“Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord”
by Fr Arek Orzechowski SDB
Listening to the words of today’s Gospels, we come face to face with the humanity of the crowd and the humanity of Jesus. The first meeting occurs at the gates of Jerusalem. Enthusiastic crowd welcomes the One who comes in the name of the Lord. People are shouting, praising, and giving glory. They feel uplifted and overjoyed. Nothing else matters to them at that moment. As a sign of praise and respect they spread their garments on the road. As if they would like to say to Jesus – You know us, you know, that we are your people.
I believe, that at that moment they were very sincere. They were not manipulated. The spontaneity and unanimity of their reactions, showed what they felt in their hearts.
Being open in front of God, with our conscience, emotions, problems and joys is not a reason to be ashamed. We do not have to hide anything from Him, with Him we can be ourselves. It seems that this is the meaning of the behaviour of the Judeans.
Yet this exposure of humanity had to meet with the exposure of Christ on the cross. His humanity that showed something divine.
He, who was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave. (…) He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on the cross.
The joy of Judeans didn’t last long. They didn’t expect this kind of exposure from their Messiah. How the naked man nailed to the cross can bring salvation to our people, to our families, to our friends… They couldn’t forgive, that the Messiah didn’t meet their expectation.
And what are our thoughts when we look on the cross?… We often speak about peace, equality and compassion, and yet we find it difficult to learn from this lesson that Jesus gives to humanity. And this lesson is to forgive.
Mother Teresa used to say: “If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive”.
We are lucky that God has this weakness for people – he always forgives.
So as we enter the Holy Week by celebrating this Passion Sunday, let us learn from this great lesson of humanity.
Scripture readings: Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com
Reflections and Prayers by Fr Jack Finnegan SDB
Procession Gospel – Mark 11:1-10
When they drew near to Jerusalem,
to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives,
Jesus sent two of his disciples, and said to them,
‘Go into the village opposite you,
and immediately as you enter it
you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat;
untie it and bring it.
If any one says to you,
“Why are you doing this?” say,
“The Lord has need of it
and will send it back here immediately.’”
And they went away,
and found a colt tied at the door out in the open street;
and they untied it.
And those who stood there said to them,
‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’
And they told them what Jesus had said;
and they let them go.
And they brought the colt to Jesus,
and threw their garments on it;
and he sat upon it.
And many spread their garments on the road,
and others spread leafy branches
which they had cut from the fields.
And those who went before
and those who followed cried out,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!
Hosanna in the highest!’
Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is the prelude to his Passion. He comes as the Messiah: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Psalm 118:26). Yet John reminds us that the full meaning of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem did not dawn on the faith community until after he had risen. The message? The Crucified One is the Lord of Glory!
Lord Jesus, you went to Jerusalem to cleanse the Temple not to become an earthly king. You went as the suffering servant not as one seeking glory. Help us to keep you company in these days as we remember your passion and death. Help us understand why we raise blest branches. As we cry alleluia touch us with your fire of mercy and open our hearts to those who suffer. Amen.
1st Reading – Isaiah 50:4-7
The Lord has given me
a disciple’s tongue.
So that I may know how to reply to the wearied
he provides me with speech.
Each morning he wakes me to hear,
to listen like a disciple.
The Lord has opened my ear.
For my part, I made no resistance,
neither did I turn away.
I offered my back to those who struck me,
my cheeks to those who tore at my beard;
I did not cover my face
against insult and spittle.
The Lord comes to my help,
so that I am untouched by the insults.
So, too, I set my face like flint;
I know I shall not be shamed.
Today we meditate on the third Servant Song, a song of a people, wearied by exile, rejecting the words of the prophet. But the prophet is true to his commitment to God and delivers the divine word. He refuses to close his ears to God’s word. So it is with Jesus. He speaks the word but is rejected. His fidelity leads to his passion and death. How ready are we to listen to God in these days? Are we ready to rely on God as Jesus did? Are we ready to be faithful to God in trying times? Are we ready to accept the social cost?
LORD, Adonai, open our ears to your living word. Let us be strong like your prophets, strong and faithful like the saints of old. Give us the faith of a Brigid, ears open to the cry of the poor. Give us the words to speak for them regardless of the personal cost. Help us to walk in your paths now and forever. Amen.
Psalm – Psalm 21(22):8-9,17-20,23-24
Psalm 22 confronts us with the terrible reality of the crucifixion. Jesus quotes the first line of this psalm as he dies on the cross. Verse 6 tells us the story of the Passion: I am a worm and no man. That is why people mock him and surround him like barking dogs and violent villains. That is why they tear holes in his hands and feet and divide his garments. Then in verse 22 a shift occurs, a shout of glory! That is also why those of us with the understanding of faith revere him. Lament gives way to triumph! Sorrow gives way to glory!
LORD, Adonai, we can imagine the scoffers and the people who wagged their heads. We can hear their mocking words. We can imagine the laughter and the violence because we see similar things in our own times. We see innocent people being destroyed, killed. Help us to believe in your victory. Help us to be channels of your peace and justice. Help us to be faithful to your sacred way. Amen.
2nd Reading – Philippians 2:6-11
His state was divine,
yet Christ Jesus did not cling
to his equality with God
but emptied himself
to assume the condition of a slave
and became as men are;
and being as all men are,
he was humbler yet,
even to accepting death,
death on a cross.
But God raised him high
and gave him the name
which is above all other names
so that all beings
in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld,
should bend the knee at the name of Jesus
and that every tongue should acclaim
Jesus Christ as Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This ancient hymn, sometimes called the Carmen Christi or Hymn of Christ, sets the death of Jesus in its spiritual context: his voluntary self-emptying, his kenosis, is the ground of his triumph! Precisely because he freely emptied himself, because he became obedient unto death, every tongue truly confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. The question remains: do our lives proclaim his lordship?
Lord Jesus, you teach us that self-emptying is good. You teach us to reach beyond self-centred lives. You teach us to reach beyond our own advantage. You teach us the strength of humility. You teach us the transforming power of love for the Father. You teach us to put the Father at the centre of all that we are and everything we do. How wonderful you are, Lord Jesus. We bow before your holy name, and bend our knees in adoration as we proclaim: you are Lord to the glory of God the Father! Amen.
Gospel Reading – Mark 14:1-15:47
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark
Mark shows us that the passion and death of Jesus may be understood in two complementary ways. The first is ethical and the second cosmic. The first describes the death of the innocent suffering servant of God. The second describes the death of the Lord of Glory, a death full of cosmic meaning that sings of victory over the powers of darkness. The first reminds us that bad things happen to good people. The second reminds us that Christ has won a vast universal victory that touches every aspect of creation. We need to understand both meanings if we are to grasp the life-changing significance of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Lord Jesus, let us be like the woman with the jar of precious nard. We remember her today and give thanks for her loving gesture. Do not count us among those who criticised her! Do not let us be among those who betrayed you. Do not let us be among those who spat on you and struck you, those who denied you, or those who shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Let us be with those who stood by you, who stayed with you to the end. Help us to be faithful like your own mother Mary. Help us be faithful like Mary of Magdala, like Salome, and Mary the mother of James and Joset. Amen.
Word of God and Salesian Life by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB
The witnesses of the Resurrection felt a need to explain the tragic death of Jesus, and from this need the accounts of the Passion arose. The witnesses claimed to have seen him alive. They felt they had to put on record the fact that he was executed, and to narrate the circumstances of his death in a way that would make sense of their paschal experience, for themselves and their listeners. For the account to be convincing, they had to do more than just report the chronicle of events. Mark shows how the facts fulfilled what was written in the Scriptures (Mk 14, 27.62; 15, 34). This was how God had willed it should be, and as Jesus himself had foretold (Mk 8, 31; 9, 11; 10, 33-34).
The cross was a stumbling block for the fidelity of the disciples. It was also the supreme moment of revelation of Jesus’ divinity (Mk 15, 39), and it became an obstacle to the faith of those who heard about it after the death of Jesus. Those who believe in the Crucified One will also believe in the Son of God. The authentic believer was one who became a witness to Jesus’ death and proclaimed his divinity, even though he had not lived with Jesus. This should be a matter for serious reflection for people who have lived for a time with Jesus but have not accepted his cross. The disciple of Christ who reflects today on the tragic end of the Lord should reflect also on the sad end of his first disciples. Today’s disciples should not pretend to be better than those first disciples. The Cross of Christ continues to be the obstacle that must be overcome.
Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it
We are indebted to Mark for the oldest written account of the passion and death of Jesus. He follows the probable sequence of events and his report is honest, almost like a court report. It is more, however, than just a simple account of what happened. He pays little attention to the effect of the events on those who took part, including Jesus, apart from what happened in Gethsemane (Mk 14, 32-42). Sometimes he includes seemingly unimportant details, for example, the insults offered before and during the crucifixion (Mk 15, 16-19.29-32), and the tearing of the Temple veil (Mk 15, 38). He does not hesitate to mention embarrassing events such as the betrayal by Peter and the other disciples (Mk 14, 10-11.17-21.26-31.66-72). The actual death is reported with a precise detail: “it was the third hour when they crucified him.” (Mk 15, 25). The first chroniclers were not greatly interested in relating what their listeners already knew. They were more concerned with explaining their deeper significance. They focussed, accordingly, on facts that showed clearly how the ancient prophecies were fulfilled. In this way they demonstrated that what happened to Jesus was in accordance with a precise plan of God.
The account opens with a reference to the imminence of the Jewish festival and the conspiracy of the authorities (Mk 14, 1-2). Mark begins by linking the feast of Passover and the death of Jesus, a death that was preceded by conspiracy and intrigue. In contrast to this sombre beginning is the devout gesture of the woman of Bethany who anticipates the anointing of the body of Jesus in preparation for his burial (Mk 14, 3-9). The disciples thought the money should have been used for the poor, but Jesus accepted the woman’s gesture with the comment, “You have the poor with you always.” (Mk 14, 7). The poor can wait, but not Judas who handed over his master in return for money (Mk 14, 10-11). These three brief scenes form a good introduction to the account. All are ready – the executioners, the victim and the traitor.
The account of the Passover supper (Mk 14, 12-31) shows that Jesus is completely aware of what is happening and in complete control of events. He knows where he is to celebrate the feast and he allows his disciples to make the necessary preparations (Mk 14, 12-16). He foretells, both before (Mk 14, 17-21) and after (Mk 14 26-31) the institution of the Eucharist (Mk 14,22-25), his betrayal by Judas, his abandonment by all the disciples, and Peter’s repeated denial. Alone, even though the disciples are still with him, Jesus sums up in a gesture of total communion the gift of his life, by giving himself beforehand to all in the form of bread and wine. And notice – he does so, knowing that they are not worthy, for he knows that they will not remain faithful.
He handed himself over to his closest friends in the supper-room, and immediately afterwards he was handed over to his adversaries in the garden (Mk 14,26-31). But Gethsemane was not only the place of betrayal and arrest – it was also the place of his supreme trial. And while Jesus was fighting for his life, and asking to be spared the will of his Father, his disciples slept, and God remained silent. If he is to remain the Son of God, Jesus is left with no other choice than to do, not his own will, but the will of the Father (Mk 14,36), and to be handed over “into the hands of sinners” (Mk 14,41). He allows himself to be betrayed with a kiss (Mk 14, 45), captured by an armed crowd (Mk 14, 48), and abandoned by God and by his followers.
The account of the trial is central to the whole account of the passion and is therefore more detailed. In fact, Jesus had to undergo two trials. Before the high priest in his palace (Mk 14, 53-72), Jesus cannot avoid answering the question of his identity, a question which is central to the whole gospel. The reply is held back by the evangelist to this crucial moment of the account. He is the Messiah. He has the power of God at whose right hand he sits, and he will come again (Mk 14, 61-62). His admission is unequivocal. The Jews understood it and condemned him for blasphemy.
Meanwhile, the narrator tells us, Peter was busy denying the Lord. The servant-girl accused him of being one of them on account of his accent. His triple denial follows literally the prediction of Jesus (Mk 14, 30.72). He was condemned to death by the Jewish authorities (Mk 14, 64), and brought before Pilate (Mk 15,1-20). Here the accusation was changed from blasphemy to political sedition, so that Pilate would condemn him to death. Jesus showed little interest in replying to Pilate’s questions. He did not tell Pilate if he was King of the Jews, nor in what way he was King (Mk 15, 2.4). Rejected by his own people (Mk 15, 13) he was now at the mercy of the soldiers who offended him with insults and derided him (Mk 15,16-20). Jesus reacted with silence, without losing his dignity, and accepting his fate.
The scene of the crucifixion and death follows (Mk 15, 21-41). It focuses more on anecdote than on the essential. On his way to the place of execution they offer the assistance of a passer-by from Cyrene, and a drink to relieve the pain. They share his garments among them, and they crucify him between two thieves. Even as he hangs on the cross, he is still insulted. There is no greater loneliness than that of feeling abandoned even by God (Mk 15, 34). The bystanders continue to mock him, shouting out the charge on which he had been condemned (Mk 15, 32).
His death is described factually: there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour (Mk 15, 34.37), the veil of the Temple was torn in two, and the pagan centurion professed faith in him as the son of God. This sequence of events may seem unlikely, from a historical point of view, but the narrator’s intention is clear – in his moment of greatest weakness and powerlessness, as Jesus is dying, abandoned by his followers and rejected by his people, it is still possible to have faith in his divinity (Mk 15, 39). It was not his miracles nor his preaching, nor his disciples nor the admiration of people that led to faith in Jesus, but his death on the cross.
The account of the passion ends with a brief scene, that of Jesus’ burial (Mk 15, 42-47). The fact that a stone was rolled in front of the entrance to the tomb shows, in a manner beyond doubt, the triumph of death over Jesus, and the infidelity of his disciples. The mention of the women who were present at his burial confirms the authenticity of the death of Jesus and the silence of God.
Meditate: apply what the text says to life
After listening, yet again, to the account of the passion, it might be more appropriate to let the heart speak, to remain silent and allow no word to take us away from the drama of the cross, or get in the way of our contemplation of Christ crucified. Often the less said, the better the understanding, in respectful contemplation. Moreover, we are generally unhappy in speaking about death and suffering. In the words of St John Paul II: “Modern man, despite his achievements, feels in his personal and collective experience the abyss of abandonment, the temptation of nihilism, the absurdity of so much physical, moral and spiritual suffering.” He is unable to make sense of this suffering, and does not reflect upon that fact that “all these sufferings were taken upon himself by Christ in his cry of anguish, and his trusting abandonment to his heavenly Father.” Even Christians who celebrate the Passion of Jesus as our salvation, are not convinced that in and through the passion, “night has been transformed into day, suffering into joy, and death into life.”
We should not be too surprised at our inability to find our salvation in the cross of Christ. The death of Christ on the cross was then, and continues to be today, a scandal. Like the first disciples, the believers of today find it hard to accept that the violent and unjust death of his Son could be the way chosen by God to come to our help. We fail to understand that this ignominious destiny was inevitable. We cannot comprehend that God’s love should be revealed in such dreadful deeds. The death of Jesus is all the more illogical because of the brutality and injustice that brought it about. We find it hard to acknowledge that God was behind all that happened to Jesus on the Cross.
It is bad enough that we do not understand the reason for his death. What is worse is that we fail to acknowledge that we are among those who caused it. What happened during the lifetime of Jesus is still happening today. The few followers who accompanied him during his last days in Jerusalem were quick to abandon him as inexorably he drew near to Calvary. Then and now, the place of Jesus’ death is the place where his followers betray him. The enthusiasm which Jesus had awakened in his disciples, died within them even before he died on the cross. There no longer seemed to be any benefit in following someone who was heading for such a bad end. We can understand very well those disciples who were unable to look at the spectacle of the cross. We are so like them ourselves that we even sympathize with them!
It is possible that today we find even greater difficulty, because in our time death is something we prefer to forget, as long as it does not concern us, and we are not interested in injustice and disorder, provided they don’t touch us. We share with those first Christians an unwillingness to accept that it is in the death of Jesus that we obtain eternal life and our final salvation. We think of the death of Jesus as something that happened in the past, two thousand years ago, and we run the risk of failing to recognise that it concerns us directly. We know that others killed him and so we do not feel responsible for his death. The fact that it happened long ago and far away, and that others were actively involved, allows us to distance ourselves from any feeling of guilt and adds to our indifference. We absolve ourselves from the sins we commit, and we do not feel responsible for the harm we do to others, because we refuse to acknowledge that we are saved in the cross of Christ. However, whether we like it or not, if we do not find our salvation in the cross, we will not find any other way, not to mention any better way, in which we can feel that we are saved by God.
We, therefore, the disciples of today, like the disciples of two thousand years ago, are the worst enemies and the most unwilling believers of the salvation that God has brought to the world through the cross of Christ. We lose God’s saving power if we let the cross of Christ fall from our hands and from our hearts. We may not realize it, but we think it would be easier to understand God without the cross. We would prefer a God who responds to our own image and meets all the desires of our hearts. The fact that we are unable to understand a God who loves us on the cross of Christ, need not stop us from feeling loved. The cross of Christ is the proof of God’s love, but it makes it more problematic, not more intelligible. We could never have imagined such love!
The cross puts an end to all man’s attempts to tame God. On the cross God’s personal freedom will remain always supreme and beyond our comprehension. On the cross God has proved his determination to remain faithful despite our unwillingness. And God’s option for the cross is not the hardest thing we come up against in our lack of understanding. Worse still is that we cease to believe in God’s love for us, because we do not appreciate the means he has chosen to show his love. If we do not value the cross of Christ, if we forget it or ignore it, how can we ever understand God’s reasons, the reasons for a love that is seen only in the cross of Christ? Nobody can ever feel truly loved by God, if he does not accept God’s way of showing his love. It would be really sad if, because we do not accept it in our minds, we were to reject it also in our hearts. If we do not accept the cross of Christ, then we do not accept God’s salvation.
And yet, this problem is as old as the following of Christ. From the time that Jesus called people to share his way of life and his destiny, his plans and his daily routine, he discovered that they followed him to the cross, but not all the way to the end. They left him there, alone. The one who promised fidelity most was the very one who denied him. One of those with whom he had shared his life, was the one who handed him over to his opponents. Living with Jesus night and day was not enough. The knowledge acquired on long journeys with him as he preached the kingdom was insufficient. Their enthusiasm and faith did not reach far below the surface. At the foot of the cross, to the great shame of the disciples, the only one to proclaim faith in him was a stranger, the man who had been responsible for his crucifixion.
The end of Jesus and the disciples who followed him should make us think. If we say we are living with Jesus and do not accept his cross, then we ought to reflect on the fact that all the disciples failed and the only one who stood by him was a pagan. Mark puts on record that the first Christian was born when a man declared faith in the dying Christ as the Son of God. The disciple of Christ who today remembers the tragic end of the Lord, should remember also the tragic, almost farcical, end of the first disciples. We have no reason to think that we are any better than those first disciples. The cross is still the great test to be overcome. It is the proof of Jesus’ fidelity and should also be the proof of our fidelity to him. Bearing this in mind will help us to celebrate the upcoming feasts with greater responsibility. Our faith will not be free of doubt until we accept the cross of Christ.