MEOW King e3
The Passion and the pain
Mark 11:1-10 (Procession of I he Palms) Isaiah 50:4-7 Philippians 2:6-11 York 14:1-15:47 Palm Sunday
TODAY, as every year, the !Church begins the solemn celebration of this holiest of weeks with a reading of Jesus' passion, and this year it is Mark's gospel that is put before us. Mark was less free here than elsewhere in his gospel to make editorial alterations and insertions, but even here we can detect his hand and see his editorial purpose.
His main interest seems to be in underlining how awful were the last hours of Jesus' life, and how, paradoxically, it was precisely in the awfulness that he excerised his fidelity to God. He achieves this by a series of contrasts that runs right through the narrative.
From the very beginning, the religious establishment is depicted as being determined to kill Jesus, without any deliberation about the morality of the action. In striking contrast to their attitude is the behaviour of the woman at Bethany, which takes on a rather sombre hue because of the opposition it arouses and the express link that Jesus makes with his death.
Similarly, the discovery that Jesus' betrayal by Judas was done for money, is followed immediately by the Last Supper, in which Mark relates the institution of the eucharist explicitly to Jesus' forthcoming death. The disciples, it is true, show willing at this point, but in the end they fail; and their failure, and Peter's in particular, is compounded by their insistence that they would never let Jesus down. Then at Gethsemane, the very stylised way in which Mark relates the story of Jesus' agony, with its threefold structure, within which Jesus moves between the unfaithful disciples and his own deep fidelity to what his Father wants, is a chilling and powerful evocation of Jesus' loneliness. The disciples fall asleep because they have no idea what a critical moment this is.
When the arresting party comes, the series of contrasts continues, between the terrifying violence with which they come to take Jesus, and his own gentleness; between Judas' respectful greeting and what he is actually doing; between the violence of one of Jesus' supporters and his own submissiveness; and finally, between Jesus' acceptance of his destiny and his disciples' headlong flight.
Mark's account of the trial is somewhat obscure, and it is difficult to reconstruct what actually happened; what is clear is the emphasis on the authorities' determination to put Jesus to death at any price. This is thrown into powerful relief by Jesus' eloquent silence, which he breaks only at the great moment of self-revelation, with the mighty claim of "I AM', which leads directly to his death.
At Calvary there is a most ghastly parody of the enthronement of a ruler, with the gift of drugged wine instead of a proper drink, the stripping of Jesus instead of clothing him in royal robes, mockery instead of sycophancy, and two thieves "enthroned" on either side instead of princes of the blood royal.
The whole thing is a total disaster, as Jesus acknowledges with his terrible cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?".
It is only after this terrible death that we are given any hint at all that the disaster may not be unredeemed. The rending ol the veil of the Temple, whatever it means precisely, is at least a sign that God is acting in the situation (which was what Jesus was disposed to doubt).
Then the amazing confession of faith by, of all people, the Roman centurion, gives us a clue as to how God is working. Next the women emerge from the background, who have evidently been there all the time, so we see that Jesus was not wholly abandoned by his friends. Then Joseph of Arimathea makes his brave gesture of solidarity, and, finally, Jesus is pronounced really dead and securely buried. All this looks forward to a future that is not black.
For the moment, Mark wants us to understand, that if we follow Jesus, we must expect at least occasionally to feel lost and abandoned, even by God, and to suffer most dreadfully. We do the gospel no service at all if ever we seek to flee from this fact.