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Savior Triumphant and Savior Abandoned (Mostly)

Welcome to the End of Lent!! For all Christians (Protestants how do you do Lent? Do you even celebrate it?), March 24, 2024 begins Holy Week. Jesus enters Jerusalem with a welcome fit for a King only to leave Jerusalem in the manner of a convicted criminal, abandoned by most of the Apostles, with the exception of John, and betrayed by Judas and by Peter.

As this week begins with Palm Sunday, this day remembers when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Yet, also the Gospel of the day is not the beginning but the end of the week, the Crucifixion. This event marks the triumph over death...yes even though the Resurrection has not happened yet. The resurrection of course, finalizes this triumph, but you cannot have the Resurrection without the Crucifixion. However, the Gospel does not begin there. It begins with the conspiracy of the chief priests and scribes against Jesus.

Of course this is not all that surprising that chief priests and scribes are wanting to kill Jesus as he to them was a blasphemer. One may wonder however, if they did not also dislike Jesus' popularity and were jealous. While their intentions and motivations are pertinent, the Gospel passage, seems to imply rather than outright state them, at least in the beginning. The Gospel recounts that these men plan "to arrest Jesus by treachery and put him to death", but just not "during the festival (Passover?)". This is, of course, so they do not cause a riot. The scene from this conspiracy mean shifts quickly.

The next vignette told in this Gospel passage tells us that Jesus' head is anointed by a sinful woman. Now, this sinful woman is sometimes identified as Mary Magdalene. This tradition is old in the Western Church, Pope St. Gregory the Great identifies not just the sinful woman and Mary Magdalene as the same woman, but the sinful woman, Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus as all the same woman. Below are some resources on this topic as it is disputed and today, it is rather more common in the Catholic Church to see Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany, and the sinful woman as three different women. I'll be honest I found it difficult to find resources supportive of the older view of Mary Magdalene as the sinful woman, Mary of Bethany, or both. Most of these are either neutral or supportive of the view that Mary Magdalene is her own singular person.

Resource on Mary Magdalene #2

Resource on Mary Magdalene #3

Resource on Mary Magdalene #4

Resource on Mary Magdalene #5

Resource on Mary Magdalene #6

Resource on Mary Magdalene #7

Now continuing with the vignette. This sinful woman anoints Jesus's head with "oil, costly genuine spikenard". Now some quickly criticize this woman, one judge of the woman is interpreted as Judas Iscariot, as "[this oil] could have be sold for three hundred days' wages and given to the poor". Jesus defends the woman against her accusers praising her for her anointing as "[anticipating] anointing [Jesus'] body for burial", prophesying his forthcoming passion. He also says that she will be remembered "wherever the Gospel is proclaimed". Now the next stop on this journey retells the betrayal of Judas, which could be connected to the last stop, as I said when covering that. Judas, maybe out of disgust for Jesus' conduct with the sinful woman, Judas makes his way to the chief priests and scribes. They "pay him money" to betray Jesus. In other Gospels (March 24, 2024's passage is from Mark) stipulate that Judas betrays Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Wait...this situation of someone being paid for betraying another is familiar. Yes, I am referring to the story of Joseph being sold by his brothers in Genesis 37:18-36 where he is sold for twenty pieces of silver to some Midianites. Now this isn't surprsing since the Old Testament Joseph is a type of Christ. After Judas receives his payment the Gospel states, "then he (Judas) looked for an opportunity to hand him (Jesus) over".

Next, the Gospel shows Jesus giving instructions to the disciples/apostles of where to prepare the Passover meal, which this one in particular, to Christians is called the Last Supper. Then it moves into the the Last Supper event proper. Immediately, it is revealed someone will betray Jesus. The apostles all question if it is he who is to betray Jesus. This obviously alarms the apostles eliciting a chorus of "surely it is not I"'s. While Jesus does not say that is Judas, he offers this clue to the identity of the betrayer, "the one dips with me with me into the dish" which is very cryptic and really gives no indication of who it actually is.

Now here comes a passage (Mark 15:22-25), which Catholics and (some) Protestants disagree on. The Gospel relates Christ's institution of the Eucharist. On one hand, Catholics take this passage literally, when Jesus calls the bread and wine, his body and blood, he means what looks like bread and wine have become his body and blood. This is rePresented at the Mass when the priest, in persona Christi, consecrates the bread and wine, transubstantiating it into the Body and Blood of Christ, while only looking like bread and wine. Many protestant confessions, however, interpret Jesus' words as symbolic and the bread and wine, no believe there is any substantial change in the bread and wine. Regardless, of which interpretation is taken, this scene marks the first time this ritual is preformed. Once this is finished, Jesus prophesies more about his passion.

Jesus tells the apostles that they will abandon him (which in the end most of them do). When Peter expresses his unabashed loyalty to Jesus in response, he receives an even more crushing prophecy than simple abandonment of Jesus. Jesus tells Peter: "Amen, I say to you this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times". Peter's pride restates his loyalty to Jesus, but it shows a lack of trust in him, for it implies that Peter knows better than Jesus (who is God). The journey then takes us to the Garden of Gethsemane.


The forthcoming scene, for Catholics, in the Garden of Gethsemane finds a place in the Holy Rosary as the first Sorrowful Mystery. Let's take a look at it. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John apart from the rest of the Apostles/Disciples and says:"My soul is sorrowful even until death. Remain here and keep watch". Here, on the human side of things, Jesus asks his inner circle of his inner circle, to support him, to watch out for him. When he goes off to pray, Jesus asks the Father to "Take this cup away from me". This shows that in his human nature Jesus knew the real suffering he was to endure, and if at all possible, wanted to avoid it. Yet, being the God-Man, his human will is perfectly conformed to the will of the Father and concedes "but not what I will but what you will". Here, Jesus teaches us to willingly embrace suffering as a sacrifice of love to the Father. Now, upon his return to Peter, James and John, he finds them asleep. I imagine a sort of sorrow felt by Jesus that his closest friends didn't have the strength to stay awake in his time of need. This is obvious in his rebuke, directed at Peter: "Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for an hour?" The use of Peter's "old name" Simon could be an oversight by Mark, but it does seem intentional. It seems to signify Jesus' disappointment in Peter, who was so close to him.

Then after this withdraws twice more praying the same prayer and returning to find Peter, James, and John asleep twice more. The final time, whilst Jesus is rebuking them, Judas arrives with the chief priest, scribes, and elders to arrest Jesus; Judas' signal for who Jesus is is a kiss. Jesus' response highlights the irony that Judas betrays him with an action which belies affection and respect, making it almost a deeper betrayal. From Gethsemane, the group of men, followed by Peter, takes Jesus to the court of the High Priest.


The House of the High Priest

Mark reveals "the chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin" conspired to find false witness so as to condemn Jesus. However, this plans does not quite work as"their testimony did not agree." Some variations of the accusations that Jesus said "I will destroy this temple made with hands and within three days and I will build another nor made with hands." When Jesus is questioned, he does not respond to the high priest, at first. When asked if he "is the Christ , the son of the Blessed One?", Jesus simply responds "I am" and that 'you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven'". After this, the High Priest sees Jesus' response as proof of blasphemy. Jesus get his first beating of the passion, soon a this is stated, the story returns back outside to the courtyard where Peter denies Jesus, and the realized the truth of Jesus' prophecy. Peter then breaks down and weeps over his own betrayal of Christ.


The Pilate Episode

The Chief priest, scribes, and elder, the whole Sanhedrin brings Jesus to the Roman consul, Pilate. There is so much depth in the few questions that Pilate asks Jesus. The first one asked, "Are you the King of the Jews?" reveals the truth that Jesus' descent from heaven entails, in part, ushering in the Kingdom of God. While the question pertains to the Jews, in this interaction, it calls to mind how each person should approach Jesus, as their King. Now, Pilate honors a tradition of releasing a prisoner for the feast of Passover. The choice then becomes Jesus or Barabbas, who rebelled and murdered. It is unsurprising that the Chief priests choose Barabbas and shout "Crucify him." In an effort to satisfy these people, Pilate releases Barabbas. He has Jesus scourged before giving him into the hands of the Sanhedrin.


The Crown of Thorns

This scene connects to the Rosary as well as the Second Sorrowful Mystery. Jesus finds himself lead into the praetorium. Here, the soldiers clothe Jesus in a purple cloak and a crown of thorns. Then, they mock him by proclaiming "Hail, King of the Jews". After this, Jesus takes up his cross to journey on the road to Calvary.


Simon of Cyrene

Now, a rather innocuous incident happens: the soldiers taking Jesus to Calvary (Golgotha) make a man, Simon, carry Jesus' cross with him. This implies that Jesus' human strength could no longer support the cross. It also reminds us that crosses in life are not meant to be shouldered alone.


The Crucifixion

Finally, the Gospel states the arrival of Jesus to Golgotha, or the place of the Skull. Here he is crucified. Mark states it was 9 o'clock when Jesus was nailed to the cross, the inscription above his head reading the King of the Jews. He is mocked be the onlookers some even saying "Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe". This presents a fatal flaw in the consciences and perspective of Jesus' enemies. They need a grand sign to cause them to believe even though Jesus has already, several times, healed the sick and raised the dead. This shows a lack of faith as the eye can deceive. It much calls to mind the overemphasis today on trusting only in what can be observed and seen. Only trusting in what one can see or know in a way is limiting as if you can't see which is often the case with spiritual things then you also can't believe. It almost certainly makes the existence of God less believable.


Jesus' Death

Mark recounts that darkness was present "over the whole land" from noon to three. Then at three Jesus cried "Eloi, Eloi lema sabachthani?" (My God, My God, why have you abandoned me). Now this seems to imply that the Father had left him alone. However, if one understands how Jews referenced their scripture, in this instance particularly the Psalms, then a different meaning emerges. These words begin what Christians know as Psalm 22. However, Jews would recognize the Psalm by the first words, which Jesus cries. This is important for, Psalm 22 is a complete Todah (thanksgiving in Hebrew) Psalm. What is a todah psalm you might ask? Well, it first lies in the Todah cycle. This cycle begins with the atonement for sin. Then a crying out to God occurs. next there is a promise to offer the Todah. Then there is some act of deliverance, but this part doesn't usually appear in the text itself. Then comes the paying of the Todah. Then you have a feast. Finally, a public testament to waht God has done for you. The first three parts of this create the "lament sub-cycle" while parts five through seven create the "thanksgiving sub-cycle". In the context of Psalm 22, the first 22 verses reflect the lament sub-cycle while the last 9 verses reflect the thanksgiving sub-cycle. So in invoking this psalm Jesus calls people to remember it ends in Thanksgiving. Now after, crying this Jesus gives us his spirit. This however, is a cause for thanksgiving, as through it sin and death were overcome because Jesus showed perfect obedience in dying on the cross. I am going to end my exploration of the the passion narrative.

Now, but wait, the title says mostly for Jesus being abandoned. Well, it reveals that other than his Mother, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of the younger James and Joses, and Salome. So there are women that stay with him. Then in John, John, himself, is found at the foot of the cross. So, no Jesus was not completely abandoned , mostly. I wish all of you a very Happy Holy Week!! May God bless you in this final week of Lent!


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