Palm / Passion Sunday, Year B
Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1-15:47
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’ Cycle B, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2008 and republished in Viet Nam 2011. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable, that might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
At the end of his life on earth, Jesus was betrayed by Judas. Judas handed his master over for thirty pieces of silver (Mt 26:15). Thinking of his suffering and death he would endure, Jesus went to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Finishing his prayers, Judas led a crowd to arrest Jesus by a signal of an embrace.
In order to defend his master, one of the twelve drew his sword and cut off the right ear of one servant of the high priest (Mk 14:46). The Gospel does not say who did it. Luckily, the Gospel of John records it was Peter who did it and the one whose ear was severed was Malchus (Jn 18:10).
Speaking about the cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, a certain priest wondered since his minor seminary studies how Peter could chopped up the servant’s ear, without having injured his neck or shoulder. Did he cut off his ear as the way a surgeon does an operation on someone? The act of cutting off ear in this way was not practical. In order to cut, he must have held the servant’s ear with one hand and held the sword to cut with the other. If so, feeling hurt, the servant would have struggled to escape. If St Peter asked the other apostles to help holding the servant, then it would have failed since the number of the Temple’s guards must have been more numerous and they must have had better weapons to overcome the eleven.
Returning to the act of chopping up ear, the priest reasoned as follows. If St Peter chopped up directly, he must have injured the servant’s shoulder or neck. If his ear hung closer to his head, then it would be difficult to chop. It was possible that his ear was raised out like a donkey’s ear that made it easy for the act of chopping blow. Anyway, that priest concluded that St Peter must have had some kind of martial art. Especially being a fisherman, St Peter must have known a martial art to defend him from pirates, if there was any in the Sea of Galilee. Thus, when chopping up the servant’s ear, St Peter had to use certain inner sense in order to direct the sword to stop at a certain point lest it would have injured his neck or shoulder. In other words, St Peter had to use his mind to direct his nerve, then his nerve to combine with his eyesight and his arm’s muscle to control the sword’s direction so that it could stop before the shoulder. Thus, St Peter only performed the chopping blow in order to warn the guards as if telling them: You do not lay hands on our master, lest you would have suffered as this person. Luckily, the gospel of St Luke recorded Jesus’ healing of his ear: He touched the ear and healed the man (Elk 22:51).
Thus, God’s way is different from our human way. Jesus’ way was to obey the will of God. That was why he told Peter to put back his sword to its place (Mt 26:52) and healed the servant’s ear (Lk 22:51). We can imagine how Jesus suffered in body, soul and spirit in his final days. He suffered much in spirit, when one of his apostles betrayed him; another denied him. The rest ran away, in hiding lest they would be held liable. There was a young man following Jesus, felt threatening, dropping off his cloth, he escaped naked (Mk 14:51-52).
Scripture scholars supposed that he was Mark. If following the scholars’ reasoning for the identity of a young man, who escaped naked, then details of nakedness can be explained as follows. Jesus and his apostles probably had the last supper at Mark’s house in the upper large room with a sofa as he pointed (v. 12). When Jesus and his apostles went downstairs going to Gethsemane, Mark heard or saw from downstairs – probably he just took a shower – he also followed, hurriedly wrapped him with a linen cloth against the evening breeze. Due to cold weather, Peter had to sit near the fire to warm him up (v. 54).
Pilate found out that Jesus did not do anything deserving death, wanted to release him, but had to yield to the people under pressure. The people mocked at him, slandered him, insulted him, and offended him, wanted to crucify him. Under pressure, Pilate handed Jesus over to be crucified. On the cross, there were only three nails to hold his body to the cross with no rope to tie his body and with no base to support his feet. In most of the crosses made for veneration, we have seen a footrest in sloping position.
However, a sloping footrest could not hold his body from pulling down either. Therefore, the body pulling itself down made the nail marks open wider. Blood and water flowed out from his nail marks and his ribs. It was very painful. We should not think his suffering is nothing because he is God. It is not so.
Jesus is also man. He is not fifty percent god and fifty percent man combined. Jesus is 100 percent God and 100 percent man: fully divine and yet fully human except sin. As God, he cannot suffer and die. As man, Jesus was afraid of suffering and death. Therefore, he asked God - if possible – not to let him drink the cup, meaning not to suffer and die, yet he was also willing to follow his Father’s will (Mk 14:36). He suffered a great deal and died painfully.
The Gospel today tells us about his agony in the garden of Gethsemane: He began to be filled with fear and distress (Mk 14:34). Then he told his apostles: My heart is filled with sorrow to the point of death (v. 34). The gospel of Saint Luke added: His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground (Lk 22:44). Agony in the Greek etiology is called agonia. According to Ronald Rolheiser, at the time of Jesus, agony was a technical term of the Olympic Games. Before the games, the Greek athletes would warm up their muscles to produce sweat to get ready for competition. That sweat was called their agonia.
According to this meaning, Saint Luke wants to say in his agony in the garden, Jesus prayed, experiencing sorrow and distress to the point of sweating to prepare for the sentence on the cross (1) . That was why he asked the Father to take this cup from him, meaning not to let him suffer and die. However, he was also willing to follow the Father’s will. Jesus had to identify himself with the suffering servant of Yahweh in the book of Isaiah today: I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield (Is 50:6). Saint Paul tells us about Jesus: Rather he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:7- 8).
If our meditation on Jesus’ passion and death does not stir up some spirit of repentance and sorrow, then perhaps watching the movie titled the Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson might help. According to scripture scholars, it was a rather true description of the way they struck and flogged Jesus. That is the way to describe punishments, which legal regimes of the old times used to punish criminals. Punishments with whips by those regimes influenced by Muslim are still in use today to punish criminals in the modern times.
In the movie theater, if sensitive, we would let our tears flow out. We would realize it is our sin that Jesus was crucified. Then we would find us crying in sorrow for our sins on the way home. More reservedly, we would find us weep inwardly from the movie theater to the parking lot. We would find us sin less and less. Jesus died not just for the sinful humankind in the past. He suffered and died for our sins so that we would live.
During Lent, what have we been doing to atone for our sins? What have we been doing to pull thorns out from his head or have we been driving more nails and thorns into his body and head? What have we been doing to console Jesus and those unfortunate who are God’s image and his mystical body or have we been just complaining and blaming God?
Prayer for repentance:
Oh merciful and forgiving God!
Due to the sin of humankind and my own sin
that your Son had to suffer and die
painfully and shamefully on the cross.
I sincerely repent for my sin:
sins against you and sins against others
who are made in your image.
Have mercy on me and forgive my sins
so that I may live in grace and peace
with the risen Christ. Amen
John Tran Binh Trong