Palm Sunday (B) Homilies


He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave

Reading II:  Philippians 2:6-11

  • The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians is a quotation from an early Christian hymn that proclaims the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
  • Even though Jesus was God, he obediently accepted the humiliation of the cross, and God raised him in glory.
  • Paul’s challenge is to make Jesus’ attitude our own.
SOURCE: Content adapted from Our Sunday Visitor

Scripture in Context

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Visual Bible
by Stephen M. Miller


Introduction to the New Testament
by Raymond E. Brown

Commentary by Fr. Clement D. Thibodeau

Every Sunday at Evening Prayer I in the Liturgy of the Hours, the Church prays the great Christ-Hymn from Philippians. Paul exhorts the Christian community to have the same mind as Christ. The Church is called to humility and service. Such was the role of Christ. These were his characteristics. The Church of Christ can be no different. Paul goes on to incorporate a hymn that was probably already in wide circulation among Christian worshipers. The hymn affirms that Christ, whose condition was divine, did not consider being like God something to be exploited for selfish gain!

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

Writing from prison, Paul addresses a community with proud and independent ways who often argue among themselves. Paul admonishes the people to set aside their bickering and to live in harmony. He holds up to them as a model “the attitude of Christ” who “emptied himself” and became a slave. Notice in this beautiful and well-structured hymn a downward and upward movement. Jesus taking on our human status is the downward movement. Though equal to God, Jesus does not cling to his divinity for his own ends. Without losing his godlike status, he takes on the likeness of human beings. He experiences humiliation and debasement that few humans suffer. Having experienced the depths of human suffering and having been totally faithful to his mission, God “exalts” him and bestows on him a name above every other name. (This is the upward movement in the hymn.) The entire universe is brought under his lordship and all bend down before him. Like the servant in the first reading, God comes to the help of Jesus, the servant par excellence, and gives him the name “Lord” – a name given only to God in the Old Testament. In and through his weakness, obedience, and servant-like attitude. Jesus achieves greatness and lordship.

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

In the book Letter to the Philippians, Dr. Peter T. O’Brien gives a wonderfully succinct explanation of the opening of this hymn. He quotes C.F.D. Moule who said that “precisely because he was in the form of God [Jesus] reckoned equality with God not as a matter of getting but giving.”

As Paul uses the words of a hymn to develop his teaching about Christ, he is subtly explaining that Christ is the only adequate image of God known to humankind. Through Christ, we learn that God is not grasping, but rather relates to human beings as a servant who will give anything for their sake.

This will always be a difficult teaching. We tend to define God using the superlative of everything we prize as human beings: power, knowledge, prestige, beauty, etc. That description of God validates our own striving for similar prestige. Encountering God’s self-revelation through the cross of Christ deals a deathblow to all those aspirations.

Paul tells us that because Jesus so adequately revealed God as pure self-giving, God could give him the name above every other name. Our greatest act of faith may be to see Jesus Christ, the crucified, as the image of the glory of the Father.

©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

Significance of the hymns medium

This text famously incorporates a piece of what is believed to be one of the earliest Christian hymns. Reflection on its meaning should include not only the hymn’s message but also its medium. Why did Paul, never at a loss for his own words, let a hymn speak for him at this point? Perhaps because the act of singing is, itself, a way of supplanting fear with audacity. The act of singing together is a form of conspiracy, a breathing together that gives words of faith and confidence their wings.

Paul’s own singing in prison (Acts 16:25) recalls Fanny Lou Hamer and Bill Coffin singing in their Mississippi jail cells during Freedom Summer, and the actress Geraldine Paige singing herself “Softly and Tenderly” to sleep on the bus that took her on The Trip to Bountiful, and Bishop Tutu lapsing into a Xhosa hymn during the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, when the agony of the stories overpowered all other words.
The church’s habit of singing is one of its oldest ways of reaching down into the depths of its honesty to tap the wellspring of its abundance. Even on the cross, the words that rode upon Jesus’ final breaths came from the Psalms.

SOURCE: Content taken from FEASTING ON THE WORD, YEAR B (12 Volume Set); David L. Bartlett (Editor); Copyright © 2011. Westminster John Knox Press. All rights reserved.
Christ-Centered Exposition

The imitation theme in Philippians

Later in the chapter, Paul holds Timothy and Epaphroditus up as examples worthy of honor and emulation (2:19-30, esp. 20-21,30). In chapter 3 Paul tells the church to follow his example and to “observe those who live according to the example you have in us” (3:17). While we may emulate many role models in life, we must remember that Jesus is the example par excellence.

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.

God's Justice Bible

God’s strange justice!

Phil 2:6–11 This passage illustrates God’s strange kind of justice. He brings to fulfillment his plan to put the world right but in a different way: by the self-giving of God, in Christ, for his enemies! By the obedience, suffering and death of Christ! Christ gave up his prerogatives in order that human beings might benefit. Redemption is accomplished not by force but via obedience, suffering and death. Through the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, God’s justice is finally accomplished (vv. 10–11).

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

Our ideal model for humility

Phil 2:5-11 Jesus Christ is our ideal model for humility in obedience and service. Our thoughts, attitudes, and actions are to be patterned after Christ. His willingness to humbly obey his Father is a great example for us. As we take an honest moral inventory of our life, we must humbly admit our faults so we can begin to change our destructive patterns. If we follow Jesus Christ in humility, learning to admit our failures without hesitation, nothing will be able to stop our recovery.

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.
Life Application Study Bible

Are you selfishly clinging to your rights, or are you willing to serve?

Phil 2:5–11 Often people excuse selfishness, pride, or evil by claiming their rights. They think, “I can cheat on this test; after all, I deserve to pass this class,” or “I can spend all this money on myself—I worked hard for it,” or “I can get an abortion; I have a right to control my own body.” But as believers, we should have a different attitude, one that enables us to lay aside our rights in order to serve others. If we say we follow Christ, we must also say we want to live as he lived. We should develop his attitude of humility as we serve, even when we are not likely to get recognition for our efforts. Are you selfishly clinging to your rights, or are you willing to serve?

SOURCE: Content taken from LIFE APPLICATION STUDY BIBLE NOTES, Copyright © 2019. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries. All rights reserved.
Boice Expositional Commentary

The centrality of the cross

Philippians 3:8 deals with Christ's death on the cross:

The cross is the central feature of the New Testament. The Gospels devote an unusually large proportion of their narratives to Christ’s final week in Jerusalem culminating in his death and resurrection. Two-fifths of Matthew’s Gospel is concerned with the final week in Jerusalem. The events of the same week take up three-fifths of Mark, one-third of Luke, and nearly one-half of John. It is no exaggeration to say that the cross overshadows the life of Christ even before this point. The very name “Jesus” looks forward to an act of saving significance, for the angel that announced Christ’s birth to Joseph said, “You are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Jesus himself spoke of the suffering that was to come (Mark 8:31; 9:31), linking the success of his mission to the crucifixion: “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32). John speaks of the crucifixion as that vital hour for which Christ came and to which his ministry proceeded (John 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 17:1).
Besides that, the cross of Christ is in a real sense the central theme of the Old Testament. The Old Testament sacrifices prefigure Christ’s suffering, and the prophets explicitly foretell it. Jesus taught the downcast Emmaus disciples that the Old Testament foretold his death and resurrection: “ ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:25–27). It is not surprising that the centrality of Christ’s cross has been recognized by Christians in all ages, even before Constantine made it the universal badge of Christendom. The cross stands as the focal point of the Christian faith. Without the cross the Bible is an enigma, and the gospel of salvation is an empty hope.

SOURCE: Content taken from BOICE EXPOSITIONAL COMMENTARY (27 Volumes). James Montgomery Boice, 2007.All rights reserved.
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Palm Sunday (B) Homilies


Meditating on the Lord’s Humility in His Suffering and Death

by Michal Hunt

Jesus is God’s divine Son, and yet, as St. Paul reminds us in the Second Reading, Jesus humbled Himself for us by coming in human flesh to live among us, …he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming as human beings are; and being in every way like a human being, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross (Phil 2:7-8). By His obedience, St. Paul tells us, Jesus atoned for our disobedience and was exalted by the Father who bestowed upon Him the name which is above every name and for which every knee should bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:9-11).

An early Christian hymn

Most Bible scholars believe that verses 6-11 are from an early Christian hymn written by St. Paul to the Christian community at Philippi in Macedonia.  The hymn speaks of Jesus’ humility in emptying Himself of His divine glory (kenosis in the Greek) to live a human life and experiencing trials and suffering (verses 6-8).  Paul was probably intentionally contrasting Jesus “in the form of God” with Adam “created in the image of God” (Gen 1:26).

Jesus defeat of both sin and death

It was Adam who attempted to grasp equality with God through his sin of rebellion and pride in eating from the fruit of the forbidden tree that Satan said would make him god-like (Gen 3:5).  Through the sin of Adam, humanity was condemned to live in sin.

Jesus however, is not “created in the image of God.” He is fully God who is also fully man, and in His humility was obedient to the Father in offering His life as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity.  His reward was to defeat both sin and death to be raised up by God to divine glory (8-11).  His victory provided a way for humanity to be raised up through Him out of sin to receive the promise of eternal salvation in Heaven that had been closed to man since Adam’s fall (CCC 5361026).

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


Palm Sunday (B) Homilies

Lisa St. Romaine
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This section of Philippians is well-known. The challenge: to proclaim it anew, with amazement, pacing changes, and energy at the closing lines! 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

IMPORTANT: Both the Canadian and U.S. lectionaries have been revised since 1997. While most of the Lectionary text has not been altered, there have been some changes.

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Paul Schlachter

Though he was in the form of God

Points to consider

Paul repeats the most famous hymn of the servant of God, and I love to say it, almost sing it.

But Paul uses it as an agenda for Christians.  In other words, we don’t just look on him but we adopt his attitude, we become like him!

Key elements

Central point: the example of Christ during our Holy Week is one of a servant — Though he was in the form of God — obedient to the very end, in great humiliation.  And he did it freely to share our own humble existence and the shame of death.

The message for our assembly is in the first verse, and it is up to me to remind them to identify with the humble, obedient Christ who rises to exaltation.

I will challenge myself: To make these first century images self-evident to the people, so that we understand something more today about the Jesus we proclaim as Lord.

SOURCE: LectorWorks.org; Used with permission
Greg Warnusz

An ancient church hymn


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

Saint Paul here adapts an ancient church hymn. It sings of Jesus’ pre-existence, his incarnation, suffering, and exaltation.

Literary Background

In the original Greek, this passage has a rhythm that suggests it may be a hymn which Saint Paul is quoting. If so, it may represent a very early Christian understanding of who Jesus is and of how his mission saves us from sin and death. It’s something Paul received from those who had been converted to Christ even earlier than he.

(Religious movements have always expressed themselves in song first, before they get around to having their doctrinal debates, heresies, apologists, councils, books, universities, inquisitions, etc. So early hymns offer precious insight into the original genius of the movement. Ideas with a musical expression get down deep into our memories, and our souls, in a way that merely verbal formulas cannot. That’s why we remember the words of songs, even nursery songs from forty, sixty, eighty years ago, better than we remember other sentences we’ve read and heard more recently and more often.)

Christians reading this passage today are joined with the first people who ever pondered the meaning of Jesus’ life and mission. We’re singing their song, reciting their creed, at the time of year we’re remembering the most important things Our Lord did.

Theological Background

This passage sums up the most important things about Jesus, heedless of the less relevant details. Note the structure of Jesus’ life:

  • Jesus was divine from all eternity (“in the form of God”)
  • But he didn’t cling to that
  • Rather, he emptied himself (of divine status) and became human
  • He accepted further humbling by obeying the human condition even unto death by crucifixion
  • So God highly exalted him, giving him the highest title in the universe
  • We acclaim him with that title, Lord
  • All creation so acclaims him

Proclaiming the Passage

he early martyrs staked their lives on this kernel of gospel truth. So it demands a solemn proclamation, slow and, if possible, rhythmic. Make it rise to a crescendo at the end, as you summon every tongue, every tongue in heaven and on earth, to proclaim that

SOURCE: LectorPrep.org


Palm Sunday (B) Homilies

Catholic Productions
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By Grace You Have Been Saved

In the Book of Ephesians, St. Paul gives one of his most famous phrases, “By grace you have been saved.” And, without seeing the context of Paul’s use of this phrase, one can easily conclude that Paul is referring to being saved with regard to “final salvation,” and not being saved with regard to “initial salvation.” (This, of course, does not mean that it is not through grace that we achieve our final salvation, but, rather, that final salvation is outside of the scope of what Paul is speaking of in Ephesians 2:5).

Catholic Answers
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Tim Staples — God’s Grace and Good Works

Ephesians 2:8-9: How can we understand the role of God’s grace in our good works? Tim Staples answers a caller on Catholic Answers Live.

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