Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
First reading: Is 50:4-7
Responsorial Psalm: 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
Second reading: Phil 2:6-11
Gospel: Mk 14:1 — 15:47
By Jem Sullivan
The sacred events of Holy Week may lead us to ask — Why did Jesus, the Son of God and second person of the most holy Trinity, suffer a cruel, unjust death on a cross? Was Jesus’ suffering the only means by which humanity could be reconciled to friendship with God?
Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). With these words, this Sunday’s second reading invites us into the heart of why Jesus embraced his passion and crucifixion.
Obedience to the will of God that opened the way for an outpouring of divine love led Jesus to his suffering and death on the cross. Obedience was the foundation of Jesus’ entire life, his passion and cruel death on the cross.
In Jesus’ obedience, we come to understand who God really is and who we really are, made in the image of God who loves us to the point of death, even death on a cross.
In the Gospel account of the passion and death of our Lord, we follow in the footsteps of the way of the cross. Soon after Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples, he arrives in Gethsemane to pray. During a time of deep, anguished prayer, Jesus speaks to his heavenly Father with words of obedient love — “take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will” (Mk 14:36).
Obedience to the will of God becomes the fullest expression of divine love.
Just as Jesus expresses his obedience to God, the startling event of his betrayal follows. Judas arrives in Gethsemane with a crowd armed with swords and clubs. He then hands over his master and Lord to the authorities in exchange for a sum of silver. With a kiss of betrayal, Judas betrays Jesus into the hands of those who seek to kill him. Betrayal is at the center of the final encounter of Jesus and his disciples.
Jesus’ obedience and Judas’ betrayal present opposite poles of the divine-human relationship. For Jesus’ obedience reveals the fullness of divine love, while Judas’ betrayal reveals the depths of humanity’s sinfulness and self-love.
Human sinfulness, weakness and pride are all forms of betrayal when we turn from friendship with God and choose instead lesser things or love of self. But thanks be to God, that betrayal is not the final word on the human condition. God’s love and mercy is the final word that speaks louder than every human infidelity and betrayal. And that is the good news of these holy days we are about to enter.
This Holy Week may we find in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection the victory of God’s love turned toward each one of us as we bring our own weaknesses and betrayals before the redeeming cross of Jesus Christ, and say in faith, “speak to me, Lord.”
What does Jesus’ divine love, revealed in his obedience to death, teach us about love of God and love of others?
Sullivan is secretary for Catholic education of the Archdiocese of Washington.