• Palm Sunday (B)

    Posted on March 18, 2018 by in Reflections on Sunday Gospels


    (The reading of the Passion Narrative because of its length, makes it difficult to preach very long on this Sunday.  The following are not meant as homilies but perhaps more preparation for our celebration of this Sunday.)

    Raymond Brown begins his reflection on the Passion Narratives with this general observation: “Every year during Holy Week the liturgy of the Church exposes us to a bit of biblical criticism by appointing two different passion narratives to be read within a short period.” In Cycles A, B, and C we hear the Passion according to Matthew, then Mark, then Luke.  “…while on Good Friday every year we hear the Passion according to John.  ‘Those who have ears to hear’ should notice that the two narratives which are read in a given year do not offer the same picture of the crucifixion of Jesus in either content or outlook.”  He then goes on to consider the importance of that observation.

    Personally I have found it very beneficial to read short characterizations of the Gospel writers in general and of their Passion narratives in particular.  In a Catholic Update , “The four faces of Jesus” Virginia Smith, characterizes the four different Gospel accounts of Jesus this way: “Mark’s harried, hurried human Jesus;” “Matthew’s new Moses: Jesus, the teacher;” “Luke’s compassionate, forgiving Jesus;” and “John’s noble, majestic, divine Jesus.”

    In one folio of Scripture from Scratch,  Ronald D. Witherup, “The Passion of Jesus” characterizes the four accounts this way: “Spartan Mark,” “Eloquent Matthew,” “Passionate Luke,” and “Majestic John.”  He makes the summary point, “Whether spartan, eloquent, poignant, or majestic they all seek to present faithfully the tradition they have inherited.”  He goes on to say we should avoid the tendency to blend them into one seamless story.  We should ask what we learn anew from each retelling and from each individual evangelist.

    Raymond Brown characterizes Mark’s portrayal of the Crucified Jesus this way: “Mark portrays a stark human abandonment of Jesus which is reversed by God dramatically at the end.”  Witherup says, “Mark’s narrative is rather terse and concise, but within it is a rich theological perspective of its own.  Mark does not shy away from the cruelty of the passion. …A second element in the Markan narrative is irony. …Mark also emphasizes the theme of kingship.”  Robert Karris writing in Ministry and Liturgy states: “Mark’s passion account may overwhelm the preacher and assembly on Palm Sunday because of its sheer length.  I provide three literary avenues for approaching the rich christology of Mark 14:1-15:47: foreshadowing, sandwiches and irony.”

    Different commentators come at the “foreshadowing”with different approaches.  Stephen Binz says, “Though the passion and resurrection form the climactic final chapter of Mark’s Gospel, the cross is embedded in Jesus’ entire life.”M. Kahler in 1964 stated that the Gospels are “passion narratives with extended introductions.” Ralph Martin says, “it is apparent that in context he has his eyes set primarily on Mark’s Gospel.” The passion of John the Baptist anticipates the passion of Jesus.  Jesus’ ministry provokes controversy both in Galilee and Jerusalem.  Three times Jesus announced his passion and resurrection.


    Mark’s style is characterized by a sandwich technique.  This comes through in the Passion narrative very clearly. 1)  The burial anointing by the generous woman is preceded by malicious plotting to arrest Jesus and put him to death. . The anointing is followed by the account of Judas’ betrayal.   Karris tells us: “Mark contrasts the bread of Judas’ betrayal with the meat of the abundantly generous woman who anoints Jesus’ feet.  Judas hands over Jesus for a few paltry coins whereas this woman spends a small fortune on Jesus in a loving gesture.”  2) The meal narrative of the Last supper is surrounded before by the prediction of betrayal and after by the prediction of discipleship broken and renewed. 3) When Jesus is led away before the Sanhedrin, Peter follows but “at a distance.  This is in contrast to his profession at the Last Supper that he would never have his faith shaken.  Jesus then boldly confesses his messiah ship, while  Peter cowardly denies Jesus.

    “Dramatic irony pulses through Mark’s passion account,” says Karris. Here are but a few of the examples which he gives.  Jesus is condemned to death by the Sanhedrin, is blindfolded and told to prophesy.  Ironically one of his prophecies, the denial of Peter, is being fulfilled in the courtyard below.  For believers, what Pilate and the chief priests say in ridicule is the truth: Jesus is the long awaited King of the Jews, the Messiah.  The Jewish leaders and people reject their innocent king and prefer Barabbas, a convicted murderer and revolutionary.  Though the chief priests intend mockery:  “He saved others”, they are speaking the Gospel truth.  The first person in Mark’s Gospel to understand Jesus’ true nature, is a Roman centurion (a non Jew).

    Karris ends his article: Mark “wants to get us to see more clearly and faithfully what the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God, is all about and what it means for us fallible followers whom the risen Lord leads back to Galilee.”

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