Palm Sunday (2018)
Psalm 22:8-9, 27-30, 23-24
With the arrival of Palm Sunday comes the awareness that we have reached the virtual end of the Lenten season. Palm Sunday is the threshold of the holiest week of the Church’s liturgical year, and it poses the question about whether we have grown closer to the Lord during these very special forty days. The tools of Lent – prayer, fasting, almsgiving – were meant to assist us in our spiritual journey, and the unfolding of salvation history in the readings from the lectionary were meant to inspire us. But if our spiritual life, for whatever reason, appears barely improved, and we seem less than inspired at this conclusion of Lent, it is not too late to allow the seven days of Holy Week to do what the entire Lenten season was designed to do, draw us closer to our Lord and Savior.
The exuberance of the crowds that greet Jesus in his modest, yet triumphant, entrance into the city of Jerusalem, is eclipsed by the somber account of Jesus’ passion by Mark. Mark is the first evangelist to write a gospel, and the similarities of his account with the other evangelists suggest that a passion narrative circulated as a whole in the early Christian tradition. But Mark’s account contains numerous peculiar details that make his narrative appear all the more personal: the man “carrying a jar of water”, the hymn after dinner, the young man who leaves his clothes behind to get away, and the names of the Cyrenian Simon’s young sons. It is those personal details which have lead some to suggest that the nameless naked young man could very well be the eyewitness standing behind Mark’s account.
Mark’s gospel was written at a time when there was a good deal of upset and turmoil. Insurrections by the Jewish people and outsiders would cause the Romans to tighten their grip on the Jewish people, and persecutions broke out against all suspect groups, including the Christians. It is against this backdrop that the Gospel of Mark should be viewed, and his passion account in particular was meant to inspire courage and hope in his audience. Jesus’ obedience/faithfulness to God’s plan is meant to be the model for Mark’s suffering Christians. Commenting on the gospel, the Jesuit Michael Simone writes: “Jesus prayed at every point; he even quoted from the psalms while he hung on the cross. He offered no resistance to his persecutors and was vindicated by Pilate and the centurion…. Instead of fighting his accusers, Jesus turned the whole matter over to His Father and accepted in obedience whatever outcome befell Him…. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, Christians know how to face persecution and have the divine strength to do it.”
The inspired words of Mark continue to speak to us, and they comfort us when presented with our personal crosses, our challenges and difficulties. Overcoming His own anguish, so obvious in His Gethsemane prayers, Jesus is able to remain obedient to God’s plan, “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Jesus is the suffering servant described by Isaiah in our first reading who does not rebel, does not turn back. Strengthened by prayer and by the example of Jesus, may we learn the lessons of Holy Week and face the challenges and turmoil in our own lives with steadfast trust in God’s abiding love. May we, like Jesus, be obedient/faithful to God’s plan for us, enduring whatever suffering comes our way for the good of others.