March 25th 2018

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This Sunday's Readings

First Reading                     
A reading from the prophet Isaiah (50:4-7)

The Lord has given me a disciple's tongue. So that I may know how to reply to the wearied he provides me with speech. Each morning he wakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple. The Lord has opened my ear. For my part, I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle. The Lord comes to my help, so that I am untouched by the insults. So, too, I set my face like flint; I know I shall not be shamed.


Second Reading
A reading from the letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians (2:6-11) 

His state was divine, yet Christ Jesus did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave and became as men are; and being as all men are, he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross. But God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names so that all beings in the heavens, on earth and in the underworld, should bend the knee at the name of Jesus and that every tongue should acclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, to the glory of God the Father.


GOSPEL
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (14:1 - 15:47)

It was two days before the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread, and the chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by some trick and have him put to death. For they said, 'It must not be during the festivities, or there will be a disturbance among the people.'

Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper; he was at dinner when a woman came in with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the ointment on his head. Some who were there said to one another indignantly, 'Why this waste of ointment? Ointment like this could have been sold for over three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor'; and they were angry with her. But Jesus said, 'Leave her alone. Why are you upsetting her? What she has done for me is one of the good works. You have the poor with you always, and you can be kind to them whenever you wish, but you will not always have me. She has done what was in her power to do: she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. I tell you solemnly, wherever throughout all the world the Good News is proclaimed, what she has done will be told also, in remembrance of her.'

Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, approached the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over to them. They were delighted to hear it, and promised to give him money; and he looked for a way of betraying him when the opportunity should occur.

On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb was sacrificed, his disciples said to him, 'Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?' So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 'Go into the city and you will meet a man carrying a pitcher of water. Follow him, and say to the owner of the house which he enters, "The Master says: Where is my dining room in which I can eat the Passover with my disciples?" He will show you a large upper room furnished with couches, all prepared. Make the preparations for us there,' The disciples set out and went to the city and found everything as he had told them, and prepared the Passover.

When evening came he arrived with the Twelve. And while they were at table eating, Jesus said, 'I tell you solemnly, one of you is about to betray me, one of you eating with me.' They were distressed and asked him, one after another, 'Not I, surely?' He said to them, 'It is one of the Twelve, one who is dipping into the same dish with me. Yes, the Son of Man is going to his fate, as the scriptures say he will, but alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! Better for that man if he had never been born!'

And as they were eating he took some bread, and when he had said the blessing he broke it and gave it to them. 'Take it,' he said 'this is my body.' Then he took a cup, and when he had returned thanks he gave it to them, and all drank from it, and he said to them, 'This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many. I tell you solemnly, I shall not drink any more wine until the day I drink the new wine in the kingdom of God.'

After psalms had been sung they left for the Mount of Olives. And Jesus said to them, 'You will all lose faith, for the scripture says: I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered, however after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.' Peter said, 'Even if all lose faith, I will not.' And Jesus said to him, 'I tell you solemnly, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.' But he repeated still more earnestly, 'If I have to die with you, I will never disown you.' And they all said the same.

They came to a small estate called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, 'Stay here while I pray.' Then he took Peter and James and John with him. And a sudden fear came over him, and great distress. And he said to them, 'My soul is sorrowful to the point of death. Wait here, and keep awake.' And going on a little further he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, this hour might pass him by. 'Abba (Father)!' he said 'Everything is possible for you. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you, not I, would have it.' He came back and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep? Had you not the strength to keep awake one hour? You should be awake, and praying not to be put to the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.' Again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And once more he came back and found them sleeping, their eyes were so heavy; and they could find no answer for him. He came back a third time and said to them, 'You can sleep on now and take your rest. It is all over. The hour has come. Now the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is close at hand already.' Even while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, came up with a number of men armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the traitor had arranged a signal with them. 'The one I kiss,' he had said 'he is the man. Take him in charge, and see he is well guarded when you lead him away.' So when the traitor came, he went straight up to Jesus and said, 'Rabbi!' and kissed him. The others seized him and took him in charge. Then one of the bystanders drew his sword and struck out at the high priest's servant, and cut off his ear.

Then Jesus spoke. 'Am I a brigand' he said 'that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I was among you teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me. But this is to fulfil the scriptures.' And they all deserted him and ran away. A young man who followed him had nothing on but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the cloth in their hands and ran away naked.

They led Jesus off to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes assembled there. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the high priest's palace, and was sitting with the attendants warming himself at the fire.

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus on which they might pass the death sentence. But they could not find any. Several, indeed, brought false evidence against him, but their evidence was conflicting. Some stood up and submitted this false evidence against him, 'We heard him say, "I am going to destroy this Temple made by human hands, and in three days build another, not made by human hands."' But even on this point their evidence was conflicting. The high priest then stood up before the whole assembly and put this question to Jesus, 'Have you no answer to that? What is this evidence these men are bringing against you?' But he was silent and made no answer at all. The high priest put a second question to him, 'Are you the Christ,' he said, 'the Son of the Blessed One?' 'I am,' said Jesus 'and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.' The high priest tore his robes, 'What need of witnesses have we now?' he said. 'You heard the blasphemy. What is your finding?' And they all gave their verdict: he deserved to die.

Some of them started spitting at him and, blindfolding him, began hitting him with their fists and shouting, 'Play the prophet!' And the attendants rained blows on him.

While Peter was down below in the courtyard, one of the high priest's servant-girls came up. She saw Peter warming himself there, stared at him and said, 'You too were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.' But he denied it. 'I do not know, I do not understand, what you are talking about' he said. And he went out into the forecourt. The servant-girl saw him and again started telling the bystanders, 'This fellow is one of them.' But again he denied it. A little later the bystanders themselves said to Peter, 'You are one of them for sure! Why, you are a Galilean.' But he started calling down curses on himself and swearing, 'I do not know the man you speak of.' At that moment the cock crew for the second time, and Peter recalled how Jesus had said to him, 'Before the cock crows twice, you will have disowned me three times.' And he burst into tears.

First thing in the morning, the chief priests together with the elders and scribes, in short the whole Sanhedrin, had their plan ready. They had Jesus bound and took him away and handed him over to Pilate.

Pilate questioned him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' 'It is you who say it' he answered. And the chief priests brought many accusations against him. Pilate questioned him again, 'Have you no reply at all? See how many accusations they are bringing against you!' But, to Pilate's amazement, Jesus made no further reply.

At festival time Pilate used to release a prisoner for them, anyone they asked for. Now a man called Barabbas was then in prison with the rioters who had committed murder during the uprising. When the crowd went up and began to ask Pilate the customary favour, Pilate answered them, 'Do you want me to release for you the king of the Jews?' For he realised it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over. The chief priests, however, had incited the crowd to demand that he should release Barabbas for them instead. Then Pilate spoke again. 'But in that case,' he said to them 'what am I to do with the man you call king of the Jews?' They shouted back, 'Crucify him!' 'Why?' Pilate asked them 'What harm has he done?' But they shouted all the louder, 'Crucify him!' So Pilate, anxious to placate the crowd, released Barabbas for them and, having ordered Jesus to be scourged, handed him over to be crucified.

The soldiers led him away to the inner part of the palace, that is, the Praetorium, and called the whole cohort together. They dressed him up in purple, twisted some thorns into a crown and put it on him.


Sunday Reflection Palm Sunday (25.03.18)

Human Fickleness

People's attitudes are fickle. Palm Sunday is the gateway into a week of profoundly altering attitudes. The cries of "Hosanna", voiced by the crowds that welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem, lasted just five days. They were replaced by shouts of "Crucify him! His blood be upon us and upon our children".

The regular citizenry of Jerusalem would have been greatly increased with incomers who had arrived for the celebration of the major Jewish festival of Passover. The Roman Army would have increased their garrison strength well aware that among the incomers would have been dissenting Jews eager to seize the opportunity to foment a revolt. Jesus and his out-of-town assorted companions would have known they were stepping into a political cauldron, always fermenting, but seriously on edge at festival times. No Jew would have been unaware of the troubled history of Jerusalem from both aspects, religion and politics. It was then, as it remains now, an unholy mix.

People, generally, find correction more difficult to accept than congratulations because an acknowledgement of culpability is often a pre-requirement for the acceptance of correction. People, at that time, were willing to listen to Jesus and make him welcome for the signs and wonders he worked. But Jesus also experienced how popular opinion could turn against him when his teaching brought chastisement and challenge. Even the people of Nazareth, where he had been brought up, turned against Jesus when he challenged them (Luke 4: 14-30)

Palm Sunday is the threshold of the holiest week in the Christian calendar. As the week unfolds, Christians will be led through the full gamut of human emotions from the "Hosannas" of Palm-Passion Sunday to the shouts of "Crucify him!" on Good Friday.

The noise of our cities and towns, the interminable barrage of broadcast media, can simulate the general hubbub of a crowded Jerusalem two thousand years ago. What differentiates people then and now is that, today, Europeans are less religiously involved and alert. Then, there was a five-day lapse between 'Hosanna' and 'Crucify'. That same volatility from acceptance to rejection happens much faster in our time. How long is it after Sunday Mass before family in-fighting resumes; how long before language and behaviour return to 'secular street'?

What accounts for the shifting mood from acceptance to rejection, for a holy name used in prayer to become, once again, an expletive? It would appear that the answer lies within the human heart. Though created for greatness, yet, gifted with freedom of choice, it is also capable of grievous words and works. We might readily see ourselves among those who lined the road to Jerusalem acclaiming and welcoming Jesus. But who among us could be certain that we would not have been a voice among that Good Friday crowd calling for Jesus' death? There is no scriptural proof, but isn't it possible that Jesus may have recognised faces among those who welcomed him and, five days, later condemned and spat at him? It is hard to imagine that people who, earlier, had come to Jesus seeking help and healing could have allowed themselves to be turned against him. But isn't it exactly this that we find ourselves doing when we allow 'secular street' to flow, unrestrictedly, through our daily lives?

Palm Sunday and Good Friday are the only days in the Christian year when we hear read, in its entirety, 'The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ'. The events we commemorate this week invite us to consider the fickleness of the human heart, including our own, and to recall the frequent Lenten admonition:

"As it has been said: "Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts, as you did in the rebellion." (Hebrews 3:15)

Entering these days Holy Week, in contriteness of hearts, sometimes sadly faint and fickle, we are called to build a firmer faith. Being faithful to the Christian challenge necessitates hearing words of correction as well as of encouragement and comfort. Only a listening, contrite and humble heart can acknowledge its share of responsibility for the Cross of Christ. Only a welcoming, contrite and humble heart is able to gratefully rejoice in the Resurrection of Jesus. The latter is not possible without the former. Such is the message of this week and the daily challenge of Christian discipleship.

It is said that once a schoolboy was asked what parts of speech are 'my' and 'mine'. He answered - more truthfully than he understood - that they were aggressive pronouns. It is all too true that in 21st century the idea of service is in danger of getting lost. So many people are working only for what they can get. They may well become rich, but one thing is certain--they will not necessarily be loved, and love is the true wealth of life.

Empires established by force have vanished from the face of the earth, leaving only a memory which with the years becomes ever fainter. But the empire of Christ, founded upon his Cross, continues to hold sway.