Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord: Mk 11:1-10; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mk 14:1–15:47
The official title of this liturgy, Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, points to the two Gospel readings that we hear on this opening day of Holy Week. We might easily dismiss the first, proclaimed between the blessing of palms and the procession, as lighter fare, but it sets the stage for the Scriptures that follow.
According to St. Mark’s account, Jesus dispatches two disciples with precise instructions to find and fetch the colt that will bear him into the city. He even tells them what to say if anyone objects: “The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.” To their wonderment, these words suffice, and their errand succeeds.
We might wonder along with them. How does Jesus make all this happen? Is it power or planning or both? The scene takes place near Bethany, and John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus has good friends there.
We can imagine Martha arranging things at his bidding or sending Lazarus to do so. All that said, the colt in question has never been ridden. What motivates Jesus to risk a rodeo?
Looking deeper, we see that this scene has roots in the Old Testament. Jesus acts intentionally to evoke the Messianic expectation spelled out in Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.”
Bringing this prophetic image to life, Jesus enters Jerusalem humbly, gently and peacefully, on an untried animal, and declares himself to be THIS sort of Messiah.
Similarly, humility reigns in Isaiah’s portrait of the suffering servant, an ideal Israelite, obedient to divine instruction and utterly dependent upon God for help and deliverance. This one endures pain and humiliation without resistance, demonstrating inner strength and courage both admirable and honorable.
Despite the signs of public shame (beating, beard plucking, buffets, spitting), disgrace does not stick to the one who relies wholly on the Lord. Both gifted and compelled to “speak to the weary a word that will rouse them,” this one remains faithful to his mission, regardless of mounting persecution.
Jesus embodies this servant of the Lord, undergoing not only physical suffering, but also the rejection, betrayal and abandonment that lead up to it.
Psalm 22 develops the scene sketched by Isaiah, citing an array of abuse. Verbal taunts, physical injuries and the seizure of personal belongings all figure into the hardship suffered. Yet in committing his dire circumstances to God’s care, the psalmist finds strength to express the praise he vows to give.
Mark’s readers need only hear the opening verse of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” from the lips of Jesus as he hangs on the cross to bring the whole arc of the psalm to mind.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we find another portrait of humility. In saying that Jesus “did not regard equality with God something to be grasped,” Paul contrasts Jesus with Adam (and Eve) who surely “grasped” the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in a vain effort to gain equality with God.
In his fully human life and death, Jesus’ surrender to God in trust and obedience to the Father’s will form a potent corrective on the original failure of humanity.
This drama takes place most profoundly in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Troubled and distressed,” with his soul “sorrowful even to death,” Jesus pours out his heart to the Father, asking for a reprieve from the bitter cup to come. Yet he ends his plea with humble surrender — “not what I will but what you will.”
In this garden, the tragedy of Eden turns around, making way for the mystery of redemption to unfold in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Melanie holds a master’s in pastoral studies from Loyola University, New Orleans.