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Divided crowds, divided hearts

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GOSPEL COMMENTARY March 28, Mk 14:1-15:47

Each year, Palm Sunday presents the church with a cornucopia of Scripture for reflection. We begin the liturgy this year with Mark 11:1-10 and finish with the entirety of Mark 14-15. An understatement:  There is quite a lot to take in. 

Theologians and mystics have long noted the striking contrast between the passages: The initial block from Mark 11 brings us, documentary style, into the scene of Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. We get the behind-the-scenes tour, with intimate and somewhat cryptic instructions from Jesus to his disciples. We also see their embryonic faith in exercise as they follow Christ’s unusual orders, and perhaps even catch a glimpse of their stunned surprise as things play out precisely as Jesus had predicted. The crowds arrive, lay down their palms and cheer their hosannas.

Then we fast forward, seeing the rest of the story unfold: The Last Supper, the trial, the Passion, the crucifixion, the tomb. Suddenly, the cheering crowds are replaced with hecklers. The clamoring masses turn from adulation to irritation to assassination in short order. They cheered Jesus, then begged for Barabbas. It’s almost enough to give one whiplash. What is going on here?

Pope Benedict XVI gives a hint in the second installment of his Jesus of Nazareth series. He notes that these were likely two separate crowds. In the first installment, we’re dealing with the crowds who have come up from the surrounding regions of the Holy Land to celebrate the Passover. They had likely seen and heard of Jesus, witnessed his miracles and expected great things still to come as the Lord entered the Holy City for a holy celebration. Could Jesus mark the return of the kingdom in all its glory?

In contrast, the crowds we see in Mark 14-15 are possibly the city folk, wondering what to make of this alleged “messiah” from the hinterlands, biblical “fly-over” country. They view him with skepticism and criticism, especially given the Lord’s previous preaching in and around the Temple. They possibly saw him as an upstart, a revolutionary bound to stir up trouble with the Romans. Given the right push, they galvanize against him and demand his death as a heretic. Thus, two different reactions, possibly from two different crowds. 
Yet we can ask: Are not both crowds present in our own hearts? How often do we praise the Lord when things go swimmingly, but then flip to the Barabbases of the world, the cultural counterfeits and pseudo-saviors in politics, business or entertainment, when times get tough? The Lord reveals himself as king, but on his terms. Will we accept him, cross and all?

There are obviously many more moving parts and characters in the story. Yet a further detail fills out the story for the purpose of this reflection: Both passages are punctuated by Christ giving somewhat odd instructions to his disciples which are surprisingly effective: Get me a specific donkey from that town (a donkey is found), get me a room for the Passover (the room exists), stay here and keep awake and pray (Judas knows just where to find them and when). All of these hint that providence and divine power pervade the whole of these events. Jesus knows these moments with vivid clarity and his suffering is embraced willingly as a part of the Father’s plan. Christ chooses and redeems all this mess. 
This should encourage and strengthen our hearts, even in their fickleness described above: If God knew and chose to embrace the depths of such betrayal and even his own death, working from it the resurrection and our redemption, what wonders can his love work even in our own divided hearts?

Fr. Miserendino is parochial vicar of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021