Father Donald Senior, CP

March 25: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Turning logic upside down

Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1—15:47.

We enter the most sacred week of the church’s liturgical year. The opening reading is the account of Jesus’ dramatic entry into Jerusalem, with him approaching from the eastern village of Bethany on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the place where he stayed during the great Passover festival.  

The exuberant crowds acclaim Jesus as the Messiah, ecstatic that he is the one who will establish “the kingdom of our father David that is to come.” They lay palm branches to cover the road and hail him as “the king of Israel.”

We sense right away that this is no ordinary king. Instead of riding in a chariot or being carried triumphantly on the shoulders of his followers, “Jesus found an ass and sat upon it,” the Gospel notes. This king enters Jerusalem “seated upon an ass’ colt” and, the evangelist notes, “his disciples did not understand this at first.”  

In fact the Scripture readings for this feast of Palm Sunday and the very nature of the feast itself pose a challenge to our ordinary expectations. The first reading from Isaiah speaks of a servant who must endure suffering but remains steadfast (“I have set my face like flint”). The early Christian hymn quoted by Paul in his letter to the Philippians portrays Jesus as one who was “in the form of God” but chose to “empty himself, taking on the form of a slave, coming in human likeness … and being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

In the Gospel for today we face the ultimate paradox. As is the case on each Palm Sunday, the Gospel reading is the entire Passion narrative. Since this is the year of Mark in the lectionary, it is this Gospel’s stark account of Jesus’ final hours that we hear today.  

The whole drama begins in Bethany where Jesus is staying. Mark frames this poignant scene with incidents of treachery: The religious leaders plot to kill Jesus, and Judas, his own trusted disciple, determines to betray him. The focus is on the scene in between — an anonymous woman who, out of love, anoints Jesus with precious oil.  

The elites — the religious leaders and one of the Twelve — betray Jesus, while a humble woman tenderly offers homage to him, earning a remarkable word of praise: “wherever the Gospel is proclaimed to the whole world what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
Later after the Last Passover with the disciples and Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane, Mark offers another scene filled with irony and paradox. Condemned by Pilate, Jesus is turned over to the Roman soldiers and is tortured by them. 

The mock theme of their torment is to pretend Jesus is a king, as they assume he has claimed.  They clothe him in purple, the color of royalty, and crown him with thorns. They strike him on his head and spit on him and offer mock homage. The soldiers think they are mocking a delusional Jew, but the reader knows Jesus is a king, but a king like no other, one who has no need of these empty symbols of power.

The final scene is the most paradoxical of all. Jesus, the Son of God, powerful healer and teacher, the one who commands even the storm and the sea, must endure the power of death.  Mark’s passion narrative emphasizes the starkness of Jesus’ encounter with death more graphically than the other Gospels. 

Jesus dies with a loud, wordless scream, totally giving his life. While the leaders and the passersby taunt Jesus now defeated in death, the reader of the Gospel knows the full truth. Death will not be the last word. The power of God’s love — a love embodied in Jesus’ own total giving of his life for others — will overcome the power of death and give abundant and glorious new life. 

From death comes life — that is the affirmation of this exceptional week — an affirmation that turns logic upside down.



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