Palm Sunday

First reading: Is. 50:4–7

The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.

Second reading: Ph. 2:6–11

Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel: Mk. 15:1–39

As soon as morning came, the chief priests with the elders and the scribes, that is, the whole Sanhedrin held a council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate questioned him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He said to him in reply, “You say so.” The chief priests accused him of many things. Again Pilate questioned him, “Have you no answer? See how many things they accuse you of.” Jesus gave him no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now on the occasion of the feast he used to release to them one prisoner whom they requested. A man called Barabbas was then in prison along with the rebels who had committed murder in a rebellion. The crowd came forward and began to ask him to do for them as he was accustomed. Pilate answered, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” For he knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. Pilate again said to them in reply, “Then what do you want me to do with the man you call the king of the Jews?” They shouted again, “Crucify him.” Pilate said to them, “Why?  What evil has he done?” They only shouted the louder, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas to them and, after he had Jesus scourged, handed him over to be crucified. 

The soldiers led him away inside the palace, that is, the praetorium, and assembled the whole cohort. They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and kept striking his head with a reed and spitting upon him. They knelt before him in homage. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him out to crucify him. 

They pressed into service a passer-by, Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. They brought him to the place of Golgotha—which is translated Place of the Skull. They gave him wine drugged with myrrh, but he did not take it. Then they crucified him and divided his garments by casting lots for them to see what each should take. It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left. Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross.” Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.

At noon darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “Look, he is calling Elijah.” One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink saying, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.” Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing him saw how he breathed his last he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

In other words

by Fr. Dionisio M. Miranda, SVD (Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City)

Having been given a new appointment and assigned a different residence, I started cleaning up my phone of dated contacts. I also reviewed old messages, some needing a pause to jog my memory, others bringing a smile to my lips, an occasional reminder of unfinished business, and then those that still hit you like a punch in the gut, dredging memories I thought had already been forgotten.

Thus it is with certain Gospel narratives likewise, as witnessed by a worn copy of the New Testament from my days as a religious novice. Highlighted texts whose insights then I struggle to recall, pages whose very headings summon milestones in my vocational journey, reminders of the untilled and rocky spaces in my spiritual garden, prompts to promises unfulfilled, sections that clutch the heart with regret and remorse, and not a few that still lift my soul with inspiration today.

The Gospel provides glimpses into our journey with God, his word engaging every moment of our lives if we only care to pause and sift through its manifold messages. Sometimes all it takes is to imagine ourselves in the narrative, not as an observant chronicler, but as an immediate bystander, or even as an active member among its cast of characters.

Imagine then that you are recreating Scene I of Mark’s account of the Passion to your youngest children, when the whole religious establishment ganged up on Jesus and brought him to the civil government so that Pilate could do their dirty work for them. Try to make your hearers realize how stressful it must have been for Jesus to experience being misjudged and falsely accused and then presented to authorities for unjust punishment. Listen to their reactions. But above all listen to your own as well.

Imagine that you are recreating Scene Il for your adolescent children, and if you can, relate to it current events complete with contemporary situations and the usual well-known suspects. Discuss with them the substance of the dispute, the valid and spurious arguments, the undisclosed interests and motivations, and like today, the role of hidden influencers and manipulators of public opinion. Ask them what they would feel if, despite having truth so clearly arguing for their position, they still end up on the losing side. Ask them whether they could have done better than Pilate when pressured by the crowd to release Barabbas. And then pose the same question to yourself.

Imagine that you are recreating Scene Ill for your officemates or co-employees. Casting aside their cultural evolution into Moriones figures, imagine that Jesus is being mocked and lashed, crowned with thorns, and violated not by the dreaded Roman soldiers of old, but by equally arbitrary and sadistic segments of our contemporary military and police forces. Ask your friends at work which role each would choose to play in this scene: as one of the soldiers? As a miron along Jesus’ way of the cross? As Simon the Cyrenian? What does it feel like to be in such a situation? Would they have dared to intervene at all, somewhat like Veronica, if only to reach out to some contact in government? Then ask as well, what action you would have taken, if any.

Imagine that you are recreating the extended Final Scene for your family and friends. Distribute the various roles as painted by Mark in this Gospel, with so much to spare. The team of soldiers tasked with the actual hammering of his hands and feet on the cross—did they speak to each other at all? The soldier spearing the sponge, soaking it in wine mixed with myrrh and raising it to Jesus’ lips—was it because of pity on impulse or just a routine extension of the torture? The officers who had the prerogative of dividing the spoils of the condemned—who engages so callously in such pastimes in the midst of such circumstances of inhumanity? The common thieves crucified with him—would we be the one bitter to the end, or the other grasping at any hope of redemption? The passersby and the enemies of Jesus—what would be our personal brand of hate, abuse, or toxicity?

Finally, imagine an Epilogue where you stand with the centurion as he realizes what the others failed to see, that “Truly this man was the Son of God.” Would you be able to look into his eyes and gently correct him, “Not ‘was the Son of God,’ but is my Lord and Savior?”

With what kind of memories will we celebrate this year’s Palm Sunday?

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