into his ready ear.   The New Testament gives ample evidence of how this was worked out in Jesus’s life. Mark 1:35 tells us of Jesus’s habit of getting up very early in the morning and going to a deserted place where he would pray. Part of that time involved the Father telling the Son specifically what works he would be doing and words he would be speaking that day. In John 7:16 Jesus said plainly, “My teaching isn’t mine but is from the one who sent me.” And in direct fulfillment of Isaiah 50, his words were amazingly comforting to brokenhearted sinners. For example, he said to a paralyzed man who had faith, “Have courage, son, your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). His call to all those suffering under sin’s crushing yoke was alluring: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Isaiah 50:4-5 tells us that the Father taught him what to say and how to say it (see John 12:49).

SOURCE: Content taken from CHRIST-CENTERED EXPOSITION COMMENTARY (32 Volumes); David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida (Editors); Copyright © 2013-16. Holman Reference. All rights reserved.
Understanding the Bible Commentary

Resistance by the community

Someone disliked the message enough to attempt to silence the messenger. Now we have had plenty of indication that the community resisted the prophet’s message, but its members have been characterized more as depressed and incredulous (“faint,” indeed) than as actively hostile. Where we have read of hostility and aggression, it has been on the part of the community’s Babylonian overlords. It is easy to imagine that their hostility should have become focused on someone who was encouraging the community to believe that Babylon’s attacker was its deliverer.

SOURCE: Content taken from UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE COMMENTARY SERIES (36 Volumes); W. Ward Gasque, Robert L Hubbard Jr., Robert K Johnston (General Editors); Copyright © 2000. Baker Books. All rights reserved.
God's Justice Bible

Suffering Servant

Isaiah 50:4–9 The identity of the Suffering Servant is obscure for Isaiah’s first hearers. Is it perhaps a description of Israel and her suffering? In Jesus’ life, however, these words come to a startling likeness.

SOURCE: Content taken from GOD'S JUSTICE BIBLE: The flourishing of Creation & the Destruction of Evil notes by Tim Stafford; Copyright © 2016. Zondervan. All rights reserved.
Life Recovery Bible

Facing opposition to recovery

Isaiah 50:4-6 The Messiah is speaking here of his own determination to follow God’s call to him in spite of the hardships involved. He serves as a model to us in times when we need courage to follow through and obey God. Sometimes God’s program for us is difficult. It may involve receiving rebukes, suffering shame, or being misunderstood by those who do not like what we’re doing. We will face opposition to the recovery process because many people don’t want to lose their influence over us, or they feel threatened by our change in lifestyle. We must stand up to them and follow through with God’s plan for us.

SOURCE: Content taken from THE LIFE RECOVERY BIBLE notes by Stephen Arterburn & David Stoop. Copyright © 1998, 2017. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.

Sermon Writer




SOURCE: Richard Niell Donavan, a Disciples of Christ clergyman, published SermonWriter from 1997 until his death in 2020. His wife Dale has graciously kept his website online. A subscription is no longer required.


Palm Sunday (B) Homilies

CATHOLIC Bible Study

The Third Servant’s Song (God’s Suffering Servant)

by Michal Hunt (Agape Bible Study)

The First Reading is from the third “Song of the Servant” in the Book of Isaiah. The 8th century BC prophet Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, composed four songs describing the ideal Servant-Son of God. Jesus fulfills each of the prophetic songs. He is God’s beloved Son who came, as Jesus said, “… to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:28; Is 53:11). Through sinning, human beings incur a debt of sin to divine justice, the punishment of which is death. To ransom humanity from slavery to sin and death, Jesus paid the ransom and discharged the debt with the price of His blood. By dying in place of the guilty, Jesus fulfills the prophesied mission of the Servant of Yahweh who proclaims in the First Reading that, as he speaks God’s words to the people, he submits himself to their abuse.

Isaiah’s third “Servant Song”

In the four “Servant Songs” from the book of the prophet Isaiah, God, who revealed His power by creating the earth (Is 40:12-31) and who showed His determination to save humanity by His interventions in human history (Is 41:1-29), then announces a new stage in His divine plan (Is 41:19).  That new stage in bringing about His divine plan is to give a special mission to a mysterious figure referred to as the “Servant” of Yahweh” (Is 42:1).  The Servant will make known and put into effect God’s plan for the salvation of mankind.

The passage from our reading begins Isaiah’s third “Servant’s Song” and focuses on the Servant himself.  The poem/song is in three parts with each part beginning with the words “The Lord Yahweh” (verses 4, 5 and 7), as the Servant speaks directly to us in verses 4-9:

  • The first part emphasizes the servant’s submission to the word of God.  He is not a self-taught leader with his own ideas; he is instead obedient to the word of the Lord Yahweh.  He tells us that he is God’s faithful disciple, teaching the divine word and God’s promise of redemption to a sinful and downtrodden humanity (verse 4).
  • The second part (verses 5-6) concerns the suffering he has endured as the Lord’s faithful servant.
  • The third part that begins in verse 7 shows the servant’s determination.  He suffers in silence not because he is a coward, but because God is with him to help him and to make him strong in the face of persecution.  He says that thanks to God’s divine guidance, he teaches as God directs him despite suffering persecution (verses 7-9), and because of his faith and obedience he will endure all persecution since he knows his suffering is part of God’s divine plan.

Image of “Suffering Servant” fulfilled in Jesus Christ

Since the earliest age of the Church Fathers, Christians have seen the image of the “Suffering Servant” fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  During His years of ministry, He faithfully taught about the coming of God’s Kingdom (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:14-15; Lk 4:14-15).  He did not resist His persecutors’ insults, nor did He turn away from those who beat Him, slapped His face, or spit upon Him (cf. Mt 26:67-68; 27:26-31; Mk 14:65, 15:15; Jn 18:22; 19:1).  Finally, they attempted to disgrace Him by crucifying Him like a common criminal (Mt 27:35-38; Mk 15:21-27; Lk 23:26-34, 38; Jn 19:17-24) and a man “condemned by God” because He was hung on a tree (Dt 22:22-23).  But He was not put to shame; instead He arose victorious as He prophesied on the third day (Mt 20:17-19; Mk 10:33-34; Lk 18:31-33), having defeated both sin and death (Mt 28:5-6; Mk 16:6; Lk 24:5-8; Jn 20:1-10).

SOURCE: content taken from Michal E. Hunt at Agape Bible Study; used with permission. titles added.


Palm Sunday (B) Homilies

Lisa St. Romaine
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Isaiah’s prophecy can be proclaimed more fully if, as you practice reading aloud, you think about the times you experienced the same emotions! Lisa has suggestions.

Lisa St. Romaine offers lector tips. She is married to Philip St. Romain, M.S., D. Min. Her videos are posted on her YouTube channel every Wednesday for Sunday.

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First Page: NRSV Bible (used in Canada) with commentary
Second Page: NAB Bible (United States) with proclamation tips

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Paul Schlachter

A tough testimonial

Points to consider

I read the third Servant of God passage, a tough testimonial if there was one.  How many of us would – would I – continue in the ministry if they booed us?

I might know how to speak to the weary… what?  Soothing words?  An ancient formula from a liturgical book?  Words of advice from some best-selling author?  Or perhaps provocative words, wake-up calls, words that will rouse them?  But, you know, this is what I do: urge our assembly to listen and pay heed, not just on Passion Sunday but every Sunday.  So if I really do that, then maybe I should sound like I mean it.  Easter is only a few days away now.

I can’t help noticing the opposition generated by this servant.  What is in these words?  Sometimes they rouse people to opposition and violent resistance.  Does my delivery do that?  Does anyone care?  I hope they do.  Or do they just turn their heads in boredom, waiting for the next amateur to step up to the ambo?

Key elements

Central point: the open proclamation of the message and the fierce opposition to it, the beating and humiliation.  The prophet says they go hand in hand.

Message for our assembly: all true prophets give us sharp testimonials and a grim reminder that words spoken in frankness are not always well received.

I will challenge myself: to capture the sense of boldness and self-assurance of the Servant of God.

SOURCE: LectorWorks.org; Used with permission
Greg Warnusz

The price of fidelity to God


Ask the presider to tell your listeners (or tell them yourself):

The middle part of the book of the prophet Isaiah contains four poems that we now call the songs of the suffering servant. Here the prophet meditates on his sufferings and the price of fidelity to God. The church turns to these poems at this time because Jesus apparently did so at the time of his passion.

Historical Situation

In the middle section of the book of the prophet Isaiah, chapters 40-55, there are four short passages which scholars have called the Songs of the Suffering Servant. They’re about a mysterious figure, who sometimes speaks in the first person, and whom God sometimes addresses. Sometimes the Servant is described as a prophet, sometimes as one whose suffering brings about a benefit for the people. In the original author’s mind, the servant was probably a figure for the people of Israel, or for a faithful remnant within the people. Jesus saw aspects of his own life and mission foreshadowed in the Servant Songs, and the church refers to them in this time of solemn meditation on the climax of Jesus’ life.

Today’s is the third Servant Song. On Good Friday we proclaim the fourth, Isaiah 52:13-53:12. The others are Isaiah 42:1-9 and Isaiah 49:1-6.

Proclaiming the Passage

Read the passage to the assembly slowly, meditatively, in as “personal” a tone as you can muster. Read it as if you’re the Servant, talking to yourself, trying to remain convinced that the hardship required by fidelity is worth it. Pause before the last sentence, “The Lord God is my help …” Then proclaim the sentence with firm resolution.

SOURCE: LectorPrep.org


Palm Sunday (B) Homilies

Catholic Productions
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Jesus and Isaac: Two Beloved Sons

Jesus is depicted as the fulfillment of many Old Testament types, such as Adam, Moses, David, Elijah, Elisha, Joseph, and so on. In this week’s video see some of the types Jesus is fulfilling in the readings for the 2nd Sunday of Lent, in particular Jesus being a New Isaac.Check out this video with Dr. Brant Pitre to learn more.

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Teachings From the Tanakh – Isaiah 50:4-7 for Palm Sunday, Year B

A Jewish understanding of and perspective on the First Reading at Sunday Mass can be quite enlightening. Lise Rosenthal from Temple Beth Israel, Fresno comments on the First Reading (Isaiah 50:4-7) for the Passion Sunday , Year B. 

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