1st reading: Is 50:4-7, Phil 2,6-11
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 22
Gospel: Mark 11:1-10, 14:1-15:47
On Palm Sunday we enter Holy Week; that is, from Palm Sunday to the following Easter Sunday we accompany Jesus from his entry into Jerusalem, through his crucifixion and his descent into hell, to his resurrection. From Palm Sunday, however, it is all downhill for the time being. Jesus enters Jerusalem, where he is initially received like a king, but the same people who are now still shouting "Hosanna!" will be shouting "Crucify him, crucify him!" on Friday.
In Rome, I knew a Muslim woman who had studied the Koran but was curious to know what Christians believe. A friend of mine got her a ticket to attend a papal Mass in St. Peter's Square on Palm Sunday. She had a bit of trouble getting into the square with her veil, but eventually made it. She stood up for the Gospel like everyone else and heard the whole story of Jesus' passion read out, from his arrest to his death. As she listened, she was moved, began to weep, and her heart melted with compassion for this Jesus whom she did not know. Suddenly she looked to her right and left and saw that the Christians were sitting there chewing gum, looking into the air, and seeming quite unimpressed by the story of suffering. When we met her afterwards and asked her how she had experienced the Holy Mass, she said, "How heartless you Christians are! How can you listen to this story without crying! That's terrible!"
Hopefully we are not as heartless as those believers in St. Peter's Square, but if we are honest we have to admit that we have actually become somewhat indifferent because we seem to be so familiar with the passion of Jesus. So this week, let us listen to these texts as if we were hearing them for the first time and put ourselves in Jesus' shoes. To help us, there are two texts from the Old Testament in the Palm Sunday readings, from the Book of Isaiah and Psalm 22, both of which are literal prophecies of Jesus' suffering.
In the Book of Isaiah there are four so-called Servant of God songs, all of which can be heard on different days of Holy Week. They are about the servant of God who will be Christ himself and who must suffer all that is described there in service to the Father. The song we hear on Palm Sunday, Isaiah 50:4 says: "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…" In the period leading up to Palm Sunday, we often hear Jesus say, "I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak." (Jn 12:49). The true prophet is the one who proclaims only the words of God and not his own message. A man's message cannot save us. What we are interested in is what the Father has to say to us. Jesus proclaimed that alone to us––which led to people wanting to kill him. "And I have not rebelled, have not turned back." (Is 50:5). This expresses Jesus voluntarily going to his death. "I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard" (v. 6). Jesus was not simply whipped, but he himself gave his back to them, and to those who plucked out his beard he also turned his cheek. "My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting." (v. 6b). Those who have been to the East may know how people there can spit. In the film "The Passion" you see how they spat on Jesus. A mystic, Anne Catherine Emmerich, recounted in one of her visions that their spit even fell into his mouth. "The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced" (v. 7). This is Jesus' inner attitude throughout his trial. "I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame." (v. 7b). Jesus consciously takes these sufferings upon himself, knowing that the Father who acquits him is close to him. Jesus’ words, so to speak, to his enemies: "See, the Lord GOD is my help; who will prove me wrong? (v. 9)" No one, not Pilate, not any high court. Jesus is the totally innocent one, and because he is innocent, he knows that he will rise again from death. "Lo, they will all wear out like cloth, the moth will eat them up." (v. 9b). Anyone who has ever had clothes eaten away by moths knows what that means. There is nothing left. And this is what will happen to the enemies of God who stand up against Jesus here in judgement. But Jesus wants them and lays down his life himself for those who kill him (cf. Jn 3:17, 12:47). Read Psalm 22, meditate on it at Holy Mass. It literally prophesies the suffering that Jesus experiences on the cross. It will be heard again in the liturgy on Good Friday. ∎