Sunday, April 1, 2012
Passion (Palm) Sunday
Mark 14:1-10 / John 12:12-16 (Good News Translation)1 It was now two days before the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the teachers of the Law were looking for a way to arrest Jesus secretly and put him to death. 2 “We must not do it during the festival,” they said, “or the people might riot.” 3 Jesus was in Bethany at the house of Simon, a man who had suffered from a dreaded skin disease. While Jesus was eating, a woman came in with an alabaster jar full of a very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on Jesus' head. 4 Some of the people there became angry and said to one another, “What was the use of wasting the perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than three hundred silver coins and the money given to the poor! ” And they criticized her harshly. 6 But Jesus said, “Leave her alone! Why are you bothering her? She has done a fine and beautiful thing for me. 7 You will always have poor people with you, and any time you want to, you can help them. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could; she poured perfume on my body to prepare it ahead of time for burial. 9 Now, I assure you that wherever the gospel is preached all over the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her. ” 10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went off to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus to them. 12 The next day the large crowd that had come to the Passover Festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Praise God! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!” 14 Jesus found a donkey and rode on it, just as the scripture says, 15 “Do not be afraid, city of Zion! Here comes your king, riding on a young donkey.” 16 His disciples did not understand this at the time; but when Jesus had been raised to glory, they remembered that the scripture said this about him and that they had done this for him.
If you compare the liturgy of Holy Week in any of its three cycles A, B or C, you will find only one difference: the Gospels used in the solemn procession before the mass, as well as that of the Passion, correspond to their own cycle (A: Matthew; B: Mark and C: Luke). As for the Passion according to Saint John, it is repeated in the three cycles on Good Friday. The rest of the readings, both from the Old and the New Testament, are the same. You can imagine, then, how difficult it is to start a reflection on the Scripture and elaborate upon some guidelines for our Lectio divina, without falling into the routine of repeating the same topics year after year. There is, however, so much spiritual material in the readings that we could move through the texts and find a large number of paths to follow for our meditation and prayer. Remember that something similar happened with Christmas masses. On that occasion, I suggested my readers to “recur to the Bible or to a mass book, browse through its pages, stop here and there and, led by the Spirit, follow your own inspiration.” It may seem repetitious –in fact, it is- to insist on the important role played by the Christological hymn from Philippians 2:6-11 as the main key to understand, not only the Holy Week and Easter celebrations, but to grasp the deepest meaning of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. The scheme of lowering himself from his high, divine condition down, to the humblest human situation, to finally be exalted to the highest position of glory, conveys a concise and clear description of God’s plans to save humankind. Not only that, it also provides us with the guidelines to grasp the meaning of our Christian calling as a way of life which, just like that of Jesus, does not fit into our reasonable -and of course, comfortable and conformist- understanding of human life. “Grasp,” “understand,” “meaning,” these are words I have used several times in the lines above. And, undoubtedly, faith is a way to conceive life, its values, its scope and sense. Jesus’ attitude is that of “the perfect new man” who “sees” reality according God’s plans and designs and, thus, represents the kind of person we are called to be, one who sees reality from God’s viewpoint. In fact, “consciousness” could be the right word to describe Jesus’ attitude all through Mark’s Gospel. From the onset of his ministry, he “sees” perfectly well what the Father has prepared for him. His role will be that of the Suffering Servant, so that through self-denial and sacrifice, the Kingdom of God may come to life. If you read attentively the Passion story, you will find him fully aware of his immediate future and its significance. In Bethany, he felt beforehand the anointment for his own burial (14:3-9). During the Passover meal, he announced that one of the Twelve would betray him (14:17-25) and predicted Peter’s betrayal (14:27-31). In Gethsemane, he prayed and asked to be delivered from his cup of suffering (14.32-41). You may go on reading and see how he felt the same anguish and fear any other man would experience in similar circumstances and, how, in spite of all the hardship that his mission entailed, he freely chose and accepted his Father’s will, his saving plans, so difficult to understand and assume from a purely human viewpoint. “For this reason God raised him to the highest place: Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Mark’s Gospel not only underlines Jesus’ emotional and physical suffering. In his description of the Suffering Messiah, Mark also has in mind his readers, Christians for whom persecution and martyrdom were something closer and more real than mere words. For them, following Christ could mean torture and death. Contrast your own situation with theirs and that of Jesus. To what extent are they similar? Have you ever felt or actually been discriminated against, or harassed because of your Christian faith? In your struggle to be faithful to Christ and his calling, do you mainly think of your present troubles or do you fix your eyes on Christ’s resurrection and victory? Do not forget that after Good Friday, we will celebrate the Sunday of Easter!
Too often we pay attention only to our daily troubles and difficulties when trying to be faithful to the Gospel. Today, pray especially for Christians from all denominations who suffer persecution, destruction of their churches, and even death, all over the world. Pray that they may find comfort in their sharing of Christ’s suffering; but also, that they may find the support of other Christians who pray and provide them with help.
Today, let us approach our contemplatio in a most practical way. Taking into account the serious situation of so many Christian communities who suffer from poverty, discrimination and persecution, try to get information about them and see in what ways you can lend them a helping hand. Aid to the Church in Need, a Roman Catholic NGO (www.acn-intl.org), or International Christian Concern, a non-denominational NGO (www.persecution.org), can be extremely helpful links to find news about, and ways to help, other Christians for whom “witness” has a different and more dangerous meaning -- that of the Greek word “martyr.”
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Director of Inter-Religious Affairs Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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