Questions: Is this a day for rejoicing while parading around with long green leaves from exotic climates in outrageous joy? Or is it a day for bracing ourselves to hear the story of horrible injustice?
Unless we hold the extremes together in our hearts and minds, we cannot get past either our desire for a victorious knight on a white hourse coming to save us or God’s foolish way of showing us ultimate love. True power is in weakness. True power is in dying.
Today is not simply both because “some people” won’t come to hear the Passion story on Good Friday (a convenient explanation). Rather, we honor two realities at one time at the start of Holy Week so that we can better recognize what we human creatures repeatedly mistake for wisdom. When the rabbi we love rides on a donkey into the city of ultimate power, it is not a moment to breathe a sigh of relief but to hold our breath.
Some believe the triumphal procession of Jesus into Jerusalem is modeled on the Roman triumph, yet the triumphant processional entrance of a king or conqueror to take possession of “his city” is well known to nearly all ancient societies. . . . Julius Caesar enters marked with sacrificial blood, a “god for a day” . . . accompanied by armies, banners, music, and horns.
Jesus’ triumph could hardly be more similar and more different. Jesus is not yet marked with sacrificial blood, but will himself become a sacrificial victim. He is not accompanied by conquering armies, stallions and chariots, but rides a colt. As homilists, we should help our congregations see how Mark has traced a continuous path for Jesus’ triumphal steps: into the city, into the temple, out of the city, and into a tomb. – Jeffrey VanderWilt
Palm – Mark 11:1-11
Passion – Mark 14:1-15:47
Erik Erikson, the theorist who wrote about eight stages of human development, described the first crisis human infants confront: trust versus mistrust. Babies see and feel their caregivers holding, feeding, bathing, and comforting them, and they begin to understand that they can rely on these other beings. It is the caregiver’s touch, smile, and eye-to-eye contact—the caregiver’s face—with which the infant connects most intimately.
. . . Martin Luther, about whom Erikson wrote a psycho-historical biography, suggested that the best benediction to use at the end of Mass is the Aaronic blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” (emphasis added). We see—and touch—the face of another, and in so doing learn to trust the other.
When Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he echoes Psalm 22, but he also expresses the cry of any person who has felt the searing pain of abandonment. There are times when the darkness is unbroken by the kind face of a caregiver.
On the Sunday of the Passion, particularly in the Year of Mark, we behold an abandoned, frightened, and ultimately defeated Jesus. And he beholds us in our own abandonment, our own despair.
. . . We don’t pretend on this day that we don’t know the end of the story. Even in Mark’s gospel, which ends with Jesus’ followers running in fear from the news of the empty grave, we are given the hope of resurrection, the promise of Christ’s face in the darkness. – Stephen Crippen
The Suffering Servant gives us a stark image of the victim, the one being bullied, the one who has no voice and cannot find justice. It is the image of the crucified one and also the creatures–human and non–who stand little chance of thriving where there is no champion to take their side. This image can help us see how important it is to “contend” alongside the one who is abused.
How we are to stand with those in need is the concern of the epistle to the church in Philippi.
The key phrase is “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (2:5). It links the exhortation to good behavior (e.g., v 3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition”) to the nature of Jesus as one who could have been equal to God, but “emptied himself.” The Greek concept is kenosis, or “pouring out,” a reference to a divestment of power, authority, or status. – Jeffrey VanderWilt
Stephen Crippen is a psychotherapist and a deacon in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, Washington.
Jeffery VanderWilt, author of Communion with Non-Catholic Christians (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), teaches at Santa Margarita Catholic High school in Southern California.
Homily Service 39, no. 5 (2006): 9-17.