Our Palm Sunday liturgy begins with a Gospel reading before the procession to the altar. While there are two options for this introductory Gospel (Mark or John), both highlight a “triumphant” entry into Jerusalem for Jesus, with the crowd of people shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…”
Jesus went to Jerusalem knowing full well what awaited him - betrayal, rejection, and crucifixion. The people of Jerusalem, however, were ready to hail him as their Messianic King! Little did they know what it would cost this king to usher in his kingdom. Jesus' entry into Jerusalem astride a colt was a direct fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah (9:9): Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, and riding on a donkey and upon a colt the foal of a donkey.
The colt was a sign of peace. Jesus enters Jerusalem in meekness and humility, as the Messianic King who offers victory and peace to his people. Unlike what the crowd had hoped for, victory and peace would be secured in the cross and resurrection which would soon take place at the time of Passover.
While the Passion Narrative contains the complete oral history of Jesus’ passion, trial, crucifixion and burial, the intent of the unknown evangelist named Mark was theological rather than biographical. His concern was to show Jesus as the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament to a mostly Gentile audience. We should receive the proclamation of the Passion of Jesus not as centuries later bystanders, but as willing participants who, like the crowds, also react to unmet expectations but are enlightened by the power of the cross.
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Today we hear the Passion account through the eyes of Mark. Today’s reading is the peak moment, the climax of the entire sixteen chapters of Mark’s Gospel.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, no one was able to trick or get the best of Jesus, in order to bring shame upon him. Jesus easily protected his own integrity and honor. Honor was a priority value in the Mediterranean first-century world. In today’s passion narrative, Jesus is shamed not only by his enemies but even by his friends. But Jesus maintained his honor and integrity throughout the narrative. He was not a coward in the face of death. Everyone who mocks him is ironically acknowledging his truthful, proper status. The Passion account does not diminish the honor that Jesus deserves as the Son of God. However, Jesus’ ultimate honor is realized when God raises him from the dead, a distinction no human person has ever attained.
Mark’s rendition of Jesus’ passion contains many details; most are intended to provide evidence that Jesus is the Messiah promised to the Jewish people, just not the type of Messiah for which they hoped.
The passion narrative provides us with a comparison of our own human weakness to the strength of purpose Jesus displays in his walk to his death.
We see in these disciples’ lives, images of ourselves. Often our love for Jesus has compelled us to make some commitment of heart, only to discover soon after that our good intentions have been abandoned due to our human weakness, or due to concern about what others think. Peter assures Jesus at the Mount of Olives that his faith in Jesus would never be shaken. Jesus knowingly tells Peter how he will deny Jesus three times. Peter, James, and John fully intended to watch with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane as he prayed and agonized about the coming sacrifice he was to make. But their good intentions went awry as they surrendered to the desires of their flesh for sleep.
Fortunately, we also see ourselves occasionally follow through on our good intentions, overcoming weakness and fear with love’s resolve and courage. Mark’s Gospel provides two people who should be commended for not abandoning their good intentions. The woman from Bethany who anointed Jesus’ head with costly oil despite social pressure, and Joseph of Arimathea who sought and prepared Jesus’ body for burial in the face of persecution and opposition. Their love, courage, and devotion to Jesus impelled them to follow through on their good intentions.
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From today’s Gospel before the opening procession, in which Jesus instructs his disciples to get a colt for his entrance into Jerusalem, until Jesus’ final words upon the cross, he never waivered from offering himself up as a living sacrifice for the sake of completing the mission for which the Father sent him. He displayed his full humanity in both his spiritual agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the ultimate physical suffering and death. The redemption he accomplished for us and all of humanity, giving us the possibility of eternal life, came through his acceptance of the Cross and death. The power of the Cross is what unites us to Jesus for all eternity.
The path of the Cross was the only path that Jesus could take to win the battle over sin, our sin, for us! The Cross was the way that Our Lord best expressed his kingship over the power of evil and death. The Cross was the ultimate power that Jesus harnessed to show us the path to unity with the Father.
Theme in Our Life
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How can we access the power of the Cross?
Looking at Jesus’ life we can find both a compelling example, and strength to turn more of our good intentions into accomplished deeds. Jesus fully knew what was ahead for him; the betrayal, abandonment, suffering and death, which we know as Christ’s Passion. He had every good intention to follow through and complete the most important act of humanity, and for humanity, the securing of our salvation and release from the chains of sin and death. But it was not without struggle. Humanly speaking, his flesh did not desire what was ahead any more than ours would have. Emotionally, he knew it was his friends and loved ones he would be leaving in death, and that spiritually this would be a battle against Satan and the forces of evil. Not exactly something to anticipate with joy. However, in the face of this struggle he did not abandon his good intention, but in love and courage followed through.
We know that Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice on the cross, followed by the Easter resurrection, is the path and pattern that our lives must also follow. Jesus knows that our life will not be a smooth ride of nothing but love and prosperity. That is the lie that Satan wants us to believe. Jesus teaches us that true happiness during our life here on earth comes from our ability to give up our desires for the easy path and accept the sacrifice required to serve the Father’s will by serving the needs of others. We will always have various crosses to bear in our life. Jesus’ Passion teaches us that that is where our strength comes from: the willingness and courage to accept our cross and stay united with Jesus in our mission of loving others. Our personal crosses are not to be feared. Our crosses are what gives us power.
Perhaps during this coming Holy Week, when on Good Friday we are asked, “Will you watch with me but one hour?” we will be reminded that it is in union with Christ in prayer that we will find strength to also do the Father’s will, turning our good intentions into reality.
Preparing for Sunday
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Consider the following questions:
Who do you most identify with in this Gospel account?
Does the King of glory find a welcome entry in your home and heart?
What is the current “cross” you need to embrace and overcome in order to be united with Jesus?
Let us pray:
Almighty, ever-living God
You have given the human race Jesus Christ our Savior
As a model of humility.
He fulfilled your will by becoming man and
Giving his life on the cross.
Help us to bear witness to you by following his example of suffering
And make us worthy to share in his resurrection.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,