Saturday, April 04, 2009
The Gospel for Palm Sunday
Because of its great length, the Gospel, the Passion of Our Lord will not posted...However, the commentary for the Gospel from: Mark 14:1-15:47, The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, is posted below
In addition, there are several reflections available:
Homily/Reflection for Palm Sunday
A Meditation for Palm Sunday - His Dying Words
Meditation for Palm Sunday - Faith
Why is this day called Palm Sunday?
A Meditation for Palm Sunday - Duties of Teachers
A Meditation for the Week - Eucharistic Devotions
Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion
From: Mark 14:1-15:47
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark
1. The Passover was the main national and religious festival. It lasted one week, during which the eating of leavened bread was forbidden, which is why the period was known as the Azymes, the feast of the Unleavened Bread. The celebration opened with the passover meal on the night of the 14th to 15th of the month of Nisan. The essential rite of the meal consisted in eating the paschal lamb sacrificed in the temple the afternoon before. During the meal the youngest member of the family asked what was the meaning of the ceremony; and the head of the household explained to those present that it commemorated God’s liberation of the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt, and specifically the passing of the angel of Yahweh, doing no harm to the first-born of the Hebrews but destroying the first-born of the Egyptians (cf. Ex 12).
2. The chief priests and the scribes sought every means to ensure the condemnation and death of the Lord prior to the Passover, for during the festival Jerusalem would be thronged with pilgrims and they feared that Jesus’ popularity might cause the complications referred to in the Gospel text. Cf. the note on Mt 26:3-5.
3-9. It was a custom at the time to honour distinguished guests by offering them scented water. This woman treated the Lord with exquisite refinement by pouring a flask of nard over his head: and we can see that he was very appreciative. Three hundred denarii was approximately what a worker would earn in a year: so her action was very generous. Breaking the flask to allow the last drop to flow, so that no one else could use it, implies that Jesus merited everything.
It is important to notice the significance our Lord gave to this gesture: it was an anticipation of the pious custom of embalming bodies prior to burial. This woman would never have thought that her action would become famous throughout the world, but Jesus knew the transcendence and universal dimension of even the smallest episodes in the Gospel story. His prophecy has been fulfilled: "Certainly we hear her story told in all the churches. . . . Wherever in the world you may go, everyone respectfully listens to the story of her good service. . . . And yet hers was not an extraordinary deed, nor was she a distinguished person, nor was there a large audience, nor was the place one where she could easily be seen. She made no entrance onto a theatre stage to perform her service but did her good deed in a private house. Nevertheless . . . , today she is more illustrious than any king or queen; no passage of years has buried in oblivion this service she performed" (St John Chrysostom, "Adversus Iudaeos", 5, 2).
This episode teaches us the refinement with which we should treat the holy humanity of Jesus; it also shows that generosity in things to do with sacred worship is always praiseworthy, for it is a sign of our love for the Lord. Cf. the note on Mt 26:8-11.
10-11. In contrast with the generous anointing by the woman, the Gospel now reports Judas’ sad treachery. Her magnanimity highlights the covetousness of Jesus’ false friend. "O folly, or rather ambition, of the traitor, for ambition spawns every kind of evil and enslaves souls by every sort of device; it causes forgetfulness and mental derangement. Judas, enslaved by his mad ambition, forgot all about the years he had spent alongside Jesus, forgot that he had eaten at his table, that he had been his disciple; forgot all the counsel and persuasion Jesus had offered him” (St John Chrysostom, "Hom. de prodit. Judae).
Judas’ sin is always something Christians should he mindful of: ‘‘Today many people are horrified by Judas’ crime -- that he could he so cruel and so sacriIegious as to sell his Master and his God; and yet they fail to realize that when they for human reasons dismiss the rights of charity and truth, they are betraying God, who is charity and truth” (St Bede, "Super qui audientes" ... ).
12-16. At first sight our Lord’s behaviour described here seems quite out of character. However, if we think about it, it is quite consistent: probably Jesus wanted to avoid Judas knowing in advance the exact place where the Supper will be held, to prevent him notifying the Sanhedrin. And so God’s plans for that memorable night of Holy Thursday were fulfilled: Judas was unable to advise the Sanhedrin where they could find Jesus until after the celebration of the passover meal (during which Judas left the Cenacle): cf. Jn 13:30.
St Mark describes in more detail than the other evangelists the place where the meal took place: he says it was a large, well-appointed room -- a dignified place. There is an ancient Christian tradition that the house of the Cenacle was owned by Mary the mother of St Mark, to whom, it seems, the Garden of Olives also belonged.
17-21. Jesus shows that he knows in advance what is going to happen and is acting freely and deliberately, identifying himself with the will of his Father. The words of vv. 18 and 19 are a further call to Judas to repent; our Lord refrained from denouncing him publicly, so making it easier for him to change his mind. But he did not want to remain silent about the incipient treachery; they should realize that the Master knew everything (cf. Jn 13:23ff).
22. The word "this” does not refer to the act of breaking the bread but to the "thing” which Jesus gives his disciples, that is, something which looked like bread and which was no longer bread but the body of Christ. "This is my body. That is to say, what I am giving you now and what you are taking is my body. For the bread is not only a symbol of the body of Christ; it becomes his very body, as the Lord has said: the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. Therefore, the Lord conserves the appearances of bread and wine but changes the bread and wine into the reality of his flesh and his blood” (Theophylact, "Enarratio in Evangelium Marci", in loc.). Therefore, any interpretation in the direction of symbolism or metaphor does not fit the meaning of the text. The same applies to the "This is my blood” (v. 24). On the realism of these expressions, see the first part of the note on Mt 26:26-29.
24. The words of consecration of the chalice clearly show that the Eucharist is a sacrifice: the blood of Christ is poured out, sealing the new and definitive Covenant of God with men. This Covenant remains sealed forever by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, in which Jesus is both Priest and Victim. The Church has defined this truth in these words: "If anyone says that in the Mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God, or that to be offered is nothing else but that Christ is given us to eat, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, "De S. Missae sacrificio", chap. 1, can. 1).
These words pronounced over the chalice must have been very revealing for the apostles, because they show that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were in fact a preparation for and anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice. The apostles were able to grasp that the Covenant of Sinai and the various sacrifices of the temple were merely an imperfect pre-figurement of the definitive sacrifice and definitive Covenant, which would take place on the cross and which they were anticipating in this Supper.
A clear explanation of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist can be found in the inspired text in chapters 8 and 9 of the Letter to the Hebrews. Similarly, the best preparation for understanding the real presence and the Eucharist as food for the soul is a reading of chapter 6 of the Gospel of St John.
At the Last Supper, then, Christ already offered himself voluntarily to his Father as a victim to be sacrificed. The Supper and the Mass constitute with the cross one and the same unique and perfect sacrifice, for in all these cases the victim offered is the same -- Christ; and the priest is the same -- Christ. The only difference is that the Supper, which takes place prior to the cross, anticipates the Lord’s death in an unbloody way and offers a victim soon to be immolated; whereas the Mass offers, also in an unbloody manner, the victim already immolated on the cross, a victim who exists forever in heaven.
25. After instituting the Holy Eucharist, our Lord extends the Last Supper in intimate conversation with his disciples, speaking to them once more about his imminent death (cf. Jn, chaps. 13-17). His farewell saddens the apostles, but he promises that the day will come when he will meet with them again, when the Kingdom of God will have come in all its fullness: he is referring to the beatific life in heaven, so often compared to a banquet. Then there will be no need of earthly food or drink; instead there will be a new wine (cf. Is 25:6). Definitively, after the resurrection, the apostles and all the saints will be able to share the delight of being with Jesus.
The fact that St Mark brings in these words after the institution of the Eucharist indicates in some way that the Eucharist is an anticipation here on earth of possession of God in eternal blessedness, where God will be everything to everyone (cf. 1 Cor 15:28). "At the Last Supper,” Vatican II teaches, "on the night he was betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of his body and blood. This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church, a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” ("Sacrosanctum Concilium", 47).
26. "When they had sung a hymn”: it was a custom at the passover meal to recite prayers, called "Hallel”, which included Psalms 113 to 118; the last part was recited at the end of the meal.
30-31. Only St Mark gives us the exact detail of the two cockcrows (v. 30), and Peter’s insistence that he would never betray Jesus (v. 31). This is another sign of the connexion between St Mark’s Gospel and St Peter’s preaching; only Peter, full of contrition and humility, would so deliberately tell the first Christians about these episodes in which his presumption and failures contrasted with Jesus’ mercy and understanding. The other evangelists, surely out of respect for the figure of Peter, pass over these incidents more quickly.
This account shows us that our Lord takes into account the weaknesses of those whom he calls to follow him and be his apostles. Peter is too self-confident; very soon he will deny him. Jesus knows this well and, in spite of everything, chooses him as head of the Church. "They [the disciples] remain just like that until they are filled with the Holy Spirit and thus become pillars of the Church. They are ordinary men, complete with defects and shortcomings, more eager to say than to do. Nevertheless, Jesus calls them to be fishers of men, co-redeemers, dispensers of the grace of God. Something similar has happened to us. . . . But I also realize that human logic cannot possibly explain the world of grace. God usually seeks out deficient instruments so that the work can more clearly be seen to be his” ([St.] J. Escriva, "Christ Is Passing By", 2 and 3).
32-42. The very human way Jesus approaches his passion and death is noteworthy. He feels everything any man would feel in those circumstances. "He takes with him only the three disciples who had seen his glorification on Mount Tabor, that these who saw his power should also see his sorrow and learn from that sorrow that he was truly man. And, because he assumed human nature in its entirety, he assumed the properties of man -- fear, strength, natural sorrow; for it is natural that men approach death unwillingly” (Theophylact, "Enarratio in Evangelium Marci", in loc.).
Jesus’ prayer in the garden shows us, as nothing else in the Gospel does, that he prayed the prayer of petition -- not only for others, but also for himself. For, in the unity of his Person there were two natures, one human and one divine; and, since his human will was not omnipotent, it was appropriate for Christ to ask the Father to strengthen that will (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, "Summa theologiae", III, q. 21, a. 1).
Once more, Jesus prays with a deep sense of his divine sonship (cf. Mt 11:25; Lk 23:46; Jn 17: 1). Only St Mark retains in the original language his filial exclamation to the Father: "Abba”, which is how children intimately addressed their parents. Every Christian should have a similar filial trust, especially when praying. At this moment of climax, Jesus turns from his private dialogue with his Father to ask his disciples to pray so as not to fall into temptation. It should be noted that the evangelists, inspired by the Holy Spirit, give us both Jesus’ prayer and his commandment to us to pray. This is not a passing anecdote, but an episode which is a model of how Christians should act: prayer is indispensable for staying faithful to God. Anyone who does not pray should be under no illusions about being able to cope with the temptations of the devil: "If our Lord had said only "watch", we might expect that our own power would be sufficient, but when he adds "pray", he shows that "if he keeps not" our souls in time of temptation, in vain shall they watch who keep them (cf. Ps 127:1)” (St Francis de Sales, "Treatise on the Love of God", book 11, chap. 1).
34. "But when he had gone on a little way, he suddenly felt such a sharp and bitter attack of sadness, grief, fear, and weariness that he immediately uttered, even in their presence, those anguished words which gave expression to his overburdened feelings: ‘My soul is sad unto death.’ For a huge mass of troubles took possession of the tender and gentle body of our most holy Saviour. He knew that his ordeal was now imminent and just about to overtake him: the treacherous betrayer, the bitter enemies, binding ropes, false accusations, slanders, blows, thorns, nails, the cross, and horrible tortures stretched out over many hours. Over and above these, he was tormented by the thought of his disciples’ terror, the loss of the Jews, even the destruction of the very man who so disloyally betrayed him, and finally the ineffable grief of his beloved Mother. The gathered storm of all these evils rushed into his most gentle heart and flooded it like the ocean sweeping through broken dikes” (St Thomas More, "De tristitia Christi", in loc.).
35. "Therefore, since he foresaw that there would be many people of such a delicate constitution that they would be convulsed with tenor at any danger of being tortured, he chose to enhearten them by the example of his own sorrow, his own sadness, his own weariness and unequalled fear, lest they should be so disheartened as they compare their own fearful state of mind with the boldness of the bravest martyrs that they would yield freely what they fear will be won from them by force. To such a person as this, Christ wanted his own deed to speak out (as it were) with his own living voice: ‘O faint of heart, take courage and do not despair. You are afraid, you are sad, you are stricken with weariness and dread of the torment with which you have been cruelly threatened. Trust me; I conquered the world, and yet I suffered immeasurably more from fear; I was sadder, more afflicted with weariness, more horrified at the prospect of such cruel suffering drawing eagerly nearer and nearer. Let the brave man have his high-spirited martyrs, let him rejoice in imitating a thousand of them. But you, my timorous and feeble little sheep, be content to have me alone as your shepherd; follow my leadership. If you do not trust yourself, place your trust in me. See, I am walking ahead of you along this fearful road. Take hold of the border of my garment and you will feel going out from it a power which will stay your heart’s blood from issuing in vain fears, and will make your mind more cheerful, especially when you remember that you are following closely in my footsteps (and I am to be trusted and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but I will give together with the temptation a way out that you may be able to endure it) and likewise when you remember that this light and momentary burden of tribulation will prepare for you a weight of glory which is beyond all measure. For the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come which will be revealed in you. As you reflect on such things, take heart, and use the sign of my cross to drive away this dread, this sadness, and weariness like vain specters of the darkness. Advance successfully and press through all obstacles, firmly confident that I will champion your cause until you are victorious and then in turn will reward you with the laurel crown of victory’" (ibid.).
36. "Jesus prays in the garden. "Pater mi" (Mt 26:39), "Abba Pater!" (Mk 14:36). God is my Father, even though he may send me suffering. He loves me tenderly, even while wounding me. Jesus suffers, to fulfil the Will of the Father. . . . And I, who also wish to fulfill the most holy Will of God, following the footsteps of the Master, can I complain if I too meet suffering as my traveling companion?
"It will be a sure sign of my sonship, because God is treating me as he treated his own divine Son. Then I, just as he did, will be able to groan and weep alone in my Gethsemane; but, as I lie prostrate on the ground, acknowledging my nothingness, there will rise up to the Lord a cry from the depths of my soul: 'Pater mi, Abba, Pater, . . . fiat!'” ([St]. J. Escriva, "The Way of the Cross", I, 1).
41-42. "See now, when Christ comes back to his apostles for the third time, there they are, buried in sleep, though he commanded them to bear up with him and to stay awake and pray because of the impending danger; but Judas the traitor at the same time was so wide awake and intent on betraying the Lord that the very idea of sleep never entered his mind.
"Does not this contrast between the traitor and the apostles present to us a clear and sharp minor image (as it were), a sad and terrible view of what has happened through the ages from those times even to our own? [. . .] For very many are sleepy and apathetic in sowing virtues among the people and maintaining the truth, while the enemies of Christ in order to sow vices and uproot the faith (that is, insofar as they can, to seize Christ and cruelly crucify him once again) are wide awake -- so much wiser (as Christ says) are the sons of darkness in their generation than the sons of light (cf Lk 16:8)” (St Thomas More, "De tristitia Christi", in loc.).
43-50. The Gospel reports the arrest of our Lord in a matter-of-fact sort of way. Jesus, who was expecting it, offered no resistance, thereby fulfilling the prophecies about him in the Old Testament, particularly this passage of the poem of the Servant of Yahweh in the Book of Isaiah: "like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth . . . because he poured out his soul to death . . ." (Is 53:7 and 12). Dejected only moments earlier at the beginning of his prayer in Gethsemane Jesus now rises up strengthened to face his passion. These mysteries of our Lord, true God and true man, are really impressive.
51-52. This detail about the young man in the linen cloth is found only in St Mark. Most interpreters see in it a discreet allusion to Mark himself. It is probable that the Garden of Olives belonged to Mark’s family, which would explain the presence there at night-time of the boy, who would have been awakened suddenly by the noise of the crowd.
"One sees rich men -- less often, it is true, than I would like -- but still, thank God, one sometimes sees exceedingly rich men who would rather lose everything they have than keep anything at all by offending God through sin. These men have many clothes, but they are not tightly confined by them, so that when they need to run away from danger, they escape easily by throwing off their clothes. On the other hand we see people -- and far more of them than I would wish -- who happen to have only light garments and quite skimpy outfits and yet have so welded their affections to those poor riches of theirs that you could sooner strip skin from flesh than separate them from their goods. Such a person had better get going while there is still time. For once someone gets hold of his clothes, he will sooner die than leave his linen cloth behind. In summary, then, we learn from the example of this young man that we should always be prepared for troubles that arise suddenly, dangers that strike without warning and might make it necessary for us to run away; to be prepared, we ought not be so loaded with various garments, or so buttoned up in even one, that in an emergency we are unable to throw away our linen cloth and escape naked” (St Thomas More, "De tristitia Christi", in loc.).
53-65. This meeting of the Sanhedrin in the house of the high priest was quite irregular. The normal thing was for it to meet during the daytime and in the temple. Everything suggests that the rulers arranged this session secretly, probably to avoid opposition from the people, which would have thwarted their plans. The direct intervention of the high priest and the ill-treatment of the prisoner before sentence were also illegal. The Jewish authorities had for some time past been of a mind to do away with Jesus (cf., e.g., Mk 12:12; Jn 7:30; 11:45-50). Now all they are trying to do is give their actions an appearance of legality -- that is, looking for concurring witnesses to accuse him of capital crimes. Because they do not manage to do this, the chief priest goes right to the key issue: was Jesus the Messiah, yes or no? Jesus’ affirmative answer is regarded as blasphemy. Appearances are saved; they can now condemn him to death and ask the Roman procurator to ratify the sentence (cf. the note on Mt 27:2). Despite the irregularities and even though not all the members of the Sanhedrin were present, the significance of this session lies in the fact that the Jewish authorities, the official representatives of the chosen people, reject Jesus as Messiah and condemn him to death.
57-59. From the Gospel of St John (2:19) we know the words of Jesus which gave rise to this accusation: "Destroy the temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Now they accuse him of having said three things: that he is going to destroy the temple; that the temple of Jerusalem is the work of human hands, not something divine; and that in three days he will raise up another one, not made by hands of men. As can be seen, this is not what our Lord said. First they change his words: Jesus did not say he was going to destroy the temple; and, secondly, they apply what he said to the temple of Jerusalem, not understanding that Jesus was speaking about his own body, as is made plain in St John (2:21-22). After the Resurrection, the apostles understood the depth of Jesus’ words (Jn 2:22): the temple of Jerusalem, where God’s presence was manifested in a special way and where he was offered due worship, was but a sign, a prefiguring of the humanity of Christ, in which the fullness of divinity, God, dwelt (cf. Col 2:9).
The same accusation is made at the martyrdom of St Stephen: "We have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14). In fact, St Stephen knew that the true temple was no longer that of Jerusalem but Jesus Christ; but once again they misinterpreted his meaning and accused him as they had our Lord.
61. As at other points during his passion, Jesus kept completely silent. He appeared defenseless before the false accusations of his enemies. "God our Saviour,” St Jerome says, "who has redeemed the world out of mercy, lets himself be led to death like a lamb, not saying a word; he does not complain, he makes no effort to defend himself. Jesus’ silence obtains forgiveness for Adam’s protest and excuse” ("Comm. on Mark", in loc.). This silence is another motive and encouragement to us to be silent at times in the face of calumny or criticism. "In quietness and in trust shall be your strength,” says the prophet Isaiah (30:15).
"‘Jesus remained silent, "Jesus autem tacebat."’ Why do you speak, to console yourself, or to excuse yourself?
"Say nothing. Seek joy in contempt: you will always receive less than you deserve.
"Can you, by any chance, ask: ‘Quid enim malifeci', what evil have I done?’” ([St.] J. Escriva, "The Way", 671).
61-64. The high priest was undoubtedly trying to corner Jesus: if he replied that he was not the Christ, it would be equivalent to his contradicting everything he had said and done; if he answered yes, it would be interpreted as blasphemy, as we shall see later. Strictly speaking it was not blasphemy to call oneself the Messiah, or to say one was the Son of God, taking that phrase in a broad sense. Jesus’ reply not only bore witness to his being the Messiah; it also showed the divine transcendence of his messianism, by applying to him the prophecy of the Son of man in Daniel (7:13-14). By making this confession, Jesus’ reply opened the way for the high priest to make his theatrical gesture: he took it as a mockery of God and as blasphemy that this handcuffed man could be the transcendent figure of the Son of man. At this solemn moment Jesus defines himself by using the strongest of all the biblical expressions his hearers could understand – that which most clearly manifested his divinity. We might point out that had Jesus said simply "I am God” they would have thought it simply absurd and would have regarded him as mad: in which case he would not have borne solemn witness to his divinity before the authorities of the Jewish people.
63. The rending of garments was a custom in Israel to express indignation and protest against sacrilege and blasphemy. The rabbis had specified exactly how it should be done. Only a kind of seam was torn, to prevent the fabric being damaged. With this tragi-comic gesture Caiaphas brings the trial to an end, cleverly sabotaging any later procedure that might favour the prisoner and show up the truth.
64. Through Luke 23:51 and John 7:25-33 we know that not all the members of the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus, for Joseph of Arimathea did not consent in this act of deicide. It maybe supposed, therefore, that they were not present at this meeting of the council, either because they had not been summoned or because they absented themselves.
66-72. Although the accounts given by the three Synoptic Gospels are very alike, St Mark’s narrative does have its own characteristics: the sacred text gives little details which add a touch of colour. He says that Peter was "below” (v. 66), which shows that the council session was held in an upstairs room; he also mentions the two cockcrows (v. 72), in a way consistent with our Lord’s prophecy described in v. 30. On the theological and ascetical implications of this passage, see the note on Mt 26:70-75.
1. At daybreak the Sanhedrin holds another meeting to work out how to get Pilate to ratify the death sentence. And then Christ is immediately brought before Pilate. It is not known for certain where the governor was residing during these days. It was either in Herod’s palace, built on the western hill of the city, south of the Jaffa Gate, or the Antonia fortress, which was on the north-east of the temple esplanade. It is more than likely that, for the Passover, Pilate lived in the fortress. >From there he could have a full view of the whole outside area of the temple, where unrest and riots were most likely to occur. In the centre of this impressive building there was a perfectly paved courtyard of about 2,500 square meters (approximately half an acre). This may well have been the yard where Pilate judged our Lord and which St John (19:13) called The Pavement ("Lithostrotos", in Greek). Philo, Josephus and other historians depict Pilate as having the defects of the worst type of Roman governor. The evangelists emphasize his cowardice and his sycophancy bordering on wickedness.
2. Jesus’ reply, as given in St Mark, can be interpreted in two ways. It may mean: You say that l am king; I say nothing; or else: I am a king. The second interpretation is the more common and logical, since in other Gospel passages he affirms his kingship quite categorically (cf. Mt 27:37 and par.; in 18:36-38). In St John’s Gospel (18:33-38) Jesus tells Pilate that he is a King and explains the special nature of his kingship: his Kingdom is not of this world; it transcends this world (cf. the note on Jn 18:35-37).
3-5. On three occasions the evangelists specify that Jesus remained silent in the face of these unjust accusations: before the Sanhedrin (14:61); here, before Pilate; and later on, before Herod (Lk 23:9). From the Gospel of St John we know that our Lord did say other things during this trial. St Mark says that he made no further reply, since he is referring only to the accusations made against our Lord: being false, they deserved no reply. Besides, any attempt at defense was futile, since they had decided in advance that he should die. Nor did Pilate need any further answer, since he was more concerned to please the Jewish authorities than, correctly, to find Jesus innocent.
6-15. Instead of simply coming to the rescue of this innocent prisoner, as was his duty and as his conscience advised him, Pilate wants to avoid a confrontation with the Sanhedrin; so he tries to deal with the people and have them set Jesus free. Since it was customary to release a prisoner of the people’s choice to celebrate the Passover, Pilate offers them the chance of selecting Jesus. The priests, seeing through this maneuver, incite the crowd to ask for Barabbas. This was not difficult to do, since many felt disillusioned about Jesus because he had not set them free of the foreign yoke. Pilate could not oppose their choice; and so it became even more difficult for him to give a just decision. All he can do now is appeal to the people on behalf of ‘the King of the Jews”. The humble and helpless appearance of Jesus exasperates the crowd: this is not the sort of king they want, and they ask for his crucifixion.
In the course of the trial Pilate was threatened with being reported to the emperor if he interfered in this affair (cf. Jn 19:12); he now accedes to their shouting and signs the warrant for death by crucifixion, to protect his political career.
15. Scourging, like crucifixion, was a degrading form of punishment applied only to slaves. The whip or flagellum used to punish serious crimes was strengthened with small sharp pieces of metal at the end of the thongs, which had the effect of tearing the flesh and even fracturing bones. Scourging often caused death. The condemned person was tied to a post to prevent him collapsing. People condemned to crucifixion were scourged beforehand.
These sufferings of Jesus have a redemptive value. In other passages of the Gospel our Lord made carrying the cross a condition of following him. Through self-denial a Christian associates himself with Christ’s passion and plays a part in the work of redemption (cf. Col 1:24).
"Bound to the pillar. Covered with wounds. The blows of the lash sound upon his torn flesh, upon his undefiled flesh, which suffers for your sinful flesh. More blows. More fury. Still more . . . It is the last extreme of human cruelty.
"Finally, exhausted, they untie Jesus. And the body of Christ yields to pain and falls limp, broken and half dead.
"You and I cannot speak. Words are not needed. Look at him, look at him . . . slowly.
"After this . . . can you ever fear penance?” ([St.] J. Escriva, "Holy Rosary", second sorrowful mystery).
16-19. The soldiers make Jesus object of mockery; they accuse him pretending to be a king, and crown him and dress him up as one.
The image of the suffering Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns, with a reed in his hands and an old purple cloak around his shoulders, has become a vivid symbol of human pain, under the title of the "Ecce homo”.
But, as St Jerome teaches, "his ignominy has blotted out ours, his bonds have set us free, his crown of thorns has won for us the crown of the Kingdom, wounds have cured us” ("Comm. in Marcum", in loc.).
"You and I . . . , haven’t we crowned him anew with thorns and struck him and spat on him?” ([St.] J. Escriva, "Holy Rosary", third sorrowful mystery).
21. "Jesus is exhausted. His footsteps become more and more unsteady, and the soldiers are in a hurry to he finished. So, when they are going out of the city through the Judgment Gate, they take hold of a man who was coming in from a farm, a man called Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, and they force him to carry the Cross of Jesus (cf. Mk 15:21).
"In the whole context of the Passion, this help does not add up to very much. But for Jesus, a smile, a word, a gesture, a little bit of love is enough for him to pour out his grace bountifully on the soul of his friend. Years later, Simon’s sons, Christians by then, will be known and held in high esteem among their brothers in the faith. And it all started with this unexpected meeting with the Cross.
"'I went to those who were not looking for me; I was found by those who sought me not (Is 65:1)'".
"At times the Cross appears without our looking for it: it is Christ who is seeking us out. And if by chance, before this unexpected Cross which, perhaps, is therefore more difficult to understand, your heart were to show repugnance . . . don’t give it consolations. And, filled with a noble compassion, when it asks for them, say to it slowly, as one speaking in confidence: ‘Heart: Heart on the Cross! Heart on the Cross!'" ([ST]. J. Escriva, "The Way of the Cross", V).
St Mark stops for a moment to say who this Simon was: he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. It appears that Rufus, years later, moved with his mother to Rome; St Paul sent them affectionate greetings in his Letter to the Romans (16:13). It seems reasonable to imagine that Simon first felt victimized at being forced to do such unpleasant work, but contact with the Holy Cross -- the altar on which the divine Victim was going to be sacrificed -- and the sight of the suffering and death of Jesus, must have touched his heart; and the Cyrenean, who was at first indifferent, left Calvary a faithful disciple of Christ: Jesus had amply rewarded him. How often it happens that divine providence, through some mishap, places us face to face with suffering and brings about in us a deeper conversion.
When reading this passage, we might reflect that, although our Lord has rescued us voluntarily, and although his merits are infinite, he does seek our cooperation. Christ bears the burden of the cross, but we have to help him carry it by accepting all the difficulties and contradictions which divine providence presents us with. In this way we grow in holiness, at the same time atoning for our faults and sins.
>From the Gospel of St John (19:17) we know that Jesus bore the cross on his shoulders. In Christ burdened by the cross St Jerome sees, among other meanings, the fulfillment of the figure of Abel, the innocent victim, and particularly of Isaac (cf. Gen 22:6), who carried the wood for his own sacrifice (cf. St Jerome, "Comm. in Marcum", in loc.). Later, weakened from the scourging, Jesus can go no further on his own, which is why they compel this man from Cyrene to carry the cross.
"If anyone would follow me . . . Little friend, we are sad, living the Passion of our Lord Jesus. See how lovingly he embraces the Cross. Learn from him. Jesus carries the Cross for you: you . . . carry it for Jesus.
"But don’t drag the Cross . . . . Carry it squarely on your shoulder, because the Cross, if you carry it like that, will not be just any Cross. . . . It will be the Holy Cross. Don’t carry your Cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous word. Love the Cross. When you really love it, your Cross will be . . . a Cross without a Cross. And surely you will find Mary on the way, just as Jesus did” ([ST]. J. Escriva, "Holy Rosary", fourth sorrowful mystery).
22. There is no doubt about where this place was: it was a small, bare hill, at that time outside the city, right beside a busy main road.
23. Following the advice of Proverbs (31:6), the Jews used to offer dying criminals wine mixed with myrrh or incense to drug them and thus alleviate their suffering.
Jesus tastes it (according to Mt 27:34), but he does not drink it. He wishes to remain conscious to the last moment and to keep offering the chalice of the Passion, which he accepted at the Incarnation (Heb 10:9) and did not refuse in Gethsemane. St Augustine ("On the Psalms", 21:2 and 8) explains that our Lord wanted to suffer to the very end in order to purchase our redemption at a high price (cf. 1 Cor 6:20).
Faithful souls have also experienced this generosity of Christ in embracing pain: "Let us drink to the last drop the chalice of pain in this poor present life. What does it matter to suffer for ten years, twenty, fifty . . . if afterwards there is heaven for ever, for ever. . . for ever?
"And, above all rather than because of the reward, ‘propter retributionem’ what does suffering matter if we suffer to console, to please God our Lord, in a spirit of reparation, united to him on his cross; in a word: if we suffer for Love? ([ST]. J. Escriva, "The Way", 182).
24-28. Crucifixion, as well as being the most degrading of punishments, was also the most painful. By condemning him to death, Jesus’ enemies try to achieve the maximum contrast with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem some days previously. Usually, the bodies of people crucified were left on the gibbet for some days as a warning to people. In the case of Christ they also sought death by crucifixion as the most convincing proof that he was not the Messiah.
Crucifixion took various forms. The usual one, and perhaps the one applied to Jesus, consisted of first erecting the upright beam and then positioning the crossbeam with the prisoner nailed to it by his hands; and finally nailing his feet to the lower part of the upright.
According to St John’s Gospel (19:23-25) the seamless tunic -- that is, woven in a piece -- was wagered for separately from the rest of his clothes, which were divided into four lots, one for each soldier. The words of this verse reproduce those of Psalm 22:18. Any Jew versed in the Scriptures reading this passage would immediately see in it the fulfillment of a prophecy. St John expressly notes it (cf. 19:24). St Mark, without losing the thread of his account of the Passion, implicitly argues that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, for in him this prophecy is fulfilled.
Looking at Jesus on the cross, it is appropriate to recall that God "decreed that man should be saved through the wood of the Cross. The tree of man’s defeat became his tree of victory; where life was lost, there life has been restored” ("Roman Missal", Preface of the Holy Cross).
25. "The third hour”: between nine o’clock and noon. St Mark is the only evangelist who specifies the time at which our Lord was nailed to the cross. For the relationship between our clock and the Jewish system in that period, see the note on Mt 20:3.
26. This inscription was usually put in a prominent place so that everyone could see what the prisoner was guilty of. Pilate ordered them to write "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews,” in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; St Mark summarizes the inscription.
Motivated by malice, these Jews accuse Jesus of a political crime, when all his life and preaching left it quite clear that his mission was not political but supernatural. On the meaning of the inscription over the cross and the circumstances surrounding it, see John 19:19-22 and note.
27. Jesus is thus put to further shame; his disciples will also experience the humiliation of being treated like common criminals.
But in the case of Jesus this was providential, for it fulfilled the Scripture which prophesies that he would be counted among the evildoers. The Vulgate, following some Greek codexes, adds: "And the scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘He was reckoned with the transgressors’" (v. 28; cf. Lk 22:37). "Positioned between the evildoers,” St Jerome teaches, "the Truth places one on his left and one on his right, as will be the case on the day of judgment. So we see how distinct the end of similar sinners can be. One precedes Peter into Paradise, the other enters hell before Judas: a brief confession brings eternal life, a momentary blasphemy is punished with eternal death” ("Comm. in Marcum", in loc.).
The Christian people have from early on given various names to these thieves. The most common in the West is Dismas for the good thief and Gestas for the bad thief.
29-32. Christ’s suffering did not finish with the crucifixion: there now follows a form of mockery worse (if possible) than the crowning with thorns. He is mocked by passers-by, by the priests chanting insults with the scribes, and even by the two crucified thieves (cf., however, the clarification in Lk 23:39-43). They combine to reproach him for his weakness, as if his miracles had been deceptions, and incite him to manifest his power.
The fact that they ask him to work a miracle does not indicate that they have any desire to believe in him. For faith is a gift from God which only those receive who have a simple heart. "You ask for very little,” St Jerome upbraids the Jews, "when the greatest event in history is taking place before your very eyes. Your blindness cannot be cured even by much greater miracles than those you call for” ("Comm. on Mark", in loc.).
Precisely because he was the Messiah and the Son of God he did not get down from the cross; in great pain, he completed the work his Father had entrusted to him. Christ teaches us that suffering is our best and richest treasure. Our Lord did not win victory from a throne or with a sceptre in his hand, but by opening his arms on the cross. A Christian, who, like any other person, will experience pain and sorrow during his life, should not flee it or rebel against it, but offer it to God, as his Master did.
33. The evangelist reports this as a miraculous phenomenon signaling the magnitude of the crime of deicide which was taking place. The phrase "over the whole land” means over all the immediate horizon, without specifying its limits. The normal interpretation of the meaning of this event is dual and complementary; Origen (In "Matth. comm.", 143) sees it as an expression of the spiritual darkness which overtook the Jewish people as a punishment for having rejected – crucified – him who is the true light (cf. Jn 1:4-9). St Jerome ("Comm. on Matthew", in loc.) explains the darkness as expressing, rather, the mourning of the universe at the death of its Creator, nature’s protest against the unjust killing of its Lord (cf. Rom 8:19-22).
These words, spoken in Aramaic, are the start of Psalm 22, the prayer of the just man who, hunted and cornered, feels utterly alone, like "a worm, and no man; scorned by men and despised by the people” (v. 7). From this abyss of misery and total abandonment, the just man has recourse to Yahweh: "My God, my God, why art thou so far from helping me. . . . Since my mother bore me thou has been my God. . . . But thou, O Lord, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to my aid!” (vv. 2, 10 and 19). Thus, far from expressing a moment of despair, these words of Christ reveal his complete trust in his heavenly Father, the only one on whom he can rely in the midst of suffering, to whom he can complain like a Son and in whom he abandons himself without reserve: "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46; Ps 31:5).
One of the most painful situations a person can experience is to feel alone in the face of misunderstanding and persecution on all sides, to feel completely insecure and afraid. God permits these tests to happen so that, experiencing our own smallness and world-weariness, we place all our trust in him who draws good from evil for those who love him (cf. Rom 8:28).
"So much do I love Christ on the Cross that every crucifix is like a loving reproach from my God: ‘. . . I suffering, and you . . . a coward. I loving you, and you forgetting me. I begging you, and you . . . denying me. I, here, with arms wide open as an Eternal Priest, suffering all that can be suffered for love of you . . . and you complain at the slightest misunderstanding, over the tiniest humiliation . . .‘" ([ST]. J. Escriva, "The Way of the Cross", XI, 2).
35-36. The soldiers near the cross, on hearing our Lord speak, may have thought, wrongly, that he was calling on Elijah for help. However, it seems it is the Jews themselves who, twisting our Lord’s words, find another excuse for jeering at him. There was a belief that Elijah would come to herald the Messiah, which is why they used these words to continue to ridicule Christ on the cross.
37. The evangelist recalls it very succinctly: "Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last.’ It is as if he did not dare make any comment, leaving it to the reader to pause and meditate. Although the death of Christ is a tremendous mystery, we must insist: Jesus Christ died; it was a real, not an apparent, death; nor should we forget that our sin was what caused our Lord’s death. "The abyss of malice, which sin opens wide, has been bridged by his infinite charity. God does not abandon men. His plans foresee that the sacrifices of the Old Law were insufficient to repair our faults and re-establish the unity which has been lost: a man who was God must offer himself up. To help us grasp in some measure this unfathomable mystery, we might imagine the Blessed Trinity taking counsel together in its uninterrupted intimate relationship of infinite love. As a result of its eternal decision, the only-begotten Son of God the Father takes on our human condition and bears the burden of our wretchedness and sorrows, to end up sewn with nails to a piece of wood. Let us meditate on our Lord, wounded from head to foot out of love for us” (St. J. Escriva, "Christ is Passing By", 95).
". . . Now it is all over. The work of our Redemption has been accomplished. We are now children of God, because Jesus has died for us and his death has ransomed us.
"Empti enim estis pretio magno! (1 Cor 6:20), you and I have been bought at a great price.
"We must bring into our lives, to make them our own, the life and death of Christ. We must die through mortification and penance, so that Christ may live in us through Love. And then follow in the footsteps of Christ, with a zeal to coredeem all mankind.
"We must give our lives for others. That is the only way to live the life of Jesus Christ and to become one and the same thing with him” ([St.] J. Escriva, "The Way of the Cross, XIV).
38. The strictly sacred precinct of the temple of Jerusalem had two parts: the first, called "the Holy Place,” where only priests could enter for specific liturgical functions; the second, called "the Holy of Holies” ("Sancta Sanctorum"). This was the most sacred room where once the Ark of the Covenant stood, containing the tablets of the Law. Above the Ark was the "propitiatory” with figures of two cherubim. Only once a year did the high priest have access to the Holy of Holies, on the great Day of Atonement, to perform the rite of purification of the people. The curtain of the temple was the great curtain which separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place (cf. 1 Kings 6:15f).
The prodigy of the tearing of the curtain of the temple -- apparently of no great importance -- is full of theological meaning. It signifies dramatically that with Christ’s death the worship of the Old Covenant has been brought to an end; the temple of Jerusalem has no longer any raison d’être. The worship pleasing to God -- in spirit and truth (cf. in 4:23) -- is rendered him through the humanity of Christ, who is both Priest and Victim.
39. Regarding this passage St Bede says that this miracle of the conversion of the Roman officer is due to the fact that, on seeing the Lord die in this way, he could not but recognize his divinity; for no one has the power to surrender his spirit but he who is the Creator of souls (cf. St Bede, "In Marci Evangelium expositio", in loc.). Christ, indeed, being God, had the power to surrender his spirit; whereas in the case of other people their spirit is taken from them at the moment of death. But the Christian has to imitate Christ, also at this supreme moment: that is, we should accept death peacefully and joyfully. Death is the point planned by God for us to leave our spirit in his hands; the difference is that Christ yielded up his spirit when he chose (cf. Jn 10-18), whereas we do so when God so disposes.
"Don’t be afraid of death. Accept it from now on, generously . . . when God wills it, where God wills it, as God wills it. Don’t doubt what I say: it will come in the moment, in the place and in the way that are best: sent by your Father-God. Welcome be our sister death!” (St. J. Escriva, "The Way", 739).
43-46. Unlike the apostles, who fled, Joseph of Arimathea, who had not consented to the decision of the Sanhedrin (cf. Lk 23:51), had the bold and refined piety of personally taking charge of everything to do with the burial of Jesus. Christ’s death had not shaken his faith. It is worth noting that he does this immediately after the debacle of Calvary and before the triumph of the glorious resurrection of the Lord. His action will be rewarded by his name being written in the Book of Life and recorded in the Holy Gospel and in the memory of all generations of Christians. Joseph of Arimathea put himself at the service of Jesus, without expecting any human recompense and even at personal risk: he ventured his social position, his own as yet unused tomb, and everything else that was needed. He will always be a vivid example for every Christian of how one ought to risk money, position and honour in the service of God.
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.