First Reading — Isaiah 50:4-7
Second Reading — Philippians 2:6-11
Gospel — Mark 14:1-15:47
The liturgy of Palm Sunday can begin with a ceremony of blessing of palms during which the passage telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is read. It is taken from the current year’s gospel, except that in Year B there is an option to read the account from John. Thus, if the blessing takes place at a given Mass, we may hear Mark 11:1-10 or John12:12-16. The version from Mark includes Jesus’ sending disciples to borrow the colt for him. John’s version includes an Old Testament quote promising Zion that her king would arrive as Jesus did. Central in significance for both is the people’s acclamation, “Hosanna!” followed by words quoted at every Mass, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The irony that a few days later a crowd, possibly including some of the same people, would be shouting for his crucifixion is a warning to us all to be v=clear about where we stand. Our human nature can be fickle. Even if we don’t explicitly oppose Jesus, we can ignore his teachings and calls in our life.
The first two readings and responsorial psalm of Palm Sunday are the same every year. The gospel is the Passion Narrative of the gospel being read on Sundays throughout the year. So this year we hear the Passion according to St. Mark.
The first reading — Isaiah 50:4-7 — is the third of four “Songs of the Suffering Servant” in the book of Isaiah. The servant of the Lord undergoes sufferings like those of Jesus, but he has confidence in God that he will ultimately be vindicated.
The responsorial psalm — verses of Psalm 22, with verse 2 as the refrain — is quoted by Jesus on the cross. Like the first reading, it tells of one who is being tormented, but concludes with an expression of confidence in being vindicated by God.
In the gospel — Mark 14:1—15:47 — we hear of Jesus fully aware of what is about to happen to him, saying that the woman who anointed him at the home of Simon the leper had done so in preparation for his burial. Although in the garden he wishes that it weren’t necessary, he accepts it as the will of his Father. At the Last Supper, he gives the Twelve his body and “[his] blood of the covenant.” “Blood of the covenant” is significant because it recalls the blood of the covenant in Exodus 24:8. To ratify God’s covenant with Israel, Moses offers a sacrifice and takes the blood of the animals sacrificed and splashes half of it on the altar and sprinkles the people with the other half, Now Jesus’ sacrifice establishes God’s covenant with his people and brings forgiveness of sins.
Jesus unflinchingly proclaims his Messiahship and accepts his crucifixion. Others actively seek his death (the Sanhedrin), yield to pressure (Pilate), betray him (Judas), deny him (and repent)(Peter), run away (disciples, young man who ran away naked — instead of leaving all to follow Jesus, he left all to stop following), mock him (Sanhedrin members, Roman soldiers, passers-by, chief priests, those crucified with him), follow loyally (women observing the crucifixion), or come to faith (centurion). If we sin, we are yielding, denying, or running away from him, and seeking our own comfort or pleasure. But he will forgive, as he forgave Peter and the other disciples after he rose.
I was at a lecture where someone asked where was Jesus’ mercy when he said of Judas, “better for that man if he had never been born.” The answer is that all of God’s threats are conditional: this is what will happen if you don’t repent and change your ways. When Jesus spoke to Judas, it was a warning and a plea: what you are about to do will turn out very badly for you; don’t go through with it. Judas could have repented and been restored to God’s grace. God’s mercy remained available to him, as it is to all of us.
We might note that the Sanhedrin trial was a kangaroo court. At 14:1, days beforehand, they decide to put Jesus to death. At the trial, failing to get testimony capable of justifying the death sentence, the high priest asserts that Jesus’ claim of Messiahship consistent with Daniel 7:13 is blasphemy. But of course, if true, it isn’t blasphemy. There is no proof that Jesus’ claim is false, just an assertion made in order to justify the predetermined outcome.
The second reading — Philippians 2:6-11 — also speaks of the sufferings of Jesus, putting them in the context of his divinity. As God he was unable to suffer and die, so he became human in order to die for us. His exaltation shows him as Lord, our Savior, deserving of our reverent and grateful praise.
I don’t think I’ll have a chance to write new posts for Holy Thursday and Good Friday, but the readings are the same every year, so you might want to check out those from 2016 in the archive.