Saint Vincent Archabbey
Passion Sunday, Classic
Mark 14: 1–15: 47
For us Christians, the story of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus represents the climax, not just of the earthly career of our Lord, but of all biblical revelation. The first part of this Passion story, without the Resurrection, is the gospel selection for this last Sunday of Lent.
It is impossible to comment on all the elements of this lengthy and incredibly rich gospel passage, and so I have decided to offer some thoughts on a little "story-within-the-story," which is the anointing of Jesus by an unnamed woman at the very beginning of the narrative. At first glance, this episode appears to be completely irrelevant and we may be tempted to dismiss it until we read, at the end of the story, that it is indispensable to the Passion story itself: "…wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."
This story is so important because it is related to the Passion of Jesus in the same way that a key signature is related to the music that follows. What this woman did, therefore, tells us how to read and understand the Passion of Jesus. Briefly stated, her seemingly extravagant anointing of Jesus represents, in microcosm, what Jesus himself is about to do for the whole world. Just as she breaks open the exquisite alabaster cruet and pours its precious and fragrant ointment on the head of Jesus in anticipation of his death and burial, so also Jesus will allow his body to be broken in death and will pour the precious ointment of his life-blood on all of us who are destined to die.
Her action is considered wasteful and foolish by the bystanders, so that Jesus must correct them as he praises this woman for her generosity.
And, in like manner, what Jesus does may appear to be foolish and wasteful to an unbelieving and cynical world, but his Father will raise him from the dead and thereby confirm forever the wisdom of his generosity.
If we take this little story of the anointing of Jesus seriously, we will learn that the passion story is not primarily about how much Jesus suffered, but rather about how much he loved. He did suffer, of course, and his suffering was intense. But suffering as such is not necessarily redemptive. What makes the pain and suffering of Jesus the source of salvation for us is the fact that it resulted from his extraordinary loving. We all know that suffering can come from other sources than loving, such as not getting our own way or being wedded to false goals, but this kind of selfish suffering has nothing in common with the suffering of Jesus.
And so, for example, when we make the Way of the Cross (the Stations), we may be tempted to say: "I'm with you, Jesus. I'm suffering just as you did!" But Jesus could very well say to us, "Are you suffering because you love? If so, by all means join me, and we will walk together toward Resurrection. Otherwise, please try to learn the real meaning of love."
The love of Jesus is unselfish and therefore will always involve the pain of self-denial. In like manner, good parents suffer as they make sacrifices for their children, just as children suffer when they try to be more mature and unselfish. Some suffering always results when we place the needs of others before our own interests. Old people also suffer when they trust God's goodness and promises in spite of the apparent hopelessness of their situation. But it is also true that such loving sacrifice always brings with it real joy, as well as the promise of eternal happiness.
In this very real human suffering that inevitably follows real loving, we can be comforted by the assurance that we are being anointed with the precious blood of Jesus. This enables us to walk with him on the way of the cross—that loving, painful path that leads to glory. When we do this, we too will be called foolish and be told that we are wasting our lives by not working for ourselves alone. But Jesus will tell us, as he told that generous and sensitive woman, that what we do is not foolish but "a good thing." Nothing can be more comforting than to hear Jesus make such a wonderful judgment about our feeble efforts to walk with Jesus.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.Palm Sunday, Modern
Gospel Mk 14:1 – 15:47
The Passion Reading for Palm Sunday is a three year rotation of Matthew's, Mark's and Luke's Gospel account of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. Each of these Gospel accounts describes the Last Supper, the arrest and trial of Jesus, his passion and death, and ends with his burial. The Divine Inspiration that produces these Gospels works through the unique perspective and teaching gifts of each of the Evangelists. Three different accounts speak of the same mystery of Faith that we profess each time we take part in Holy Mass; "We proclaim your Death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again."
This year we hear the account from St. Mark. His account of the Passion, while the shortest, does not short change us on bringing various elements of the mission and ministry of Jesus into the Passion. First we hear of his visit to the house of Simon the Leper. Simon no doubt had been cured so as to be living back in the community and entertaining people. It was in the midst of this meal that a woman comes in and anoints the feet of Jesus. It's interesting that the people with Simon would become indignant at Jesus allowing this outcast to anoint him while in the house of Simon who was once an outcast.
This scene cuts away to the account of Judas betraying Jesus. We then begin the account of the Last Supper that we are all so familiar with. In all of this Jesus remains focused to his mission of savior of the world. His ministry and the plots and attacks are all based on who Jesus is, and the failure of people to recognize Him.
As we enter Holy Week it might benefit us to connect what we hear on Palm Sunday with what we heard in Matthew's Gospel on Ash Wednesday, When you give alms…, when you pray…., when you fast... Jesus didn't suggest or give an invitation to give alms, pray and fast, he speaks under the assumption that we are doing these and gives an instruction on how to do so with sincerity and devotion. How have we been at our Lenten almsgiving, prayer and fasting? In the Passion account Jesus does not merely remind us, he shows us how to sincerely offer ourselves in obedience to the Father.
Jesus gave the ultimate alms when he gave himself completely to death on the cross. He gave all that he had without holding back anything. A very basic question for us is when we give alms do we merely give from our surplus or is it sacrificial in that it results in giving up doing or buying something that we really had our hearts set on. Jesus prays the ultimate prayer in Gethsemane when he says; "not as I will, but as you will." The "Thy will be done," in the Lord's prayer is not just a nice phrase, it is the way Jesus prayed and lived. We are gifted with a free will and when we freely surrender our will to the will of the Father we find that we will be both challenged to let go and enriched by a new sense of freedom that comes in trusting God. The last point is fasting. Fasting is very often directly connected to repentance Jesus, himself, has no need to repent for he is without sin. Rather he takes on our sins and accepts the punishment for our sins so that we might truly experience the forgiveness of sins in our lives, and ultimately be happy with him forever in heaven.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.