Passion Sunday (Palm Sunday) (B) (April 1 2012)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

Gospel for Entrance Procession

This reading is about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. One may naturally ask what really occurred on that first occasion, how did Jesus’ earliest followers understand the event, what message has it for us today. As the narrative stands in Mark’s gospel it comes at the end of a long journey from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem. At Caesarea Philippi Jesus asked his disciples what the people and what they say that he was. On behalf of his disciples Peter expressed the belief that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus did not deny this, but sternly ordered his disciples not to tell anyone about him. Jesus immediately follows up by a prediction of the suffering and rejection he is to undergo (Mark 8:27-33). Caesarea Philippi was in non-Jewish, pagan or semi-pagan territory. Matters were different at the Mount of Olives, facing the Holy City and the Temple. Here sites, landmarks and sacred festivals (Passover) had a language all their own; they spoke of prophecy, of

An alternative Gospel reading for this year is John 12:12-15, which has essentially the same message as that of Mark, but notes that on that first occasion the disciples did not quite understand the fuller significance of the events and how they were fulfilling prophecy, but did so after Jesus was “glorified”, that is risen from the dead and at the right hand of the Father, and active in the Church, through the Holy Spirit.

First Reading(Isaiah 50:4-7).

This is one of the texts of the second part of Isaiah known as the Servant Songs. As intended for the first readers during the exile or shortly after the first return to Palestine, it is not quite clear how the Servant was to be understood: whether an individual person or a collectivity such as God’s people Israel, or idealized Israel, intended as she should be. In either case the text gives the example of a suffering, patient person, with mind and heart open to God, prepared to suffer and learn from this suffering, and thus enabled to bring encouragement to those in a similar condition. Whatever of the original person intended, the passage is rightly taken as a prophecy and as fulfilled in Christ. It is a perfect description of Christ’s patient sufferings and of his mission to bring salvation and comfort.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 23 or 46). God is the king of glory; God reigns on his holy throne.

Second Reading(Philippians 2:6-11).

In its original setting in the Letter to the Philippians, this well-known hymn is introduced to illustrate Paul’s exhortation to imitate Christ’s humility. He exhorts his readers to be of the same mind, to do nothing from selfish ambition, to have the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, set before them in this hymn as an example. The emphasis is on Christ’s humility and humiliation, despite his dignity. The hymn may be contrasting Christ, the Second Adam, with the First Adam. Adam, although human (in human form) succumbed to the temptation to be like God. Jesus, though in the form of God (in some translations “his state was divine”) humbled himself to be as all mortals are. The hymn ends with an assertion of Jesus’ exaltation, not just at his resurrection and ascension, but all down through all history. It is a profession of faith in the Kingdom of God and of Christ. To him every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord.

Gospel(Mark 14:1-15:45; shorter form Mark 15:1-39).

Mark opened his narrative simply as: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God”. From early on in the narrative Mark records the opposition to Jesus, and from the profession of faith at Caesarea Philippi in Jesus by Peter and his disciples Jesus predicts on three occasions the sufferings and death awaiting him in Jerusalem. Mark’s gospel has been described as a “theology of the cross”, theologia crucis.The stark reality of what lay immediately ahead of him was clear to Jesus in Gethsemane when he prayed to the Father that the “hour” might pass from him (Mark 14:25), but professed complete obedience to the Father’s will. Jesus’ passion, its implications and message, was central to the Christian message from the beginning. The wisdom of God through the scandal of the cross remained central to the Christian message. The narrative of the institution of the Eucharist and of the accompanying passion and death of Jesus was apparently the earliest continuous account of the Gospel narrative. Mark’s account is probably the earliest extended one of the Gospel accounts. But Mark’s intention is not to give a chronicle of events. The evangelist presents the Passion and death as the completion of the good news of Jesus Christ Son of God. After Jesus had breathed his last Mark has the pagan centurion exclaim: “Surely this man was God’s Son” (Mark 15:39).

B. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day

“You shall be my witnesses”.

During this Holy Week, and on Easter Sunday, many Catholics will attend the ceremonies and Easter Sunday Mass who may well stay away until next Christmas. It is a feature of modern Irelan. Regular Sunday Mass has in many places decreased dramatically. The Church in Ireland has been through trials of different kinds, and is still in turmoil. There has been, and there still is, a growing secularism with less interest in the divine and in religion. Then there have been the shocking child sex abuse scandals by clerics, and the state Tribunal reports on these and on the religious institutions. Coupled with this there has been a somewhat concerted campaign to highlight any abuse that might damage the Church. One may also instance the campaign to promote and register what is described as defections from the Church. And before the 2011 Census of Ireland there was a campaign directed at citizens not to register themselves under “Roman Catholic” in the Census return, but rather as “no religion”. One could have wondered what the present situation of the Church in Ireland really is, or what its future prospects are. Then just recently came the first official figure for the 2011 Census of Ireland, showing that the number registering themselves as Roman Catholic had actually increased by 5% since the last Census in 2006!! Thus despite all the trials and setbacks it appears that the Irish people are still solidly attached to their Church.

We can compare the situation somewhat to that of the disciples during and after the terrible events of the Passion and death of Jesus. The hopes expressed in him on the entry over the Mount of Olives seemed dashed. In his hour of trouble his disciples had abandoned him; Peter had even denied him three times. The situation changed with the resurrection belief, and the words of Jesus that his death was really a victory. They could take courage. Through his death and resurrection he had conquered “the world”, that is all forces trying to take believers away from him. And his followers would be witnesses to this new age. As Jesus said (John 15:26-27): “When the Advocate (Paraclete, Comforter) comes, whom I send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, will bear witness to me; and you also are witnesses, because you have been with me from the beginning

The Church in Ireland is now at a turning point. In the census some eighty percent (80%) of the population of the population has registered themselves as Catholics, while a mere 4% registered as of no religion. There has been an Apostolic Visitation, expressing regret and apologies for the sex abuse, but also stating the obvious that there is need of renewal. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, has revealed shortcomings. But that same Spirit is our Comforter and our Advocate, giving peace in believing and strength of faith conviction. Presence at Easter ceremonies could be a call and a reminder from Christ that all who believe in him are his witnesses, witnesses to his passion and resurrection. Renewal means greater contact with the Mass and the sacraments than twice a year, quiet prayer alone, and also if appropriate in the family, a deeper understanding of the faith, and enthusiasm for all Christ and the Church stand for in the troubled world of our own day. Let us all be Christ’s witnesses, because we have been with him (and he with us) from the beginning, from our baptism.


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