Bible Tuesdays for Palm Sunday/Passion Sunday, 2018
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
When some of you were children, Palm Sunday was a high celebration without any hint of Maundy Thursday or Good Friday. However, that changed in the early 1970’s, possibly one of the many reforms stemming from Vatican II. Whatever the motivation, the change in tone begins immediately after the Palm Sunday opening procession, when the Prayer of the Day is read. The texts for this week strongly indicate the Passion of God and Jesus. Due to the length of the gospel, I will treat only that this week. However, I have included all of the texts for Sunday for your own devotional reading.
The Lord God has given me
the tongue of a teacher,*
that I may know how to sustain
the weary with a word.
Morning by morning he wakens—
wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious,
I did not turn backwards.
6 I gave my back to those who struck me,
and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
from insult and spitting.
7 The Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
8 he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
Let them confront me.
9 It is the Lord God who helps me;
who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
the moth will eat them up.
Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye wastes away from grief,
my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my misery,*
and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror* to my neighbours,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
15 My times are in your hand;
deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant;
save me in your steadfast love.
Let the same mind be in you that was* in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
14It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus* by stealth and kill him; 2for they said, ‘Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.’
The Feast of Unleavened Bread, aka Passover, is a seven day long feast, the high point of which is the first night during which the Seder Meal is eaten. This meal in this feast is the religious high point of the Jewish calendar.
3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,* as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head.4But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii,* and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. 6But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9Truly I tell you, wherever the good news* is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
“Sat at table” – the actual phrase means to recline at a meal. However, since people haven’t reclined on their sides on cots to dine for centuries, since the 400’s, Bible translators have all translated this phrase to suggest a contemporary means of dining.
While each gospel contains this story, each version has a different location and a different woman. In the gospel of John, this event takes place at the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, with Mary anointing Jesus. Note that in Mark, the person doing the anointing is a woman with no description and she pours the ointment on Jesus’ head, anointing him as King. In Matthew and Luke, a woman “of ill repute” anoints Jesus’ feet, in one gospel with tears, and dries them with her hair. In none of these gospels does Mary Magdalene do the anointing or the drying of the head or feet, yet medieval Christianity conflates these stories with Mary Magdalene, saying that she was the “woman of ill repute.” However, the Bible NEVER says this about Mary Magdalene, only that she was cured of seven demons and that she, along with others, underwrote Jesus’ ministry out of her own means. No other gospel mentions Simon the Leper.
10 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in order to betray him to them. 11When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him.
Why did Judas betray Jesus? Judas was the only disciple from somewhere other than Galilee which made him an outsider in accent, social customs, as well as in camaraderie. But as to Judas’ motive, we will never know.
“Chief priests” – This phrase is an oxymoron. “Chief” by definition means top dog. Yet, we are told there is more than one Chief Priest. That is because there is hanky panky going on in the High Priestly family at this time. Both Caiaphas and Annas, son-in-law and father-in-law, are co-high priests at this time, something they did on their own for reasons of power brokering.
The High Priests and the Sanhedrin need someone to help them nab Jesus when he isn’t among the crowds. They are thrilled when one of Jesus’ closest associates offers to give him up. Notice, Mark does not say how much Judas will be paid.
12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, ‘Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?’ 13So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?” 15He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.’ 16So the disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them; and they prepared the Passover meal.
In this passage, Jesus displays miraculous foreknowledge of events. This is very common in the gospel of John but quite uncommon in the gospel of Mark. Mark uses the terms “the twelve” and “the disciples”. “The twelve” refers to those twelve men who represent the New Israel and are later “sent out” to preach, teach, and heal, so they are referred to as apostles, because the word “apostle” means “one who is sent out”. “Disciples” are those who follow Jesus, some since he was first baptized. Jesus had male and female disciples, some of whom were married and had children. When Jesus sits down at this feast (the equivalent in importance to our Christmas Dinner), he does so with the twelve and families of disciples.
17 When it was evening, he came with the twelve. 18And when they had taken their places and were eating, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.’ 19They began to be distressed and to say to him one after another, ‘Surely, not I?’ 20He said to them, ‘It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread* into the bowl*with me. 21For the Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that one by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that one not to have been born.’
While eating this festival meal, Jesus is pensive, mental gnawing on the events to come. In the middle of the seder, dinner is served. It is during dinner that Jesus finally speaks what is weighing on him, “One of you will betray me…” During seder, parsley is dipped into salt water and eaten, and matzoth is dipped into horse radish and into a kind of apple sauce. Those dips are left on the table during dinner as condiments. Jesus and Judas Iscariot are using the same dips.
22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ 23Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the* covenant, which is poured out for many. 25Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’
26 When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
During the seder, after the dinner is finished, a special matzoth which has been broken in half is brought out for dessert. It is this middle matzoth which has been broken which Jesus uses to institute the bread portion of Holy Communion. The last cup of wine drunk during seder is the cup of Elijah, who is to announce the coming of the messiah. Jesus now uses this cup to make a new covenant with the twelve, the families of disciples, and all creation.
“I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine…” – In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is offered sour wine on the cross but does not drink it. In other gospels he is offered other things and in one gospel he does drink.
27And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,
“I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep will be scattered.”
28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ 29Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ 30Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ 31But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.
In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus the disciples run away when Jesus is arrested and do not return until Easter morning. In the gospel of John, the disciples are all gathered around the foot of the cross.
There are a few things going on here. Jesus is looking at this disciples with sorrow for himself and for them. Jesus knows he will face the fast approaching events alone, a time when he will desperately crave a friend. Jesus also knows that his disciples will soon flee from him in terror and great confusion. In this statement, Jesus is both stating his sorrow and letting this disciples know that their reactions to this night have been prophesied long ago.
32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, ‘Abba,* Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour?38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial;* the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’
A gethsemane is an olive press used for making olive oil. This Gethsemane is in the Mount of Olives, which is an ancient olive tree grove that doubles as a kind of public park across the valley from Jerusalem. It is a place to go to get out of the heat of the city and enjoy the cool of the evening. It is also incredibly fitting that in Mark, Jesus doesn’t go to the “Mount of Olives”. No, Jesus goes to Gethsemane, because now the squeeze is on Jesus!
I remember our family’s first seder meal. My brothers and I were all kids but they were older and allowed to drink small amounts of wine, while I was stuck with purple Welch’s. Both my brothers got really tired from all the food and the wine, though one of them threw up by evening’s end. There are four glasses of wine drank during the liturgical portion of seder, and more as beverage during the meal. The food is as extravagant as one can afford, so lots of food is eaten. On any other Passover night, these disciples would already be in bed, well on their way to a serious hangover. No wonder they can’t stay awake! But Jesus urges them on to watchfulness and prayer because he knows what awaits them all and has great concern for them. But, here, as well as throughout the gospel of Mark, the disciples, even these three, fail Jesus.
43 Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. 44Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ 45So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. 46Then they laid hands on him and arrested him. 47But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. 48Then Jesus said to them, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? 49Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.’ 50All of them deserted him and fled.
Judas shows up with armed agents from the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. The authorities do not come themselves because, if there is bloodshed, and they come in contact with blood, then they would be ritually unclean to celebrate Passover. At least one of the disciples is armed and wields a sword in defense of Jesus and his followers. Jesus points out the ridiculousness of this arrest after dark, saying, “You saw me every day in the Temple! Why are you acting like you have to sneak up on me?!”
51 A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, 52but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.
The betrayal of Judas and arrest of Jesus is too much for the apostles and disciples, who flee the scene, even this poor guy, who was almost caught but wriggled out of his “pants” and got away.
53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” ’
Jewish law states that an accusation must to corroborated by three witnesses in order to stand up in court.
The Temple was considered to be God’s throne room. Desecration of the Temple (in this case, seeming threat to destroy the Temple) was considered heresy and treason, both stone-able offenses.
59But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah,* the Son of the Blessed One?’ 62Jesus said, ‘I am; and
“you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power”,
and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” ’
63Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? 64You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.
“Tore his clothes” – In the Hebrew Scriptures, tearing or rending one’s clothes was an outward sign of profound grief. The High Priest is showing horror at actually hearing the ultimate blasphemy, hearing one claim to be the son of God.
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ 68But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt.* Then the cock crowed.*69And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ 70But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ 71But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ 72At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.
Peter is terrified to be linked to Jesus and suffer his same fate. But Peter’s Galilean accent gives him away. Note that Mark says the cock will crow twice before Peter denies Jesus three times. Other gospels vary on this detail also. How total and profound Peter’s despair must have been!
15As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ He answered him, ‘You say so.’ 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, ‘Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.’ 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.
6 Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.9Then he answered them, ‘Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?’ 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, ‘Then what do you wish me to do* with the man you call* the King of the Jews?’ 13They shouted back, ‘Crucify him!’ 14Pilate asked them, ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ But they shouted all the more, ‘Crucify him!’ 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.
Pilate was in a very difficult situation. Jews had somehow found favor in the Roman court. Herod the Great was actually raised with Caesar’s own children for a while. Therefore, the governors of Jerusalem were supposed to give the Jews latitude to practice their own faith, despite the fact that Jews did not recognize Caesar as a human god, nor did Jews worship Roma, the goddess embodiment of the Roman Empire, the way all the other conquered peoples did. But it was very difficult to govern the Jews because they were frequently upraising or fomenting. So, Pilate instituted some concessions, like releasing a Jewish prisoner at Passover. Pilate was very reluctant to touch a Jew who was acclaimed king in one way or another.
16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters*); and they called together the whole cohort.17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
In the gospel of Mark, Jesus is flogged by the cohort, then mocked, king’s purple robe and all, and then marched off to be crucified. Now the point of crucifixion was excruciating torture to the death in public so that all would see and fear. Bodies were left to rot (and feed carrion) as a further warning to the rest of the population.
21 They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus* to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.
25 It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him. 26The inscription of the charge against him read, ‘The King of the Jews.’ 27And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.*29Those who passed by derided* him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30save yourself, and come down from the cross!’ 31In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32Let the Messiah,*the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’ Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
Those who were to be crucified were generally not flogged so that they would have maximum suffering on the cross. Since Jesus was flogged, he was already bleeding profusely, so he was unable to carry his own cross. Romans did not crucify the same way throughout the empire, so writers vary on what happened to Jesus. Most likely in Jerusalem, the condemned would have the cross bar of their crosses laid across their shoulders and then their arms would be lashed to it, this being even more effective than shackles for restraint. They were then marched through the streets to crucifixion outside the city proper. Soldiers led and followed the procession. At the crucifixion site, the condemned was knocked down to the ground, wrists nailed to the cross bar, then put on the upright portion of the cross, to which his feet were nailed. Sometimes a wedge of wood was put under the feet which enabled the crucified to push up and catch a breath. The upright was generally just high enough to get the condemned man off the ground. Passers by, solders, and others would urinate on, jeer, mock, and otherwise deride the crucified.
Note in Mark’s gospel, the other two condemned men say nothing that is recorded.
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land* until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’* 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he* breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’*
Jesus was nailed to the cross at 9 in the morning and he died at 3 in the afternoon. (In Mark’s gospel, there is no mention of an eclipse.) Jesus is on the cross for six hours. In Hebrew tradition, six is the number of evil, incompleteness. Mark is telling his audience that Jesus is suffering to death at the hands of evil.
Of all the gospels, Mark’s description of Jesus is the most human. Here Jesus cries out in complete abandonment of humanity and God. Jesus is truly completely alienated in his last moment.
Elijah is a great prophet of the Hebrew Scriptures. He took on folk hero status in Hebrew culture and was believed to be the harbinger of the news of the messiah. In the above scene, those who wondered whether Jesus was messiah hear Jesus’ scream of agony as one of possible hope.
Throughout the gospel of Mark, despite Jesus’ best efforts, neither the apostles, nor the disciples, nor the Jewish leaders ever believe Jesus to be God’s son. Here, at his moment of death, it is a Roman soldier, a non-Jew, who finally recognizes Jesus and proclaims his true identity.
40 There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.
Here are the women, faithful disciples, underwriting the ministry, and braver than their male fellows in that these women come out of the shadows to witness the crucifixion.
42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.44Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time.45When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46Then Joseph* bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body,* wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body* was laid.
It is Friday afternoon, and time to get ready to celebrate Sabbath. The Law of Moses states that Jews must be buried within twenty-four hours of death, and Jews cannot work on the Sabbath. Burying someone is definitely working so it cannot be done on the Sabbath. Therefore, Jesus must be brought down from the cross and gotten into a grave before sundown, when Sabbath begins, in order to follow the Law. Joseph of Arimathea is a member of the Sanhedrin, the Seventy, the Jewish senate. Jesus was already dead because he had bled so due to flogging.
It was customary to wash a body and anoint it with nard or other perfumes before burial. However, the sun was going down so there was no time for washing or anointing. The body had to be hustled into the tomb and dealt with more lovingly after the Sabbath.