Theme: Theme: Fidelity to victory
When pressed into suggesting a symbol of salvation for humankind through the death and rising of Jesus, would you have put the Cross on the short list? No way. Every year during Holy Week, the Church invites us to reflect on the meaning of the Cross. With each passing year we are invited to master the mystery of the Cross. Found in pre-Christian cultures where it has a cosmic and natural significance, the two crossed lines of unequal length symbolize four dimensions of the universe. For a while the cross has been regarded as a sign of power and regeneration. For us Jesus’ victory on the cross means love, life and salvation.
First reading: Isaiah 50:4-7
Prophet Isaiah puts four suffering servant songs cf. Isaiah 40:1-4; 49:1-7; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12, each portraying the contrast of Israel’s messianic expectations. The most anticipated reign of the messiah was had assumed militaristic portrait which would re-establish by force political and economic stability of Israel. But Isaiah described the messiah as a servant mandated and equipped for his mission by God’s own Spirit, non violent with intension to fulfill God’s universal mission. Open to God’s word and will, the servant renewed his resolve daily and by his shocking suffering for the sake of his people. Through peaceful means he would be light for the nations bringing justice, peace and healing to broken hearts. At the time the servant songs first appeared 6th Century BC, during the Babylonian exile, prophet Isaiah intended them to be a source of strength and consolation for the displaced Israelites.
As Hebrews identified themselves with the servant figure, they started making sense of their suffering and humiliation accepting it as part of the divine plan for their future deliverance. Isaiah understood his own prophetic mission had already foreseen that God would act in his own way at his own time to grant his people surprise liberation even when such a message was unpopular. After being grating freedom by King Cyrus, Hebrews realized how real Isaiah’s was. Later the passion, death and resurrection Jesus would repeat the same methodology of setting people free from bondage. Finding scriptural support for the undeniable humiliation, suffering and death of Jesus, we are encouraged to follow suite.
Second reading: Philippians 2:6-11
Paul never wrote a gospel but he knew the gospel and preached the good news effectively. Many early Churches owe their origins to his evangelization. When Paul wrote, he chose to spend his literary energies in helping his audience to live according the gospel they had heard and accepted in faith. In this letter to Philippians, Paul drew his audience attention to the saving reality of Jesus’ Cross and its implications. What we have read today is a hymn in which the early Christians celebrated death and exaltation of Jesus through his “death on a cross” 2: 8. Paul’s primary reason for quoting this exultant hymn would be missed if we do not take serious note of the phrase with which he introduces the hymn into his letter: ‘Your attitude must be Christ’s’ Jesus’ saving death on the cross can not simply to be an annual reflection but a consistent subject rousing action. This reading should act as the standard for the life of each one of us who wants to be a disciple. As Christ lived, so must his disciples; as he exercised his saving word so must the Church which professes him. Jesus’ attitude was such that he did not assert the prerogative he had as Son of God, but instead he freely chose to empty himself. Kenosis/emptying in Greek implied a purposeful and positive gift of oneself for the sake of others. Paul challenges us to bring into our communal and individual life the attitude of Christ.
Gospel: Mark 14:1-15:47
Mark was the first to detail the last events of Jesus’ life, leading his death on the cross. Although it is the briefest of all the passion accounts, Mark’s version is replete with specific details which make the telling of this saving story come alive with a fresh revelation of God’s love and a renewed invitation to replace fickle ways with firm faith. Since Mark related the events like sequential acts in an unfolding drama, it is beneficial to consider them in that way.
Human plots surprised by divine plans are narrated in Mark 14:1-11. One of Mark’s literary techniques is evident in his injected sorrow and dismay interweaving his themes by revealing that his worst enemies are those who pretended to be his best friends thus teaches us how careful we need to be with those close to us. Through care from a woman with the costly oil Mark recalled the practice where Israel’s kings were anointed and hailed as God’s messiah. But by referring her actions and the oil to his burial, Jesus indicated that his messianic reign would be accomplished through suffering underscoring the divine plan and not human means.
In Mark 14:12-25 we find final words and lasting gifts. In the context of Jewish Passover reminding Israelites of their passage from slavery to freedom; Jesus told his disciples that he was about to embark on his own Passover in order to effect freedom from sin and death for all peoples. As a sign of remembrance Jesus left them his presence in broken bread and shared cup.
In Mark 14:26-15:15 we find inconsistent friends. Quoting Zechariah 13:7, Mark sets the tone for the series of events and disappointments. Jesus had come to pastor the houses of Judah and Israel, but those whom he wished to shepherd soon scattered and abandoned his leadership. Alone, except for the close communion with God that sustained him all during the ministry, Jesus’ real human anguish is evident in the garden of Gethsemane. Throughout Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples have been portrayed as confused and lacking in understanding his purpose and true identity. The moment when human support was most wanting, Jesus had none.
Mark informs us that at the time of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, a young man/neaniskos, wearing a linen cloth/sindon, was seized and fled the scene naked, leaving his cloth behind. I tend to suggest that the young man was the evangelist Mark, because only Mark included this rather embarrassing incident in his passion narrative. But the fact that the young man appears again later, in the gospel, to explain the significance of the empty tomb cf. Mark 16:5 and the fact that the term sindon was also used to describe the burial cloth Jesus had left behind cf. Mark 15:46 suggests further significance. By special words associated with him and by his presence at both events of arrest and the tomb, the young man functions as an interpreter for Mark’s readers. Although betrayed, arrested and condemned, Jesus was not to be seized by death; he would leave his burial cloth/sindon most probably the one Mark had abandoned while fleeing arrest and rise from the dead. Instead, Peter’s denials are sandwiched in between the Jewish and Roman proceedings against Jesus. Whereas Jesus was loyal to the end of his mission, Peter wavered. While Jesus acknowledged his role as messiah, despite the consequences he knew would ensue, Peter denied even having knowledge of Jesus.
In Mark 15:16-47 we find final and full revelation. Through his gospel, Mark preserved the messianic secret. Whenever Jesus cured someone or when he was acclaimed as Messiah, Jesus repeatedly called for silence ‘tell no one!’ As reasons for this secrecy wants believers to mature and accept that faith develops through suffering. Jesus wished to keep the lid on the rootless enthusiasm of the masses. The tearing of the temple curtain signaled the end of the old order and the entry of the new reign of peace cf. Mark 15:38. With his death on the cross, the ban of secrecy was lifted and Jesus was publicly proclaimed as “Son of God” Mark 15:39. When Jesus dies on the Cross; a pagan who is a Roman centurion announced this great message. Following Jesus demands a transformation of our lives by his life and way of doing things. As we begin this holiest of weeks, we cannot be satisfied with waving palms alone instead we need to seek the grace of commitment to love, sacrifice and the Cross of Christ. To understand Jesus we have to stand under the Cross. To realize that we are his followers, we have to join Him on the way to Calvary.
Love gives joy, but this joy can result in pain. Love means giving, but this gift can result in suffering for the sake of the one we love. God loves us so much that he accepts to die so that we can live. In this Holy Week we need courage to follow Jesus without turning back.
Fr. Paulino Mondo