Palm Sunday Of The Passion Of The Lord
– Year B.
Commentary Theme for this Sunday:
“Jesus gives up His Life”.
The evangelists do not report the passion and death of Jesus just to play on our emotions. They show us Christ who gave up his life for love of all people.
The first reading tells us what happens to those who are faithful to the mission God has entrusted to them.
The second reading describes the journey of the servant from the glory of the Father to the humiliation of the death on the Cross, to the glory of the Resurrection. This is the path proposed to every person.
The Gospel presents us with the only one who has fully realised in himself the image of a servant. The servant will have his reward, and many will be blessed through his surrender to the Father’s will.
It is recommended that the actual readings are first studied and then meditated upon with a prayer to the Holy Spirit to grant you the gift of ‘wisdom’ to understand the meaning of the messages of Love, Forgiveness and the Offer of Salvation that the Lord has for each one of us in the Holy Bible.
These commentaries, which have been extracted and summarised for our meditation are from the published works of priests who have by their Divine inspiration become acclaimed scholars of the Scriptures and generally reflect the Church’s understanding of the readings.
These commentaries are not meant to replace the Sunday Homily at Holy Mass but are provided as an additional guide to assist and further enhance our understanding of the Sunday Liturgical Readings.
‘Daily Reflections’ and a Prayer are included to enable us to ‘Live the Word’ during the week following the Sunday Mass. We will begin to understand the meaning of gratuitous love and our life’s true purpose. Through His Word we will follow the Light to help fulfil the mission that has been given to each one of us by our Creator.
“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ‘Ignorance of Christ’.”
The first reading is from one of the four ‘servant songs’ in the book of Isaiah, of which this passage is the third. In these songs Isaiah pictures the true role of Israel as one of redemptive suffering. “I was not rebellious,” the servant says. “I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard…. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced.”
The ‘suffering servant’ (Israel) is meant to conquer evil not by force but by loving patience under suffering, confident that in the end God will bring about success. In the first two, the call of the servant is benign and noble sounding. The servant of the Lord will bring forth justice as the world awaits his teaching. Called from birth to serve God, the servant is gentle, unwilling to break a bruised reed. He is a polished arrow in God’s quiver, a light to all the nations.
In the third song, the message turns darker. The servant speaks eloquently, but he is rejected. He does not turn back, even as he receives beatings, is spat upon, and humiliated. In the final oracle, death comes for the servant. The same kings stand speechless, not in honour this time but in horror. The servant is offered as a sacrifice for sin. He is buried in ignominy (dishonour). Yet that is not all. The servant will have his reward, and many will be blessed through his surrender.
These four songs provided an unpopular sense of what God’s anointed one (Messiah) might do, and were therefore largely rejected by those who awaited redemption. But it is clear that Jesus looked into the portrait of the servant and recognized his own way. The first Christians recognized that in Jesus the servant songs of Isaiah were fulfilled.
The use of a portion of the third song as the first reading for Palm Sunday each year is to provide a preview for the whole of Holy Week. In these verses the Church invites us to recall the ministry of Christ, a ministry of teaching and speaking, of comfort to the weary. The reading also speaks of the faithfulness and obedience of Jesus, a faithfulness that would bring Jesus to his death. In the course of his mistreatment and persecution he would be patient. But in the end God will intervene to bring his Christ to glory. These are all themes that we will encounter in the course of the days that lie ahead during Holy Week.
Jesus condemned for his teaching, refusing to back away from his faithfulness to the Father’s will is touched with the glory of a new life in his Resurrection. A life that all who truly open themselves to Christ would be called upon to share.
Jesus is the true ‘Servant’, faithful to God, who has given up his life to deliver all people. God’s love was manifested through Jesus’ humiliation and death; such was the plan of God, a plan he had revealed through the prophets.
We can also recognize what happened to this ‘Servant’ in the story of every person who wants to practice and proclaim justice.
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24.
The Psalm, which we shall hear again in the coming week, is what Jesus may have been quoting on the Cross, for it begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Our portion of it concentrates largely on the unpleasantness, and only at the end do we discern a glimmer of hope: “I will proclaim your name to the brothers and sisters… let those who fear YHWH praise him”.
It is a song of the ‘innocent sufferer’. It supplements the ‘Servant’ song and prepares for the Passion story. Jesus spoke its first words as his last (Mt 27:46); he may have prayed the rest in silence as he died. Its descriptions of mocking bystanders and divided garments describe his sufferings. The ending, in which God is praised and the sufferer is vindicated, anticipates the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection.
In the second reading Paul uses an early Christian hymn to help the Philippians understand the truth about humility; and that everyone should give preference to others and not be pursuing their own selfish interests.
Jesus was made in the image of God (like Adam and all human beings), but unlike Adam and us, “Jesus did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…. He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a Cross.” And for this, “God highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name.”
We who do not empty ourselves can only marvel at his example. We are invariably very full of our own activities, our self-interests, our plans and ourselves. From time to time something will empty us, on one way or another, but we will not voluntarily give much away. Nothing really is ours; our lives are full of people and things we have placed false value and great attachments to.
The practice of self-emptying may not be easy, but it is the path down which all Christians must travel. We should be doing this in a particular way during this time in Lent and Easter when we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ greatest humiliation (his death) and his greatest glorification (his Resurrection).
As Jesus’ death draws near, Mark shows us that the disciples, who have been closest to him, have not understood him and are not ready to stand by him. Jesus foretells that Judas will betray him. He also predicts that Peter, who had made a remarkable confession of faith, will also deny him. It is with full knowledge of the weakness of his disciples that Jesus celebrates the Eucharist with them.
By giving the bread and saying, “This is my body”, Jesus asks his disciples to enter into an intimate relationship with him. The giving of the cup of wine as his blood looks forward to his death, when his blood will be spilt, as a sign of the ‘New Covenant’ that is being established between God and his people. The Gospel writer puts the account of Jesus’ self-offering through the gift of bread and wine at the Last Supper between the foretelling of the betrayal by Judas and the denial of Peter.
Both prophecies will be fulfilled. Jesus will be arrested with Judas’ help and Peter will deny him three times. Mark demonstrates the weakness of the disciples in many ways. Chosen as companions of Jesus, they have seen his miracles and heard his preaching. Yet their minds are often closed and they fail to understand. They argue about positions of honour while he is moving towards his death.
As we approach the end of Jesus’ journeying with them, we might have hoped to see them change a little, but things only got worse. After Jesus is arrested, the male disciples run away and never appear again as a group in the Gospel; only after the Resurrection do they meet again in the upper room in Acts. Jesus dies isolated from all but is acknowledged by a foreigner as God’s Son and is watched over by his mother and female disciples.
The two disciples who have failed their Master react in different ways. Judas thought that God could never forgive him and so he killed himself. Peter, on the contrary, trusted in Jesus’ mercy and repented. We often face the same challenges and disillusionments as his disciples did. Most us, at one time have felt disappointed and let down by God. We expect God to protect us from harm and sufferings. As Christians we look to Jesus for salvation. Can we accept the Cross as part of the deal? Can we give up our expectations on how life should be and accept God’s will.
Mark tells us that it is never too late to turn back to God and be forgiven. The end of a Lenten journey is perhaps a good time to experience the joy of being forgiven by God in the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’.
Today’s palms will be burnt later for next Lent’s ashes. Repentance is ongoing and so is God’s love and his forgiveness.
‘Acknowledgement and Thanks’ to ‘Recommended Source Material’ by:
Archbishop Daniel E. Pilarczyk, Fr. Fernando Armellini SCI, Peter Edmonds SJ, Richard Baawobr M.Afr, Joseph A. Slattery Ph.D, Adelmo Spagnolo MCCJ, Silvester O’Flynn OFM Cap, J.E. Spicer CSsR, John R. Donahue SJ and Alice Camille – Master’s degree in Divinity.
Reflections for each day this Week to lead us in the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’:
Almighty God and Father, on the … of the week following Palm Sunday Year B, we reflect on …
Sun.… Isaiah speaks out in the name of the one to come, the ‘Suffering Servant’ of God. “The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard, I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” Early Christians discovered that these words were fully realized only in Jesus. Do we by our actions also reject Jesus?
Mon.… Isaiah’s hearers did not welcome the word of God. Their blows and insults anticipated the mockeries directed to Christ. The servant remained faithful because he knew that the Lord was with him in his sufferings and would deliver.
Tues.… Jesus is the true ‘Servant’, faithful to God’s will, who gave up his life for our redemption. God’s love was manifested through Jesus’ humiliation and death. A true Christian is identified by the love that, following the example of Christ, is capable of giving gratuitous love to a neighbour. Can our love for our neighbour label us as a true Christian?
Wed.… In the Psalm the ‘innocent sufferer’ endures humiliation and mocking from bystanders. Christ in his dying moments on the Cross was able to pray for the forgiveness of his perpetrators. Are we able to pray for those who insult and hurt us?
Thurs.… Paul is inviting his readers to live by Christ’s standards rather than Adam’s and those of the world. We all need to ‘empty ourselves’ of all that may be obstacles or stumbling blocks that is preventing us following in the ‘Way’ of Christ. We need to replace pride and vanity with love and humility.
Frid. … Mark shows us in his writings the weaknesses of the disciples in many ways. They walked with Jesus in the ‘Way’ and yet their minds were often closed and they failed to understand his teachings. We too have supposedly walked with Jesus in our many homilies at Mass for many years and yet many of us still fail to understand. Let us today and during this very special week pray that the ‘Spirit of God’ opens up our minds and hearts that we may understand the meaning of God’s Word, his message of salvation.
Sat.… In our journey of faith we often face similar challenges and disillusionments, as did his disciples. We must pray regularly to God to grant us his graces and to protect us from evil and the strength to help us in our sufferings. For a persecuted Church, Mark wrote his Gospel to show that Jesus would be found in our sufferings. As Christians we look to Jesus for salvation. Are we able to accept the Cross and follow him without denying him on that difficult way to salvation? Mark tells us that it is never too late to turn back to God and be forgiven. The end of a Lenten journey is perhaps a good time to experience the joy of being forgiven by God in the ‘Sacrament of Reconciliation’.
Prayer after the Daily Reflection.
Father, today we joyfully acclaim Jesus as our Messiah and King. May we reach one day as our final destiny, the happiness of the new and everlasting Jerusalem by faithfully following his ‘Way’, his ‘Truth’ and his ‘Life’.
This we ask through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.