April 1, 2012: Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
The Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were to take place in two days’ time. So the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to arrest him by treachery and put him to death. They said, “Not during the festival, for fear that there may be a riot among the people.”
When he was in Bethany reclining at table in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of perfumed oil, costly genuine spikenard. She broke the alabaster jar and poured it on his head.
There were some who were indignant. “Why has there been this waste of perfumed oil? It could have been sold for more than three hundred days’ wages and the money given to the poor.” They were infuriated with her.
Jesus said, “Let her alone. Why do you make trouble for her? She has done a good thing for me. The poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them, but you will not always have me. She has done what she could. She has anticipated anointing my body for burial. Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her….” (Mark 14:1-15:47)
BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF THE LONG GOSPEL OF PALM SUNDAY: St. Mark begins his account with a meal during which a woman entered and anointed the head of Jesus with costly precious ointment. When Judas objected to this “waste,” our Lord defended the woman, saying it was done in preparation for his burial. Judas planned to betray Jesus, his Master, to the chief priest. During and after the meal, Jesus foretold that one of them would betray him and that all would desert him in his tragic sufferings. “Not I,” says Peter, but our Lord said that the opposite would be the case, and so it was.
Then follows the account of the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, his trial before the Sanhedrin, the High Court of the Jews, his answer to the high priest that he was the Messiah, for which he was declared a blasphemer and guilty of death. He was spat upon, blind-folded and hit with fists. The next day (Good Friday) Jesus was brought before Pilate who saw no guilt in him. However, because Pilate wanted to “pacify the mob” yelling for Jesus’ crucifixion, he condemned him to be scourged and crucified. Pilate was more concerned with keeping his own job than in seeing justice observed. Having been mocked by the Roman soldiers, scourged, crowned with thorns (for he claimed to be a king), and spat upon and beaten, Christ, carrying his own cross, was led to Calvary, the public place for crucifixion. There he was nailed to the cross in the company of two thieves. While he was enduring the slow torture of this kind of death, with his life-blood slowly draining from his body through the nailed hands and feet, his enemies mocked him saying: “he saved others, now let him save himself. If he is the Christ, the Messiah, let him prove it to us now by coming down from the cross.”
After three hours of agonizing suffering on the cross Christ uttered a loud cry: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk. 23: 46), and then breathed his last. The Roman centurion in charge of the crucifixion was amazed at what he had seen and declared: “truly this man was the Son of God.” Pilate was surprised that Jesus had died so soon. It was not unusual for one crucified to linger on in agony for a whole day or even more. When, however, he got confirmation from the centurion that Jesus was really dead, he gave Joseph of Arimathea permission to bury the body of Jesus. He was buried in a stranger’s tomb.
It is hard to imagine why Pilate–who had nothing against Jesus–would allow the mob to crucify Jesus. But Pilate’s action may help us think about how often we do something because we don’t want someone to think we are afraid to do it–or afraid of what they will think if we don’t do it. Do you ever do that…do something you ordinarily wouldn’t do because you think a friend thinks it is funny or daring or…? This gospel tells us a lot about ourselves and we should put ourselves in it and ask ourselves if we would ever do the same kind of thing Pilate is doing.
I think it is always hard to read about the crucifixion of Jesus–mostly because we cannot imagine how it would feel to have nails pounded through our hands, and a sword thrust into our heart. And when we think about the enormous pain Jesus was suffering, there is Mary, his mother, looking on. Can you imagine how she must be suffering! Jesus is her son–the child she bore and loved–and here he is being killed right before her eyes!
After you read this Gospel, take some time–at least 10 minutes–to sit down somewhere very quiet and alone. While you sit there, think deeply about Jesus and his mother at the moment he is being crucified. Try to imagine what it must feel like for both of them–and then talk with Jesus and Mary about what you are feeling. And then tell them what you will do over the next week to show your love for each of them.
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