Scripture Study: Palm Sunday

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By Marc Massery (Mar 23, 2018)
Find the readings for this Sunday here.

Sunday, March 25 — Palm Sunday
John 12:12-16
• Isaiah 50:4-7
• Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20,23-24
• Philippians 2:6-11
• Mark 15:1-39


As we sit in our pews this Palm Sunday and try to remember how to fold our palm strips into a cross like an origami master, we'll be interrupted by something relatively unusual: a Gospel reading at the beginning of Mass. Before the procession, the priest will read, "[When] Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet him, and cried out: 'Hosanna!'" (Jn 12:12-13). As we wave our palms, we'll identify with those jovial Biblical people who welcomed the Lord as He rode into Jerusalem on an ass.

Then we read the Passion narrative during the usual Gospel reading. The Passion, of course, takes place less than one week after Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Only our part in this story seems much different than what happened at the start of Mass. Instead of shouting "Hosanna," we say, "Crucify Him!"

These are, of course, two very different crowds of people. Jesus had His supporters on the one hand — those who cheered as He entered Jerusalem. On the other hand, He had His enemies and those who were indifferent to Him. Christ's enemies, the chief priests, used those who were indifferent to Him in their plot to have Him crucified. It was all part of their plan.

The chief priests have Jesus arrested in the dark of night and bring Him to Pilate hours after. They falsely accuse Him of telling the people to not pay their taxes to Rome. So sudden were these events that few of Jesus' supporters were likely in the crowd that condemned Christ to death. The crowd likely consisted mostly of Barabbas' supporters who had assembled knowing full well that at Passover, Pilate would release a prisoner to them.

According to Pope Benedict XVI in his book Jesus of Nazareth, Barabbas was no common criminal, but a zealot — part of a Messianic movement that intended to oust Rome from Jerusalem. The crowd gathered before Pilate were indeed searching for a Messiah, a savior, but they had a different version of a Messiah in mind. They wanted a knight in shining armor, someone not afraid to use force to free the Jews from Roman rule. They wanted glory here on earth and did not dream of following a suffering servant. Seeing this opportunity, the chief priests "stirred up the crowd to have [Pilate] release Barabbas" (Mk 15:11).

In the end, this crowd must have known about Jesus and His Gospel. Still, they chose a violent zealot over a man who said, "Turn the other cheek." And it is in the voice of these men that we cry out during Mass "Crucify Him!"

In the end, we are all guilty of sin, and therefore, guilty of Christ's death. We, too, sometimes look for another Messiah when things don't go our way. We want to retreat from the Cross and be spared of any suffering because we think our plans are better than God's. But we'll never experience the glory of the Resurrection without enduring the pain of the Passion.

Christ did not come to earth to take away our suffering, but to transform it. He did not come to make the world a paradise, but to take our bodies and souls and make them completely transformed — a transformation so radical, infinitely more radical, of course, than transforming a palm strip into the shape of a cross.

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