To read the texts click on the texts: Isa 50:4-7; Phil2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
In the past, the fifth Sunday of Lent (the Sunday before Palm Sunday) was known as Passion Sunday, However, following Vatican II, the sixth Sunday of Lent was officially re-named Passion Sunday. This Sunday is also called Palm Sunday, since palm branches are still distributed, but the focus is on the betrayal arrest, suffering and crucifixion of Jesus rather than on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem just before his death. Passion / Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week in which the Church commemorates the Last Supper and the first Eucharist on Holy Thursday and Christ’s death on Good Friday.
What Jesus experiences for us is a manifestation of God’s overwhelming love for each one of us. Further, by our identifying ourselves with the ‘mystery’ of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection we ourselves experience a great liberation, a joy and freedom. This is because Christ came for precisely this purpose, to save in and through his death.
This idea is brought out powerfully by Mark in his Passion Narrative, which, though the shortest of all the four, is unique in many ways. While some think that the Passion narrative proper begins with the last supper, others see it as beginning with the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane after the supper. The fact that the reading of today begins at 1:1 is an indication that the Church wants us to see the Passion Narrative beginning with the plot to arrest and kill Jesus. Be that as it may, it seems to me that the Passion Narrative actually begins after the Baptism of Jesus, when Jesus accepts the invitation of the Father to be both beloved son and slave, but more importantly the invitation to become beloved son and king, by being slave and servant.
Following the last supper and beginning with the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, the narrative may be seen to be divided into six parts. The first of these is the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane, followed by the scene of his arrest. There is then the trial before the Sanhedrin or the Jewish trial followed by the Roman trial. This is followed by the way of the cross, crucifixion, and the events after the death of Jesus and concluded in the sixth scene by the burial of Jesus.
The prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane (14:32-42) is a lesson in prayer. There are two aspects to this prayer. The first aspect is that this is the only time in the Gospel that Mark gives us the content of the prayer of Jesus. In the first part of the prayer, Jesus states his petition, but adds in the second part that he wants this to accord with God’s will. The second aspect of the prayer is that though Jesus does not hear the Father’s voice like he heard at his Baptism and Transfiguration, he gets up fortified after his prayer. The fact that he was fortified is seen clearly in Jesus’ response to those who come to arrest him (14:43-52). If God wanted it this way, Jesus was willing. The disciples all run away. Not even one remains.
The trial before the Sanhedrin (14:53-72) ends with the whole Sanhedrin condemning him, not one voice is raised in protest. The trial before Pilate (15:1-15), deals with a political question which is whether Jesus is king of the Jews. Jesus’ response is enigmatic. He neither denies nor confirms. Pilate representing the Roman authorities condemns Jesus to death.
On the way to the place of crucifixion, Jesus is hailed as King of the Jews albeit in mockery. Those who mock him do not realize that this is indeed the kind of king he has come to be. When on the cross, the passersby deride him and the chief priests mock him. Even the one crucified with him taunts him. Jesus has no support from anyone. He is alone. Not even his Father will come to his aid. But the centurion recognizes the crucified Jesus, the Jesus who dies on the Cross as Son of God.
The final scene in the Passion narrative which is the scene of Jesus’ burial (15:42-47) also reinforces the idea of a servant king. Joseph of Arimathea who was a respected member of the Sanhedrin that condemned him as deserving death now realizes that Jesus is indeed Son of God. This is what prompts him to take courage and ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, so that he could bury it. This is exactly how Jesus won victory. In his suffering and ignominy, God vindicates him. He becomes Son of God when he hangs on the Cross.
This vindication and exaltation forms the last part of the kenosis hymn of Paul. The hymn summarises the whole of salvation history succinctly. It begins with the pre-existence of Christ, moves on to the incarnation and mission and then narrates his passion and death on the cross before speaking of his resurrection and exaltation.
However, there is no room for any kind of triumphalism here! There is no room for a victory that does not first know the “fellowship of His sufferings” on behalf of others. He clung to nothing; he let go of everything. Do we have the courage to do likewise?