Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

March 24: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Fleeting victory

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

Today’s liturgy begins with a commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

In Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry, this is the only time Jesus visits Jerusalem since beginning his mission to his fellow Jews, calling them to repentance of faith in view of God’s final and decisive move in Israel’s life. Jesus comes to Jerusalem to issue that call to its people, urging them to respond without delay.

The greeting the people of Jerusalem give Jesus as he enters their city is an enthusiastic one. They do not regard Jesus as just another pilgrim coming to celebrate the Passover. They acclaim Jesus as a political messiah whose mission is to restore the kingdom to Israel.

It is a serious miscalculation that will have grave consequences for both Jesus and the people of Jerusalem.

After the commemoration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is completed, the mood of the liturgy shifts as it focuses on Jesus’ passion and death. The account of Jesus’ final hours is the theological climax of Mark’s Gospel.

One interpreter described the Gospel of Mark as a passion narrative with an introduction. Throughout his ministry, Jesus confronts the religious and political authorities with his message about the imminent coming of God’s reign and the judgment that will follow.

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus offers one last opportunity to respond. But that response would not be forthcoming. His execution as an insurrectionist by the Romans is shocking but not surprising.

Both the first reading (Isaiah 53) and the responsorial psalm (Psalm 22) suggest that Jesus’ death was that of a righteous and innocent servant of God who went about doing good for people, healing them from every sickness and disease. These two texts depict Jesus as the paradigm of the innocent sufferer.

The manner of his ignominious death was usually reserved for the most hardened criminals, but Jesus is innocent. His death calls out for vindication that will confirm that Jesus acted in life and death as God’s servant.

The reading from Philippians suggests another way to understand what was happening as Jesus was dying. The hymn from Philippians presents Jesus as the divine redeemer who puts aside his divine status to redeem human beings.

Mark presents Jesus’ death as an attempt by the powers of darkness to prevent Jesus from accomplishing his mission. As Jesus was nailed to the cross, darkness covered the land (Mk 15:33). It appears that the powers of darkness will be victorious.

There is something about darkness that is foreboding and frightening. We just do not feel safe at night, so we try to change night into day. We light up our streets and homes. Imagine what life was like without electricity.

The Gospel writer is trying to engage our imagination and our fear of the night when he tells us that it was dark when Jesus died and was buried. Mark is describing the triumph of evil.

The story of Jesus’ final hours is a story about the power of evil. It is a story of a conflict between light and darkness, good and evil, right and wrong.

At every turn of the story, darkness grows stronger and light weaker. Every new character in the story takes the side of evil and makes the triumph of good less likely. 

In the end, right loses and wrong wins. This account of the conflict with the powers of darkness must not be understood as concerning evil in the abstract. It is a story involving people who choose darkness to light. We must confess that we are such people.

Today, we hear of the triumph of darkness, but we know that this victory is only fleeting. Jesus’ death leads to his exaltation and vindication. The good news is that Jesus defeated the powers of darkness once and for all.

During the Easter Vigil next Saturday night, the Christian faithful will gather in darkness and then one candle will shine out amid that darkness. The light from that one candle will be spread throughout the congregation until the whole church is awash in new light for light has overcome darkness. We then ought to walk in the light.



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