(Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47)
As Christian people, we are a community shaped by stories—stories of God’s love, which called us and all creation into being, God’s promises to be with and deliver his people throughout history. Each weekend we come together to reflect on stories found in the Scriptures and we gather around the altar to re-enact one of those stories. But on no other weekend is the story as clear as it is this weekend—a weekend that we call by two names: Palm Sunday and Passion Sunday. This double name reflects what is going on in the liturgy. We begin by blessing palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” and, before it’s all over, we find ourselves shouting with the same crowd, “Crucify Him!”
Like so many of the stories we hear throughout the year—indeed, throughout our lives this story sometimes loses its impact, its ability to grab our attention, to shock or startle us. And yet, when this story is proclaimed, we are invited and challenged to enter into it—to think of ourselves not simply as a 21st century community listening to the retelling of something familiar, but to ask ourselves, “Where do I fit in this story? With what character do I identify?”
We are used to the usual cast of bad guys: Judas Iscariot, Caiphas, Pontius Pilate, the fickle crowds. But in Mark’s telling of the Passion, even the disciples of Jesus come off looking not so good! They should have been there to witness what Jesus was going through as he was about to fulfill his mission. After all, Jesus had—directly and indirectly—prepared them for what was ahead. On the mount of the Transfiguration, in the garden, and at other times he spoke about his impending passion and death. Yet, when his time had come, they all “forsook him and fled”—even Peter, who only hours before, protested, “Even if all desert you, I will never desert you.” At the foot of the cross, where his disciples should have been, Mark tells us the only one who would recognize and profess Jesus for who and what he was a Roman centurion—one outside the Law. How ironic that an outsider should recognize Jesus when those who were closest to him didn’t have a clue and ran off in fear for their safety.
In the end, perhaps what should shock or startle us about the telling of Jesus’ Passion is not that God’s anointed should suffer the indignity of the cross—not that Judas should have betrayed him—not that Caiaphas or Pilate should have sentenced him to death. No, the real scandal is that his own disciples—those who heard his words and witnessed his deeds—were so slow to recognize him. When they thought his life and mission had been a failure and he was being dragged to his passion and death, they abandoned their hope in him.
What about us? Are we willing to put our faith and trust in a God who submits himself to the humiliation of the cross? How do we hear Paul’s words to the Philippians, “Your attitude must be that of Christ’s; though he was in the form of God he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at…?”
Throughout this week, the Church invites us to listen to this story—perhaps as if for the first time—not so much that we may understand it, but that we may enter into it and ask ourselves who we are as the drama unfolds.
– Fr. Anthony M. Criscitelli, T.O.R.