By Barbara Klugh
The Liturgy of the Palms: Mark 11:1-11; Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
The Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 13:22-37. Go to www.lectionarypage.net to read or print the weekly lectionary text.
The Liturgy of the Palms
Mark 11:1-11: Our first Gospel reading this week is Mark’s account of Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey. Jesus tells two disciples to go and get a colt that has never been ridden, symbolizing the sacred nature of the procession. When they bring the colt to Jesus they threw their cloaks over it. Others spread their cloaks and leafy branches (which were from palm trees, according to John’s Gospel). They shouted,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Jesus knew what he was doing. When a king went to war he rode a horse, and when he came in peace, he rode on a donkey. Jesus’ action was referring to Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” According to Borg and Crossan’s The Last Week, at the same time Pontius Pilate entered Jerusalem from the west with imperial cavalry and soldiers. They note, “Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire. The two processions embody the central conflict of the week that led to Jesus’ crucifixion.”
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29: Our first psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving for victory. It was sung by the community in procession as they approached the Temple. The psalm sung by crowd at Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem repeats some of this psalm, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The Liturgy of the Word
Isaiah 50:4-9a: Our reading is the third of four Servant Songs in the Book of Isaiah. These are poems about God’s unnamed servant, who God chose to lead the nations, who is rejected and abused, yet willingly sacrifices himself for the sins of others. Not surprisingly, the servant is known as “the suffering servant.”
In this poem, the servant says, “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.” The servant is abused, insulted, humiliated, and spit upon; nevertheless, he does not rebel but is disciplined and strengthened by suffering. He knows that because God helps him, he is not disgraced. He’s not afraid of his adversaries because God will judge him, and, ultimately, he will be vindicated by the Lord God.
As Christians, we see Christ as the fulfillment of the suffering servant who was vindicated by God on Easter. Some think of the servant as a metaphor for the people of Israel collectively, or as the perfect Israelite. As modern people, we can think of the servant as a model for discipleship—that we may hear God’s call and remain totally obedient to God’s will, no matter how inconvenient or difficult the circumstances.
Psalm 31:9-16: In the portion of the psalm we are reading, the psalmist pours out all his sorrow to God—grief, weakness, ill health, depression, and enemies. Yet, he also turns to God in faith, and asks God to rescue him from his troubles—“Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your loving-kindness save me.”
Philippians 2:5-11: This week’s reading will be familiar to the people of Grace, as it is our Lenten Acclamation of Faith, which is based on an early Christian hymn.
In our reading, Jesus moves from humiliation to exaltation. Paul urges the Philippians (and us) to follow Christ’s ultimate example of humility. It is because Jesus gave up all that was his—his divine authority, his equality with God, his very life!—that God raised him from the dead and has given him the highest place of all. The hymn proclaims, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend…and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Mark 13:22-37: Our reading takes place in Jerusalem during the last week of Jesus’ life. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus foretold the destruction of the temple, taught about false messiahs and prophets, and coming persecution. After all the upheavals, they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” One can tell the decisive event will be imminent as when you see the signs of summer approaching—like the fig tree coming into leaf.
Jesus says, “Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
N.T. Wright has an interesting interpretation in his book, Mark for Everyone. Rather than Jesus talking about his Second Coming, he thinks Jesus was prophesying about the fall of the Temple. He writes, “From Mark’s point of view, it is about the complete vindication of Jesus: his resurrection, his ascension, and the outworking of his prophecies against the Temple as sealing the whole process.” It was the great transition, and “is a foretaste of the judgment that will fall on the whole world.”
So what are we to do? As Wright says, “Just the ongoing command to God’s people in Christ to be faithful to him, not to compromise with the standards and fashions of the present age, but to keep awake, watching… for the day to dawn, in whose light the dim flickering candles of the present age will be needed no more.”