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Passion Sunday (B)
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Readings for Passion Sunday, Cycle B

 Gospel of the Palms. Mark 11, 1-10

  • I would like my reading to be upbeat.  Jesus comes to Jerusalem and he is welcomed by the common people.  He intends to be acclaimed by them, and he is.
  • I can’t help noticing the improvisation.  He’s riding a colt on which no one has ever sat, and his disciples are strewing (littering?) the pathway with their cloaks and leafy branches they had cut from the fields.
  • Jesus speaks with intent and knowledge of the prophets’ symbolism.  His instructions are clear and sort of make sense, once we imagine that everyone in Jerusalem would know who the master is.  So let’s just enjoy the moment.
  • The climax comes in the last sentence: the Hosanna in the highest!  that I will call out and that the assembly would echo during the procession.
  • Message for our assembly: to fit in with the disciples who give themselves freely to Jesus, to welcome Jesus like the crowd by the city walls shouting in his honor.
  • I will challenge myself: to capture the spontaneity of Jesus, his disciples and the crowd, at the same time suggesting how the authorities would construe such a popular show of support as a provocation.

 

1. Isaiah 50, 4-7

  • I read the third Servant of God passage, a tough testimonial if there was one.  How many of us would – would I – continue in the ministry if they booed us?
  • I might know how to speak to the weary… what?  Soothing words?  An ancient formula from a liturgical book?  Words of advice from some best-selling author?  Or perhaps provocative words, wake-up calls, words that will rouse them?  But, you know, this is what I do: urge our assembly to listen and pay heed, not just on Passion Sunday but every Sunday.  So if I really do that, then maybe I should sound like I mean it.  Easter is only a few days away now.
  • I can’t help noticing the opposition generated by this servant.  What is in these words?  Sometimes they rouse people to opposition and violent resistance.  Does my delivery do that?  Does anyone care?  I hope they do.  Or do they just turn their heads in boredom, waiting for the next amateur to step up to the ambo?
  • Central point: the open proclamation of the message and the fierce opposition to it, the beating and humiliation.  The prophet says they go hand in hand.
  • Message for our assembly: all true prophets give us sharp testimonials and a grim reminder that words spoken in frankness are not always well received.
  • I will challenge myself: to capture the sense of boldness and self-assurance of the Servant of God. 

 2. Philippians 2, 6-11

  • 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! 
  • Central point: the example of Christ during our Holy Week is one of a servant -- though his status was divine -- 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.

Passion according to Mark 14, 1 to 15, 47

  • Since the first Gospel is that of Mark, it would be the closest in time to the events that it interprets, including the Passion.  That alone makes it a precious witness to ‘what really happened,’ regardless of its perceived literary quality.
  • We usually divide this lengthy reading among various people, though in many ways a single motivated and prepared lector can send a better focused and more effective message to the assembly than three or four ministers who do not coordinate their efforts. 
  • If I were the sole narrator and speaker of dialog, I would of course keep track of the faith that drove the first Christians to retell this traumatic story over and over.  As I pass from scene to scene I discover the details that shed light on the purpose of it all, and its meaning for us today.  In this respect Mark and Matthew are in general agreement.
  • In the narrative of Mark, though, I hear many sharp, vivid details that the later evangelists have smoothed out or deleted.  For example, here the woman doesn’t just come with an alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil.  We also learn that it was made of costly genuine spikenard, and that she broke the alabaster jar.  Another example: the disciples are not going to see a certain man about their ‘Cenacle,’ but according to Mark a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water.  Follow him to his master who will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. 
  • One of the most poignant scenes in the narration comes in Gethsemane, where Mark alone puts the Aramaic plea into Jesus’ mouth: Abba, Father, all things are possible to you.
  • Mark presents Jesus as someone well aware of all that would happen to him, conscious of convergence with the ancient Scriptures, and ready to bear it all freely.  I do not hear elaborations contained in the other evangelists’ later additions: the suicide of Judas, the dream of Pilate’s wife, the conversion of the crucified thief, the parting words to his mother and the beloved disciple, or the appearance of the dead in the city.  Mark’s version, the original version, is an unadorned, stark view of what Jesus suffered.  I note the trumped-up charges; even the witnesses who agreed with each other took the stand and testified falsely against him.
  • Of the four Passion narratives, Mark’s carries the least troublesome baggage concerning Christians and Jews.  The Sanhedrin held a council and handed him over to Pilate who in his turn handed him over to be crucified. 
  • Climax: a centurion declares Truly this man was the Son of God!
  • Message for our assembly: remember through all the gory details, more deeply than ever on this Passion Sunday, that Jesus died for us and that he died freely.
  • I will challenge myself: Not to get in the way of the narrative, but to declare it soberly as it was declared among Mark’s disciples, Jews and Gentiles alike.

Word to Eucharist: We sing the Taize round "Jesus, remember me."  Now we should sing silently "Jesus, may we remember you."  Is it "Final Four Sunday" or Palm Sunday?

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