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Palm Sunday - April 16, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: Philippians 2:5-11 and Matthew 27:1-54
"The centurion and his men who were keeping watch over Jesus were terror-stricken at seeing the earthquake and all that was happening, and said, ' Clearly this was the Son of God!'"  

My friends, today we begin Holy Week and yet it would be good for us to look in the Scriptures and see that the week actually begins for Jesus on the day before, on Saturday, with some events that happen in the little town of Bethany, just a few miles from Jerusalem. A woman came in while He was seated at table and anointed Him, pouring expensive aromatic perfume on His head in anticipation of His death and burial. You remember this story because it caused great consternation among the disciples. Judas said, "Couldn't this have been sold and the money given to the poor?" And the evangelist very wryly says, "He said this not out of compassion for the poor, but because (Judas) was a thief and used to take from the common purse." Jesus said simply, "She has done this for my burial." There was no concern about the expense at that point. 

The very next thing that happened in Matthew's Gospel was Judas going to the chief priests and elders and bargaining with them. Haggling over Jesus! "What will you give me if I deliver Him to you?" And they settled upon 30 pieces of silver. What is that 30 pieces of silver worth? About eighty dollars, American. Eighty dollars! The irony of it all was that these 30 pieces of silver have been mentioned other times in the Scripture. Matthew alludes to it in the book of the prophet Zechariah. 

Zechariah told an allegorical story because many of the people who were to be shepherding the people of Israel were crooks who were deceiving the people. And so Zechariah had a little parable in the eleventh chapter. In the allegory Zechariah becomes shepherd to the people. This is what he says: 

"Then I took my staff "Favor" and snapped it asunder, breaking off the covenant which I had made with all peoples; that day it was broken off. The sheep merchants who were watching me understood that this was the word of the Lord. I said to them, "If it seems good to you, give me my wages; but if not, let it go." And they counted out my wages, thirty pieces of silver. But the Lord said to me, "Throw it in the treasury, the handsome price at which they valued me." So I took the thirty pieces of silver and I threw them into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 

It was an insult that the wage for the shepherd of the people of Israel would be thirty pieces of silver. And here the chief priests and elders settled upon that price. What are thirty pieces of silver worth? 

In the book of Exodus there are rules and regulations about what should happen in case accidents occur. When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox must be stoned. Its flesh must not be eaten. The owner of the ox, however, shall go unpunished. But if an ox who was previously in the habit of goring people ,and its owner, though warned, would not keep it confined, should it then kill a man or a woman, not only must the ox be stoned, but its owner also must be put to death. If, however, a fine is imposed on him, he must pay in ransom for his life whatever amount is imposed on him. The law applies if it is a boy or a girl that the ox gores. But if it is a male or female slave that it gores, he must pay the owner of the slave . . . thirty pieces of silver. And the ox must be stoned. 

What was paid for Jesus was what you would pay if your slave is gored by an ox. 

The common dowry for a young maiden in Israel was fifty pieces of silver. Judas bargained and got his money and then the events began to unfold until, as we heard a few moments ago, Judas repented what he had done. And he went back and said that he had done wrong to deliver up an innocent man. But he had gone too far down the road by now. They retorted, "What is that to us? It is your affair." So Judas flung the money into the temple and left. He went off and hanged himself. 

"Such a pathetic creature, this Judas," we would say. Of course, you and I, when we hear the narrative of the Passion would say, "He is truly a villain in this story and someone we don't identify with." Yet is it not true that you and I would compromise what we believe in, maybe not for thirty pieces of silver, but for the human respect of other people? Isn't it apparent to all of us that we would sense that it is better to say nothing in the face of evil than to speak up and say, "It is wrong according to God's law." 

We can identify with a Judas, but perhaps you and I should identify even more with Peter. Peter, with his false bravado and braggadocio, would say that he was ready to die with the Lord. And Jesus said, "No, before the cock crows, you'll even deny me three times." And he did. The sin of each of these men, Judas and Peter, was the same. For both of them it was a denial of who Jesus is. Judas despaired and hanged himself. The Gospel tells us that Peter did not despair, but he went out and wept bitterly. He was truly repentant, truly sorry for what he had done. And he was forgiven. 

As we begin our Holy Week, as we meditate on the mystery of our redemption, the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, let us read and reread the passion narrative. Consider the principals in the story. Try to understand their motives. Identify, if you will, with one or another. Judas despaired. Peter repented his sins. 

Even the centurion, upon watching Jesusí death on the cross, could make a profession of faith, "Indeed this was the Son of God." But this profession of faith was flawed; not something that you and I should identify with. Indeed, this was the Son of God? No. Indeed, this is the Son of God. 

Jesus has paid a great price for you and me worth so much more than thirty pieces of silver. He has put a value on each and every one of us. And that value is the precious blood that He spilled out on the cross. Let us live up to that price that was put on us. Let us be able to say, "This truly is the Son of God, our Redeemer." 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.