Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord-March 24, 2024

 Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord-March 24, 2024

Mark 11: 1-10; Isaiah 50: 4-7; Philippians 2: 6-11; Mark 14: 1 – 15: 47.

 

Theme: Jesus’ Death was not a Defeat but a Victory

Today, we start Holy Week. We concluded the Lenten season last Sunday. During the forty-day Lenten journey, we received ashes on our foreheads, which reminded us that we should repent now, not tomorrow, and believe in the Gospel because we are dust, and to dust, we shall return. We observed the works of penance (Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving) (Ash Wednesday Mass). We resisted Satan with all his temptations (First Sunday). The Lenten season was our “journey of faith” (Second Sunday). We learned to follow God’s commandments, let Jesus enter our hearts, and cleanse them from all sins (Third Sunday). We became aware of our sins, confessed them, and now live out our faith in “daylight” (Fourth Sunday). Finally, the Lenten season has prepared us to become members of the new covenant that the prophet Jeremiah prophesied and was fulfilled through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Fifth Sunday).

We are now ready for the Holy Week. It is called “Holy Week” because this week, we commemorate the significant events of the Paschal Mystery (the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ). It is through the Paschal Mystery we entered a New Covenant with God. Today is the first day of the “Holy Week.” In this Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, we commemorate the triumphal entry of our Lord Jesus into Jerusalem and the beginning of his passion. Then, we will celebrate the Easter Triduum, the summit of the Liturgical Year. Note that the Easter Triduum is a single liturgical celebration that starts from the evening of Holy Thursday to the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday. Though it is chronologically three days, Holy Thursday, Holy Friday (Good Friday), and Holy Saturday are liturgically one day during which we celebrate the unity of Christ’s Paschal Mystery. On Holy Thursday, we will celebrate the Mass of the Last Supper of the Lord. In this Mass, Jesus will institute the sacraments of the Holy Eucharist and Priestly Order and inaugurate the Church’s ministry of service. On Holy Friday (Good Friday), we will commemorate the Passion and Death of our Lord on the cross. On Holy Saturday, we will celebrate the mystery of the “Empty Tomb,” which will lead us to the celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday.

Let us now reflect on the Scripture readings of this Palm Sunday Mass. Note that there are two liturgies of the Word for this Palm Sunday Mass. The first liturgy commemorates the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the second liturgy celebrates the beginning of his Passion.

 

Gospel at the Procession with Palms: Mark 11: 1-10

Mark highlights significant elements and prophetic imagery in his account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. First, he commences by informing us that Jesus made a temporary stop near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives (v. 1). This setting reminds us of the prophet Zechariah, who predicted a decisive battle victory by God against the nations in this same area (Zechariah 14: 3-5). By mentioning this setting, Mark intends to let his readers know that the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem will be a battle (referring to Jesus’ Passion and Death) that will culminate with Jesus’ victory (the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead). This reminds us of the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Lent (February 25th), in which Jesus made three of his disciples foresee the glory of heaven in the story of his transfiguration. This anticipation of the heavenly glory was to encourage the disciples not to give up following Jesus because the glory of heaven was waiting for them. Likewise, in today’s Gospel, by mentioning this setting, Mark anticipates the victory of the cross of Jesus to encourage us as we are ready to enter Jerusalem with our Lord Jesus and support him in his Passion during this Holy Week. The victory of Jesus’ cross should also always motivate us whenever we face our own trials. We need to know that the pains and sufferings we go through are not the last words. We believe that “victory” is the last word for us who believe and follow Jesus.   

Second, Mark tells us that Jesus orders his two disciples to go into the village opposite them and bring a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. He predicted that someone would ask them to find out why they were taking this colt. He even told them what they should say: “The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.” (v. 3). These two disciples went off and found everything as Jesus told them (vv. 4-6). Here, Mark teaches us that Jesus is both a prophet and a teacher. He predicts actions and instructs the disciples involved in his “victorious” entry into Jerusalem.

Third, Mark informs us that Jesus rode the colt. Many people spread their cloaks on the road. Others spread leafy branches. Note that one’s cloak was precious, especially for the poor, as it was used as a coat to keep out the cold and as a sleeping bag. It was very painful for the poor when the lenders took their clothes as security for a loan. (See Exodus 22: 26; Deuteronomy 24: 13 for references). By mentioning the cloaks here, Mark wants us to see how these crowds who accompanied Jesus were willing to give all they had to support him in his mission. You and I are gathered here to do the same thing. Let us show Jesus that we, too, are willing to support him with his mission, which our local Church carries out. Holding Branches is the symbol of joy. So, like these crowds, let us process to the Church with joy, waving our palms and singing the songs of praise: “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” (v. 10).

 

Readings at Mass

The Gospel proclaimed at Mass is the narrative of Christ’s passion. Note that all four evangelists relate this account with a few different memories of the tragedy. Because we cannot read all these four accounts in a single Mass and due to the importance of the particularity of each account, our Holy Mother Church suggests that we read John’s account every Good Friday and the Synoptics’ accounts on Palm Sunday (Matthew’s in the Liturgical Year A, Mark’s in Year B, and Luke’s in Year C). So, since we are in the Liturgical Year B, our narrative of Christ’s passion today is taken from the Gospel according to Mark. Let us now reflect and meditate on what God has done for us in the Passion and Death of his Son Jesus Christ, according to the Markan version.  

First, Mark commences his account by telling us about two Jewish feasts, the Passover and Unleavened Bread, and how the chief priests and the scribes already were seeking a way to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death. The connection between these Jewish Feasts and the attempt of Jesus’ arrest sets the context of Mark’s account. Note that in these Jewish Feasts, the Jews ritually celebrate the event of God’s deliverance of their ancestors from Egypt (see Exodus 12: 3-20). Likewise, at each Mass we attend, we Christians celebrate the events of Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection, which brought us eternal salvation. So, by mentioning these two Jewish feasts in connection with Jesus’ arrest at the beginning of his account, Mark intends to say that the Paschal Mystery (Jesus’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection) that we celebrate at each Mass is the fulfillment of the Jewish event of the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Second, Mark includes the anointing at Bethany in his narrative of Christ’s passion (vv. 3-9). He says that a woman (without giving her name) anointed Jesus’ head with a costly genuine spikenard in the house of Simon the Leper. From John’s version of the same story (John 12: 1-11), we learn that the one who anointed Jesus was Mary of Bethany, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. So, in our Gospel story, we can suppose that this woman who anoints the head of Jesus is Mary of Bethany, and Simon the leper who offers his house to host the meal may be the friend or relative of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. John and Mark say the ointment was “nard” (NRSVCE). Although “nard” is also mentioned in the book of the Song of Songs in the context of romance and marriage (1:12; 4:13-14), note that nard was used in embalming the dead. Also, this mention of the anointing of Jesus’ head recalls Psalm 23:5, which says, “You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.” (NABRE). By alluding to this royal hymn and using the nard in the context of burial, Mark claims that Jesus, in his death and burial, is the rightful king of the people of God.

Third, the Lord’s Last Supper of Passover and its preparations (vv. 12-16; 22-26). To better comprehend what Mark says here, it is essential first to understand why and how the Jews celebrate the feast of “Passover.” The first Passover meal was what the Israelites celebrated the night before they left Egypt and started their long journey to the promised land. Note that the name “Passover” for this meal alludes to the angel of God who, while killing all firstborn Egyptians, “passed over” the houses of the Israelites because they were marked with the blood of the lamb. Per God’s instructions, each family slaughtered a one-year unblemished male lamb, put some of its blood on the doorposts of their houses, and ate its meat with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (Exodus 12: 1-10). God commanded them to make that day a “remembrance” for them, which their future generations would celebrate as a statute forever (Exodus 12: 14). So up to today, the Jews celebrate this feast of Passover to commemorate the day God freed their ancestors from Egypt. As a Jew, Jesus celebrated this feast every year. What Mark mentions here in our Gospel story is commonly called the “Last Supper” just because it is the last one that Jesus celebrated as he would be arrested and crucified the following day.

Then, Mark tells us how Jesus celebrated his “Last Supper of Passover” with his disciples. Jesus gave them bread and said that it was his body. Then he gave them a cup of wine, saying it was his blood of the new covenant, which would be shed for all. Referring to his death, he told them that that meal was the last one that he ate with them. Finally, they sang a hymn to conclude the celebration (Mark 14: 22-26). Mark tries to teach us some lessons by mentioning the Lord’s Last Supper in his narrative of Christ’s Passion. First, Jesus transforms the celebration of the Jewish Passover into a Eucharist celebration. This Last Supper of the Passover is the first ever Mass that Jesus celebrated and is the same Mass that we continue to celebrate today. Instead of the Passover Lamb that was slaughtered for the Jewish feast, Jesus gave his Body and Blood as the Sacrificial Pascal Lamb for us. Instead of the lamb's blood on the doorposts of the Israelite houses, now it is the Blood of Jesus on the wood of the cross that saves us. Instead of eating the meat of the sacrificed Passover lamb, at Mass, we eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood. The second lesson is that the bread and wine consecrated at our Masses becomes the real Body and Blood of Jesus. Notice, while giving the bread and wine to his disciples, Jesus did not say, “This is like my body and blood.” He instead says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (vv. 22-24). So, the Holy Communion we receive at Mass is the real presence of Christ. The third lesson concerns how we prepare the liturgy of the Mass and how we prepare ourselves before we come to Church. Notice how Jesus instructed his disciples to prepare their “First ever Mass” (see vv. 12-16). This teaches us that the liturgy of the Eucharist should be very well prepared, and we who attend this liturgy must also prepare ourselves in advance. Mass is an important meeting with our Lord. It should be celebrated reverently, and we who attend it must participate actively, intentionally, and prayerfully.

Fourth, Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, resolves to betray his master Jesus in exchange for money (vv. 10-11). During the Last Supper meal, Jesus announces that one of his friends will betray him. Jesus knows him very well, Judas Iscariot. He is the one who even dips with Jesus into the dish (vv. 17-21). Many of us continue to betray Jesus today. We betray him when we prioritize our physical lives over our spiritual lives, for instance, missing Mass (especially on Sundays and days of obligation) just because of personal desires. Whenever we betray our brothers and sisters, it is Jesus whom we betray. Let us not be the “Judas Iscariot” of our time but those who love Jesus through our love for our brothers and sisters and through the care for our spiritual lives.  

Fifth, the agony of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is about to face his death. His soul is sorrowful. He begins to be troubled and distressed. He resolves to spend this painful time in prayer. His prayer to God is this: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” (v. 36). Also, he invites three of his disciples (Peter, James, and John) to watch, meaning to pray with him. Three times, he encourages them to pray but three times, they fall asleep, unable to watch and pray with him (vv. 32-42). Here, Mark invites us to imitate Jesus. When we go through our difficult moments, we should call upon God and spend our sorrowful time in prayer. Let us learn from Jesus' prayer. We ask God for help but still let his will be done, not ours. Also, Peter, John, and James could not stay with Jesus when he needed them the most. Jesus says that because their spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (v. 38). We are called to be the men and women of prayer who “watch” and pray for and with those who suffer. There are people in hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, and around us who need us to spend time with them and support them in prayer. Let us exercise discipline and make our “flesh” strong to be prayer warriors.

Sixth, Jesus is arrested and led away to the high priest. The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin are trying to obtain testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death. Many are giving false witness against Jesus. The high priest invites Jesus to defend himself, but Jesus keeps silent. Then, to the question of the high priest to find out if Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One, Jesus, using the “I AM” statement, common in the Gospel of John, confirms that he is the Messiah. The high priest and all the accusers consider Jesus’ calling himself a “Messiah” as blasphemy, and they use it as the motif to condemn Jesus to death.  (vv. 43-65). They take Jesus to Pilate, who asks him if he is the king of the Jews. Jesus confirms that he is. Then, on the occasion of the feast, Pilate used to release one prisoner whom the Sanhedrin had requested. Here, Pilate asks them if they want him to release Jesus or Barabbas (one of the rebels who had committed murder), but the crowd shouts and asks Pilate to release Barnabas and crucify Jesus. Then Jesus is condemned to death by crucifixion (14:43 – 15:15). In this section, Mark shows how Jesus is condemned unjustly. The people chose a rebel, Barnabas, over Jesus, the innocent one. Let us look around us; there are perhaps the people, the “Jesus” of our time, against whom we give false witnesses and condemn unjustly because we do not like them. This part of the Gospel invites us to be honest in giving witness and making judgment.

Seventh, Peter denies Jesus (14: 66-72). Previously, Peter swore that although his fellow disciples would deny Jesus, he would never do this even though it would take him to die (14: 27-31). But he denies Jesus three times here, saying he does not know him. He breaks down and weeps once he realizes his sin. Let us connect this to our previous reflection. We deny Jesus whenever we give false witnesses against people, we condemn our brothers and sisters unjustly, and when we do not live out our Christian faith in “daylight.” Like Peter, let us break down in the sacrament of confession and weep for all the times we deny our Lord.

Eighth, the soldiers mock Jesus, strip him of his clothes, place a crown of thorns on him, and lead him out to crucify him. In Golgotha, they give Jesus wine, which is drugged with myrrh, but he does not drink it. At nine o’clock in the morning, they crucify Jesus and divide his garments. At noon, darkness comes over the whole land until three in the afternoon, when Jesus breathes his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. One centurion who witnessed when Jesus died confesses that Jesus is truly the Son of God. Mark mentions the presence of some women who accompanied Jesus until he died. Joseph of Arimathea courageously asks for the body of Jesus from Pilate. He lays Jesus’ body in a tomb hidden from the rock and rolls a stone against the entrance. Mary Magdelene and Mary, the mother of Joses, watch where Jesus is laid (15: 16-47). This last part of the story describes our Lord's suffering, death, and burial. Jesus accepts to be mocked, bitten, and crucified on the cross for you and me because he loves us, and he wants to grant us eternal salvation.

After meditating on Jesus’ passion, our Holy Mother Church calls us to respond to Jesus’ great love for us. Let us decide to repent now. May this Mass and this Holy Week prepare us spiritually for the great celebration of our Lord's Resurrection at Easter. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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