Posted March 27, 2021
Palm Sunday, Yr B
Judas betrays Jesus; Jesus’ disciples forsake him; Peter denies him. An unjust court finds Jesus guilty. Pilate finds him innocent yet sanctions his execution. The guards and the soldiers assault him. They strip him. They nail him to a cross. They mock him. The innocent one dies a painful and desolate death. (Mark 14:1–15: 47)
As we accompany Jesus in all this – and that is the purpose of Holy Week – it is difficult to avoid asking ourselves where we stand in this interplay of innocence and evil, of loyalty and betrayal. For this is not theatre that we view as spectators. It is a drama that enters our very souls. The same cruelties, the same betrayals, the same disloyalties, the same false motives and cowardice and self-seeking, are all around us still, and which of us can say that our souls are altogether free of them?
We find ourselves identifying with this person or that in the drama: and perhaps there is something of all of them in each of us. We may not have inflicted physical violence on the Lord but have we never done violence to others with our words and attitudes? We may not have betrayed Jesus to death, but have we never been disloyal to him and glossed over our disloyalty with a false kiss, and righteous words? Peter was there warming himself. (Whenever the camera picks out Peter, there he is, warming himself.) He denies Jesus three times. And even after his tears of repentance, one wonders if he was truly rehabilitated. Where is he later in the crowd, contradicting the people around him? There is no mention of his being near the cross of Jesus, remonstrating with the soldiers, chief priests and the scribes and the passers-by who were deriding Jesus. Had he, perhaps, found a safe anonymity, and a nice warm fire, in some other place? And how much of Peter is there in each of us?
The young man in the garden, a follower of Jesus, let go of his sheet and ran off naked. In the beginning he had let go of everything to follow Jesus: now he lets go of everything to get away from him, for the sake of some specious freedom. Does that resonate with something in your past?
All the disciples fled. All of them, St Mark says emphatically. Just as he had emphasized earlier: they all said ‘Even if I’ve got to die with you, I will not disown you!’ All of them had said it; and all of them fled. Now we wouldn’t be among them, would we?
There is little comfort for us in St Mark’s Passion narrative. This is not surprising, since the whole of his Gospel appears to have been written to warn against complacency among Jesus’ disciples.
But if we are seeking a positive role model in this sorry state of affairs, there is one very conspicuous one – I mean, apart from Jesus himself. I’m thinking of the episode that St Mark, quite surprisingly, has placed at the beginning of his Passion narrative, immediately before Judas gets down to business. It is the episode of the woman who anoints Jesus’ head with precious oils, an expression of her extravagant love
When people complain of her extravagance, Jesus defends her with the words: ‘She has done a beautiful thing to me.’ Those words are like a shimmer of light in a world that is black with evil; an antidote to the poison that pervades these pages of the Gospel. And that’s why I think St Mark has placed that episode here, as a preface to his whole Passion narrative: so that we are not over-discouraged by what is to follow.
‘She has done a beautiful thing to me.’ What lovely words! You could not think yourself more blessed in all eternity than to hear Jesus make that remark about you. As we accompany Jesus throughout Holy Week, let that woman be our role model. If we are disheartened to discover how much of Judas is in us, and how much of Peter, we should also ask: What is this beautiful thing that I am being called to do to the Lord? Discover that beautiful thing, and do it. Then accompany the Lord with joy, through Holy Week and throughout your life.
Fr Tom Deidun