Year B: Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

Palm Sunday

Given the length of the Passion narrative in the Gospel reading for Palm Sunday; we will use the Gospel reading for the Procession of the Palms,  Mark 11: 1-10,  for our meeting this morning.

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord

 Mark 11: 1-10 

When Jesus and his disciples drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone should say to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ reply, ‘The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.’ ” So, they went off and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They answered them just as Jesus had told them to, and they permitted them to do it. So, they brought the colt to Jesus and put their cloaks over it. And he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: / “Hosanna! / Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! / Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! / Hosanna in the highest!” The Gospel of the Lord.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Jesus invited the disciples to participate in his life and his death. When do you sense you are participating in, rather than only observing your faith? How are these different for you? Explain
  2. The “hardness of reality” is, there can be no transformation and resurrection without suffering and death. Describe an experience of suffering that has led to a personal transformation of some kind.
  3. How has this Lent been spiritually meaningful for you? Have you had any new awareness’ that may help you recognize and take up cross’ of your life?
  4. Where is the call or invitation to “self-emptying” most evident in your experience of daily life?

Biblical Context

Sr. Mary M. McGlone CSJ

The four narrations of the last days of Jesus’ life on earth are the most similar of all Gospel narratives even though each evangelist makes his own particular theological points. Those points often come out in subtle details. By paying attention to some of Mark’s details, we can appreciate what he is telling us about Jesus and how he is challenging us as disciples to take up our part in the Gospel.

When Jesus sent the disciples for the “colt,” he instructed the disciples to explain why they were going off with it by saying, “The Lord has need of it.” This is the only time Jesus refers to himself as “Lord” (kurios) and the only time he says he is in need of something. The subtle message is that a colt, according to Matthew, a donkey or work-beast, is the only thing this Lord needs in order to appear in all his glory as a servant.

Mark tells us that they brought Jesus the colt and they put their own cloaks on it for him. Symbolically, like blind Bartimaeus who threw off his cloak to come to Jesus, they gave him their all, their cloak of protection and identity. For the moment, at least, they were fully with him.

At this point the people cry out “Hosanna!” which means “Save!” Some spread their cloaks on the road and others waved branches as in a triumphal procession. As he recorded this, Mark understood well the irony of the people’s cry and their acclamation of the one humbly riding a donkey as the Son of David. They shouted, “Blessed is the kingdom … that is to come,” but they had no idea of what they were saying.

After the procession with palms, we will hear the passion story according to Mark. In contrast to the scene with a crowd who processed with Jesus acclaiming him as the successor to David, our Gospel opens simply with Jesus at table in a home. A woman enters the scene and pours oil over his head. In Jeremiah 31:22 we hear that as the Lord is creating something new, the woman is solicitous for the man; here, we see a woman anointing Jesus the way a prophet would anoint a king. In response to her critics, Jesus tells them that the anointing is preparation for his death — which we can interpret as a reference to his burial but also to the inscription over his head which publicly identified him as king of the Jews.

There’s a parallel to the entry into Jerusalem when, in Chapter 14, the disciples ask Jesus about where they should prepare the Passover meal for him. Again, Mark tells the story with subtle irony. First, they ask where they should prepare it only to discover that he has everything prepared — he knows where the room is and how they shall find it; they need but do what he tells them and carry through with the details. Secondly, Mark makes the point that they ask, “Where do you want us to … prepare for you to eat the Passover.” He answered with the where but specified that he would eat this Passover “with my disciples,” indicating that the coming Passover was not his alone; they, too, would be part of fulfilling the covenant it signified, even though they may not have understood it. Mark emphasizes that a second time, as he describes Jesus blessing the cup. He says that Jesus “took a cup and gave thanks and gave it to them, and they all drank from it.” Only after they had shared in his cup did he explain, “This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many.”

The distinction between preparing the Passover for him or for all of them and their communion with him in the cup of his self-giving, even before they knew what it implied, are keys to understanding Mark’s sense of what it means to be a disciple of Christ. In saying they would prepare the Passover for Jesus, they were ready for him to be their kingly Messiah, one who would do everything for them. Instead, this Passover was for all of them and when they gave him their cloaks and drank from his cup, they expressed their willingness to be disciples in spite of the pettiness, weakness and ignorance that would continue to plague them.

The rest of the drama will play out showing how the disciples were both willing and weak. When Jesus died on the cross, according to Mark the only disciples on the scene were some women who did all they could by simply standing by him.

The entire story invites us to see where we stand and where we wish we would stand. The good news is that, in the end, an angel tells the women to send the disciples back to Galilee. They can start all over again, this time more ready to remain in solidarity with their humble Lord.

Emptying and Embodying

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

Today is a strange mixture of gospel readings, emotions, and contrast. We began with a parade; shouts of “Hosanna,” a declaration of praise and a cry for salvation; and the waving of palms, the ancient symbol of victory and triumph. We end with a death march, a cry of forsakenness, and a last breath.

The liturgy is holding before us the reality of our world and our lives. We know what it’s like to live in the tension of victory and defeat, joy and sorrow, life and death. At the center of this tension lies Jerusalem, Jesus’ destination.

Today marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It is a threshold place and it is the most troubled place in the world; a place of division, struggle, conflict, and confrontation. Jerusalem, however, is not located only in Israel. Within every human heart there is a Jerusalem.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is then, in reality, his entry into the depths of our life and being. This is never more clear or challenging than it is in Holy Week. It is not about choosing between life or death, palms or passion; but about choosing life and death, palms and passion. That’s the tension of this day. The challenge is to remain fully embodied and present to that tension, not as spectators but as participants, not just this week but every week. Jesus was not quick to resolve the tension, nor should we be. It is out of that tension that new life will ultimately be birthed. There is, however, no birth without pain.

To stand in the tension means we must choose to empty ourselves of anything that might keep us from fully embracing the events of this week and the life of God. That’s what Jesus did. He did not use his status as God’s son as an escape or something to be exploited. Instead, he emptied himself and chose obedience to the point of death. In so doing he fully embodied God’s life and, consequently, human life.

Self-emptying allows full embodiment and presence. That is the triumph and victory of this day. There is, however, more to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem than today’s first gospel reading. Jesus will enter Jerusalem four times this week. With each entry, Jesus empties himself and is more fully present than he was the time before.

In the first entrance, today’s reading, Jesus comes to Jerusalem, goes to the temple, looks around and leaves. The next day, Monday, he returns to Jerusalem, the second entrance, and cleanses the temple, overturning the tables and chairs of the money changers and merchants. Again, he leaves Jerusalem. The following day, Tuesday, Jesus goes to Jerusalem and enters the temple a third time. He teaches and again leaves. Thursday is Jesus’ fourth entry. He comes back to Jerusalem with his disciples to eat the Passover meal.

These four entrances are distinct but not separate. Their unity is found in the self-emptying that allows Jesus to more fully embody and be present to God’s life. If this is Jesus’ entry into Holy Week, then it must also be ours. Each of Jesus’ entrances calls us to enter into the depths of our own heart, for that is where Holy Week happens. Each entry offers us a means by which we might more fully embody and be present to the life of God within us.

Upon his first entrance, Jesus looks around the temple, turns and leaves. There’s nothing there for him. It is bereft of life, like a fig tree that produces no fruit. It offers no meaning. There is nothing worth staying for. You and I know those places too. They are physical places as well spiritual and emotional places. We often stay there longer than is good for us. Sometimes there are simply places from which we must turn and leave. They offer us nothing and only drain us of life. They are not fruitful places for us. Leaving these places is how we turn our life towards God.

Jesus refuses to buy in to the status quo during his second entrance into Jerusalem. This entry asks us to consider what needs to be purified and cleansed in us; thoughts, words, actions. How has our life become a series of transactions rather than relationships of intimacy, vulnerability, and love? In what ways have we become gatekeepers of life and faith, demanding rather than offering obedience?

It is not enough, however, to just clean out and throw away. Jesus’ third entry fills the temple with his own interior wisdom. He challenges us to consider what teaching and wisdom guide and fill our life. Is it only external rules of behavior, or is it also sacred knowledge that transforms and leads to God? Have we let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus?

Jesus enters Jerusalem a fourth time to share the Passover meal with his disciples. It is a night of tension. Jesus not only eats the Passover he will become the Passover. He shares himself to the point of allowing himself to be betrayed. He risks it all. His fourth entry is our call to self-giving, to hold nothing in reserve, to offer all that we are and all that have. What are the parts of ourselves we hold back and hide from God and others? Do we live by fear or by faith?

Each entry asks of us difficult questions, real-life questions. We must engage life with brutal honesty and move past superficial niceties. We must empty and embody. We can do that only because with each entry, Jesus empties himself that he might more fully embody and reveal God’s self. He detaches from the temple structure. He cleanses and purifies the old ways. He interiorizes God’s law and teaching. He becomes holy food for holy people. Each time he is more fully himself than he was the time before. Each entrance is a form of dying. Jesus was killed on the cross, but he died in the triumphal entry.

He empties that he might embody. So, it is for us too. Emptying and embodying are the way of Jesus and the way of this holy week. Emptying and embodying are Jesus’ entry into humanity’s heart. Emptying and embodying are our way into God’s heart.


Excerpt from: Interrupting the Silence, Fr. Michael K. Marsh