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Sunday’s Readings: Suffering Love

Palm Sunday, Year B, March 24

Isa. 50:4-9aPs. 31:9-16 • Phil. 2:5-11Mark 14:1-15:47 or Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

The prophet Isaiah speaks of the sufferings of Christ, saying, “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near” (Isa. 50:6-8a). And yet we feel and know that the Passion of our Lord was designed and carried out not only to kill the author of life but to humiliate him, to shame him, to strip him of all semblance of humanity. The Passion of Jesus is a revelation of sin: a crime against humanity and a total rejection of God. The cost to Jesus is the bearing of it all in love and the incomprehensible desire to impart forgiveness to his tormentors.

Strikingly, the Passion narratives say very little about the crucifixion. St. Mark says that “they crucified him,” adding only details about the Lord’s final moments: his cry of dereliction, his last groan of agony, and his final breath. Meticulous attention, however, is given to the pain, both physical and psychological, that Jesus suffers as he walks the way of the cross. We see him bearing the sins of the world in all the abuse he endures.

In the garden of Gethsemane, as his impending death looms over him, Jesus is distressed and agitated, saying, “I am deeply grieved, even to death” (Mark 14:34). Before a violent hand touched him, a sword pierced his heart, as he began, inwardly, to give himself for the life of the world. After his betrayal, Jesus is brought before the high priest, all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. Believing him guilty of blasphemy, they call out for his execution and immediately turn to violent acts of ridicule. “Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him” (Mark 14:65). The next morning, “they bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate” (Mark 15:1). Finally, Pilate orders Jesus to be flogged and crucified.

Jesus is silent. He sets his face like flint before an onslaught of abuse. Jesus seems passive, as his divine power and agency are hidden. The soldiers turn against him in this way. “[T]hey called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him” (Mark 15:16-20). Having hung him on a tree, they deride him, shaking their heads. They continue to mock him and taunt him. In a word, they take pleasure in his anguish.

Behold what human beings do to each other, to their very God!

Jesus predicted his resurrection, saying to his disciples, “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). This is not, at face value, good news. Jesus could have come to confront his tormentors, to judge his betrayer, to rebuke the cowardice of his disciples; he could have come for retribution in the form of revenge.

He did not. He came in love and forgiveness. He died and rose again to show another way to live and be. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus is creating a new human being.

Look It Up: Psalm 31

Think About It: Jesus embodied suffering love.

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