Readings: Mark 11:1-10, Isaiah 50:4-7, Ps. 22:8-9,17-20,23-24, Philippians 2:6-11, Mark 14:1-15:47

“The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backwards. I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:5-6)

Dear friends, I welcome you to Holy Week. This week is called holy because we shall be re-enacting the greatest event of history since the world's creation: the death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Last Week Sunday, we heard Jesus say: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24). During this week, we witness the fall of this grain of wheat. Next Sunday, we shall celebrate the rising to New Life of the grain of wheat.

Mark’s account of the Passion of Christ contains many interesting details. Someone once said that even if Jesus Christ came again, we would kill him a second time. This is because, despite changing times, human beings have always remained the same. As we reflect on the major characters in the Passion Narrative, let us observe how we mirror them so that we can subsequently make the needed changes.

1. The Passion is a Story of Betrayal. Our people say that the rat inside the house informs other rats outside that there is food. The enemy outside cannot succeed without the cooperation of the enemy inside. This boils down to the person of Judas Iscariot. Nevertheless, look inward: “Haven’t I betrayed my close friends in the past?” Dear friends, if it happened to Jesus, it can happen to you. Those you consider your best friends and trusted allies today can turn their backs on you. Trust only in God.

2. The Love of Money is the Root of All Evil (1 Timothy 6:10). What motivated Judas to sell Jesus? The greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. (Mark 12:30-31). When our love for money becomes greater than our love for God and neighbour, we become worse than Judas Iscariot. Remember Job 1:21 – “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there.” All your efforts to grab, accumulate, and possess things will become useless if you lose your soul. (Matthew 16:26). Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, an amount he never got to spend.

3. The Passion is a Story of Giving. The woman who anointed Jesus with her expensive ointment teaches us to give God our best. Am I using my talents for the glory of God? Or am I like Cain, who offered that which is only good for the dustbin? In the Passion, we find the greatest act of giving anyone could do – Jesus gave us his body and blood in the Holy Eucharist. In today’s first reading, Isaiah depicts the selfless nature of Jesus’ generosity: Isaiah 50:5-6   “I turned not backwards. I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” It is one thing to give, but our giving must spring from a willing heart; like a lamb being led to its slaughter, our giving should never be forced. At the beginning of Lent, we said the three pillars of this season are fasting, prayer and almsgiving. How well have I fared in terms of giving during this period? Remember, on the last day, we shall be judged based on how well we give or refuse to give. “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25:41-43).

4. The Passion Questions our Prayer Life. Jesus took the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, but instead, they started sleeping. How deep and serious is my prayer life? Why can I watch a movie (or a football match) for over two hours but consider praying for one hour as punishment? How did Jesus pray? Did he try to command God? NO. He said: “Abba Father … remove this cup from me; yet not what I will, but what thou wilt.” (Mark 14:36). In my prayer, do I ask for God’s will to be done or my own will?

5. The Passion teaches us to Avoid Boasting. The disciples all promised to remain with Jesus. When they were eventually faced with Roman soldiers, they all took to their heels, including Peter, who boasted: “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and death!” (Luke 22:33). Am I like Peter, whose action betrayed his words when faced with danger? A Christian not ready to suffer for Christ’s sake is not yet a true follower of Christ. Jesus said: “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:38)  

6. The Passion teaches us to please God rather than men. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent “for he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up.” (Mark 15:10). Pilate, like Aaron, made a golden calf for the people, was more interested in appeasing the crowds than following his conscience. If I was Pilate, what would I have done differently? Many joined in shouting, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” because others were doing so. Am I a crowd-pleaser?

7. The Passion teaches us Humility. In our Second Reading today, we heard Paul writing to the Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8). The Passion celebrates the deep-seated humility of Jesus.

In conclusion, the Passion Narrative teaches us a lot about ourselves. If today, I am still ruled by money, if I betray others like Judas Iscariot, if I am still stingy, if I am still proud, if I neglect my prayers, if I often act to please the crowd like Pilate, it means I haven’t grown at all during these forty days of Lent. May this holy week bring us to true repentance. Amen.

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, free me from the love of money and the desire to please people. Increase my love and devotion to you, especially during this holy week. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Palm Sunday. Year B. Mark 11:1-10, Isaiah 50:4-7, Ps. 22:8-9,17-20,23-24, Philippians 2:6-11, Mark 14:1-15:47).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu