This weekend the Church celebrates Palm Sunday, to use the older term, or the Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. As the rite of the procession of the palms begins, a selection from the 11th chapter of Mark’s Gospel is read.
These reflections will look at the readings in the Liturgy of the Word itself.
For the first of these readings, the Church presents a passage from the third part of the Book of Isaiah. It is one of the four Songs of the Suffering Servant, the four poetic and highly moving compositions that form one of the great glories of Third Isaiah.
Over the centuries, Christians have seen the image of Christ, the innocent Lamb of God, in these Suffering Servant Songs. Scholars debate the identity of the Suffering Servant. Was he the prophet himself? Was he a collective identity for the people of Israel? Did he represent the devout and faithful among the people? Was he someone else?
In any case, the message is clear. Despite outrages brought against him, the Suffering Servant is true.
The second reading is from one of the most eloquent sections in the New Testament. Scholars think that this reading had its origins in an ancient Christian liturgy dating from the times of the Apostles. It is appealing, and very instructive, in its excited proclamation of faith in Jesus.
For this year’s Palm Sunday liturgy, the Church presents the Passion Narrative of Mark’s Gospel.
While all the Gospels go into considerable detail in telling the story of the Lord’s trial and crucifixion, they differ from each other in certain insights and emphases. After all, each is the work of a distinct evangelist, and the imprint of the respective evangelist’s sense of the meaning of what happened on the first Good Friday is clear.
Without doubt, the death of Jesus occurred as a result of a horrendous process of torture and humiliation. It loses sight of the Gospel’s message, however, to see the awfulness of these events and nothing more.
The story ultimately is about the inevitability of God’s will. In love, God willed that even sinful humanity should have the option of replacing disobedience with obedience, and God provided a way for this through the life and the sacrificial death of Jesus.
Another important lesson is in the reactions of others in the story, the Jewish officials with their intrigue, the impulsiveness and then the betrayal of Peter, the pragmatism of Pilate, and the uncompromising loyalty of Mary and the women with her. They all present an image of human nature and of how human nature differs as it is presented in one life and then in another.
This Palm Sunday’s profound reading from Mark calls us to the basic fact that, despite all the horror, and regardless of all the chaos and plotting, Jesus was unswerving in fulfilling God’s holy will, and indeed God’s will prevail. What was God’s will? It was that all people be freed of the effects of sin and be able to be at peace with God and in God to possess eternal life.
The first reading, the figure of the Suffering Servant, gives additional focus upon the obedience of Jesus.
A favorite literary technique employed by Mark is irony. It is so particularly ironic that humanity’s only chance for freedom and for life is in Jesus, yet humans schemed and maneuvered to upset the mission of Jesus.
The most pious of the Jews, presumably, even allowed themselves to ally with the pagan Romans, their oppressors, to confound the Lord’s work of salvation.
God’s will for humanity endures today and for each of us. Ironically, do we, with our sinfulness and in our blindness, frustrate for ourselves the opportunity given us in Christ to be with God?
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