Lectionary Commentaries for March 28, 2021
Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday)

from WorkingPreacher.org


Gospel

Commentary on Mark 15:1-39 [40-47]

Ira Brent Driggers

In Mark 15, Jesus endures the violent and humiliating mechanisms of Roman power. 

Mark tells this story with a paradoxical emphasis on both divine providence and human agency. Each emphasis warrants some explanation, but I will dedicate more pastoral reflection to the second. 

Mark conveys God’s providence chiefly through allusion to Jewish scripture, showing a special affinity for the Psalms. Jesus’ silence before his accusers echoes Psalm 38:13-14 (perhaps also Isaiah 53:7), the dividing of Jesus’ clothes echoes Psalm 22:18, the mockery of onlookers at the crucifixion echoes Psalm 22:6-8, and Jesus’ cry of abandonment quotes directly from Psalm 22:1. Preceding Mark 15 are other references to scriptural fulfillment (14:27, 49), as well as Jesus’ own repeated predictions of his passion and resurrection (8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34, 45; 14:8, 22-24). Taken together, these details give the impression that Good Friday falls within God’s overarching providence. 

Notice that this is different from saying that everything is “scripted,” as if God were moving chess pieces in a sordid plot to sacrifice the son (it is also different from saying that Mark presents a specific kind of atonement theology, as I explain in my analysis of Mark 8:31-38). Rather, Mark weaves various moments of scriptural “fulfillment” into his narrative to convey divine faithfulness—divine faithfulness in continuity with God’s ancient covenant with Israel. We see the depths of this divine faithfulness most clearly in Jesus’ commitment to his mission, which is the restoration of humans and communities to every level of wholeness. Jesus refuses to dial down this ministry to spare his own life, or even to soften the backlash, facing hostility in full confidence that God brings life from death (8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 12:18-27; 14:28). It is the God of the Psalter, the God of Israel, acting through Jesus on our behalf. 

This brings me to Mark’s emphasis on human agency, an emphasis so prevalent that it is easy to overlook its significance. More than anything, Mark simply wants us to see the human capacity both for coming to Jesus and for killing him. On the one hand, mostly in the first half of the narrative, we see crowds of people repeatedly drawn to his ministry. He heals the infirm and welcomes sinners, bringing human wholeness without regard for approved methods and timing. On the other hand, Jesus’ indifference to approval provokes the ire of those claiming the authority to approve and condemn. In Mark 15, this animosity finally turns deadly. 

Particularly noteworthy is the way Mark casts human animosity in forms of ridicule, especially on the question of Jesus’ royal/messianic identity. It is precisely Jesus’ claim to be “the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One” (roughly equivalent royal expressions for Mark) that invite the high priest’s verdict of blasphemy and the derision of the priestly council (14:61-65). When Pontius Pilate repeatedly calls Jesus “the king of the Jews” (an expected Roman interpretation of Jewish messianic language), one hears a hint of belittling sarcasm (15:2, 9, 12, 26). Roman soldiers add to this by dressing Jesus up like a pathetic king and paying mock homage to him (15:17-29). Most devastating are the moments of ridicule, from three different character groups, while Jesus is hanging upon the cross (15:29-30, 32). In fact, I am inclined to read the so-called “confession” of the Roman centurion as a continuation of this sarcastic derision rather than an authentic epiphany into Jesus’ identity: “Truly, this man was God’s Son!” (15:39). 

Regardless of how we interpret the centurion, the Markan motif of mockery accentuates the ugly depths of human animosity toward Jesus and his mission. It adds to the degradation of Jesus, in keeping with how Rome used crucifixion as an instrument of extreme dehumanization, as a public spectacle to deter the slightest hint of subversion. No wonder Jesus dies alone, abandoned by his fearful disciples (14:43-51, 66-72) save for a female remnant looking on from a safe distance (15:40-41). Mark’s audience may come to the story knowing that Jesus’ promises of resurrection win out over his cry of abandonment. But that knowledge does not lessen the bitter agony of this moment, as the one who came to heal is broken, as the one who came to dignify is humiliated.

My mind turns to the painful legacy of racial terror lynching in the United States. Thousands of African Americans were lynched between the Civil War and World War II, while thousands more were forced to flee their communities (often with their families) for fear of being lynched. For a profound analysis of this history, I strongly recommend the interactive study published by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), titled “Lynching in America.” This study documents how, in many cases, lynching took the form of public spectacle, “festive community gatherings” in which “large crowds of whites watched and participated in the Black victims’ prolonged torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and burning at the stake.”1 Eerily reminiscent of Golgotha, white attendees were even known to fight over the victim’s possessions and various relics from the lynching.

There is no divine providence here. Lynching, like Roman crucifixion, is an instrument of brutal dehumanization. It was a public deterrent against the increased emancipation of African Americans in the generations after the abolition of slavery. It symbolizes our historic, violent animosity to God’s unbridled mission of human wholeness, with each murder and displacement creating deep generational trauma. Yet the trauma is not merely historical, as the same EJI study found that, in many states, our racist lynching legacy extends into the death penalty.2

So deeply embedded is this racist nightmare in our nation’s story (not just in southern states) that the theologian James Cone insisted: “Any genuine theology and any genuine preaching of the Christian gospel must be measured against the test of the lynching tree.”3 Cone understood the salvific significance of Jesus’ crucifixion, as it demonstrated God’s complete solidarity with human suffering and mortality. But Cone also understood the extent to which our salvation is also wrapped up in “our solidarity with the crucified people in our midst.”4

In its depiction of a public spectacle lynching, Mark 15 provides opportunity to explore both kinds of solidarity, to ask how our professed fellowship with Jesus might manifest itself in an embodied solidarity with “the crucified people in our midst,” to reflect on what Good Friday worship might mean in light of the still-standing trees that bore lynched bodies, and to rethink our approach to spiritual pilgrimage in light of the new Legacy Museum and Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. Mark 15 invites us into the suffering of Jesus because attention to suffering is the first step in God’s mission of human wholeness.

Notes

  1. Equal Justice Initiative, Lyching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror (3d ed.; Montgomery, Alabama: Equal Justice Initiative, 2017), 28 (see also 33-37).
  2. Lynching in America, 5 (see also 62-64).
  3. James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2027), 161.
  4. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 161.

Alternate Gospel

Commentary on Mark 11:1-11

Ira Brent Driggers

Mark 11:1-11 depicts Jesus as a long-awaited king. It does this in both obvious and subtle ways, and with a heavy dose of tension and irony.

It helps to recall that, for Mark, the very title “Christ” denotes royalty. The Greek christos translates the Hebrew mashiach, meaning “anointed one” (thus making “Christ” and “Messiah” equivalent terms). It is true that various kinds of Old Testament vocations entailed anointing; not only kings, but also priests and occasionally prophets. Mark, however, gravitates towards the royal connotation when referring to Jesus as the Christ/Messiah. This is in keeping with one relatively popular Second Temple Jewish hope, whereby God was expected to send an anointed king in the last days to defeat God’s enemies and restore God’s people—even creation itself—to a state of everlasting peace.

It also helps to recall the history of Jerusalem as a royal city. It was King David who made Jerusalem the capital of his kingdom, and it was David’s son, King Solomon, who built the first temple in Jerusalem. The Old Testament historical books consistently remember Jerusalem as the “city of David,” while certain psalms explicitly connect Jerusalem, or Zion, with God’s king (Psalms 2:6; 48:2; 149:2). Among those Second Temple Jews who envisioned a royal Messiah, it was not hard for them to envision the Messiah ruling from Jerusalem. In this way, the end would recapitulate the beginning.

Bearing all of this in mind, we can imagine how some characters inside this week’s story might experience Jesus’ actions as a “triumphal” entry, bringing him one step closer to establishing his throne in the ancient city of kings. The star-struck disciples, for example, already know that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29-30) and have been anticipating a future of greatness and glory alongside their master (Mark 9:33-34; 10:35-37). And while Jesus has not divulged his messianic identity to the public, he has performed countless marvelous acts under the banner of God’s “kingdom” (Mark 1:15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1; see also 9:47; 10:14-15, 23-25; 12:34; 14:25).

No wonder, then, that by the time Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for Passover (his first and only visit in Mark), public opinion has turned decidedly messianic. Bystanders welcome Jesus into the city not only with the standard pilgrimage refrain of Psalm 118:26 (“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”) but with an explicitly royal/Davidic elaboration: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” (Mark 11:9-10). They also ceremoniously cover the ground in ways that signal Jesus’ royal identity: with cloaks echoing the coronation of King Jehu of Israel (2 Kings 9:13) and with branches echoing the conquering of Jerusalem by Simon Maccabeus (1 Maccabees 13:51). Surely there was exhilarating gossip behind these actions: How will God install him as the end-time king? Will he brandish the sword (Mark 10:46-47)? Will he summon down an angelic host (Mark 8:38)?

The tragic irony, of course, is that Jesus is headed to a shameful execution—and he knows it. From the moment that he divulged his messianic identity to his disciples, he has prophesied this fate (Mark 8:31). He has even prophesied this fate as occurring in Jerusalem (Mark 10:33-34). Not that Jesus’ mission per se is to die. Rather, Jesus knows that his unbridled approach to human wholeness has proven too disruptive and offensive for those wielding power. Jesus chooses death because toning down God’s healing love—to avoid death—is not an option for the Messiah. Jesus can only love at full speed. And Jesus knows that this same love will overcome death itself (see Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 12:18-27; 14:28). This is not your normal power-wielding, army-raising king.

Jesus’ symbolic use of the colt makes the point well. It is clearly an allusion 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” (Mark 11:7; see also Matt 21:4-5, which quotes Zechariah directly). The Markan Jesus enacts this prophecy presumably because of its counter-cultural image of a victorious king—humble on a colt rather than haughty on a warhorse. The importance of the allusion is signaled by the detailed account of Jesus’ instructing two of his disciples to find the colt and procure it for him (Mark 11:2-6). Mark does not want us to miss Jesus’ deliberateness.  

I admit to some ambivalence when it comes to this royal/messianic motif. On the one hand, it is clear that Mark wants us to view Jesus as a king, but only by helping us re-imagine the very concept of king in accordance with Jesus’ mission. It is a challenging journey that begins with the quotation of a royal coronation psalm at Jesus’ baptism (“You are my Son” Mark 1:11; see Psalm 2:7) and ends with repeated mockery of Jesus’ professed kingly status in his final hours (“Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe,” Mark 15:32; see also 15:2, 9, 12, 17-20). Between these royal moments, Mark tells the story of Jesus on a mission, not to conquer peoples and land, but to restore broken humanity to its divinely created wholeness. That is the kind of king Mark calls us to follow, and the kind of kingdom Mark’s Jesus calls us to enter.

On the other hand, I worry that our celebration of Jesus’ kingship contributes to the imperialism that Mark ultimately wants to subvert. In his recent commentary on Mark, Warren Carter goes to great lengths to show how Mark’s subversion of imperialism (and gender hierarchies) cannot always escape the theological re-inscription of those same harmful structures. How easily we miss, for example, that Jesus essentially commandeers the animal that is meant to symbolize his humility!1 This is a king who gives his life for the mission of humanity’s healing, but not without countless displays of spiritual and rhetorical power—in keeping with a conventional male king.

I say all of this as a deeply “creedal” Christian who professes the lordship of Jesus. Personally, I am not yet at the point of replacing the word “kingdom” with the word “kin-dom,” although I respect those who do and acknowledge the very Markan logic of their word choice (“Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother,” Mark 3:35). My point is that we underestimate the power of our Christological language at the peril of those we are called to love and serve. It is easier to scoff at extreme manifestations of Christian nationalism—like those present at the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021 (never mind the long, genocidal history of European colonialism in Christ’s name)—than it is to remain diligent about our own words. Do we provide the kind of nuanced pastoral discourse that subverts oppressive hierarchies and promotes unbridled human wholeness? Or do we leave problematic ambiguities hanging in the air, clichéd “Hosannas” that reinscribe the very kingdom that crucified Jesus? As Peter learned in Caesarea Philippi, it is not enough to get the words right. Jesus must also define the words for us (Mark 8:27-33).

Notes

  1. Warren Carter, Mark (Wisdom Commentary 42; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press), 306.

First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 50:4-9a

Henry T.C. Sun

“I am a servant.” – Larry Norman, 1976

This lectionary reading for Palm Sunday is the third of four servant songs in Second Isaiah (see also Isaiah 42:1-9; 49:1-6; 52:13-53:12), explicitly identified as Israel in Isaiah 49:3 but also personified as an individual as seen in our text (note the first person singular pronouns throughout).1 It is also part of the larger textual unit of Isaiah 50:1-11, which is in turn part of the larger textual unit of Isaiah 49:14 – 52:12.2 Nonetheless, the general contours of the interpretation of this passage are relatively straightforward, and the text provides a helpful point of departure for Palm Sunday preaching.

Verses 1 and 2-3 share the same movement from rhetorical question to clarifying statements that provide an explicit answer to the rhetorical questions:

“Where is… which of…” (verse 1a) moves to “because of your sins… for your transgressions” (verse 1b), and

“Why was… Why did… Is… Have I …” (verse 2a) moves to “by my rebuke… I clothe…” (verses 2b-3).3

Scholars typically see these verses are referencing Isaiah 49:14 and Zion’s accusation that “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” In essence, the Lord has put that accusation on trial, and in good lawyerly fashion is refuting the allegation that Israel is in exile because of the Lord’s largesse.

Verses 4-9 move from a focus on the exilic community as the larger group to the individual servant, though the word servant (ebed) is nowhere used in this unit.4 Although there are different ways to organize this unit, I find Throntveit’s ABB’A’ structure most satisfactory.5 Throntveit correctly observes that while the appellation “The Lord YHWH” occurs in verses 4, 5, 7, and 9, it is joined with a Hebrew perfect verbal form in verses 4 (natan, “has given me”) and 5 (patach, “has opened”) and a Hebrew imperfect verbal form in verses 7 and 9 (ya’azar, “helps me,” “who helps me”).6

Together, these five verses present “a psalm of confidence in YHWH by the servant, which functions as a model for the people’s outlook and behavior within the larger context of 50:1-11.”The movement of thought is consistently from the Lord’s action to its consequence for the servant:

action: the Lord “gives me the tongue of a [pupil, student]”;consequence: the servant is to “sustain the weary by a word” (verse 4); 

action: the Lord “has opened my ear” (verse 5a); consequence: the servant is to submit to those who have abused him (verses 5b-6);

action: the Lord “helps me”; consequence: the servant sets “[his] face like flint,” knowing that he will not be put to shame and that the one who vindicates him (obviously God) is near (verse 7a);

action: the Lord again “helps me”; consequence: no one will declare the Servant guilty. This verse summarizes the confidence the Servant has based on the Lord’s help (verse 9a). 

This leads into verses 10-11 which are themselves grammatically ambiguous9 but appear to be a challenge, in the form of another rhetorical question, to the community in exile to follow the model of the servant (verse 10). Further, it serves as another affirmation to the community that what they are experiencing, what they are fighting against (“kindlers of fire, lighters of firebrands”), comes from the hand of the Lord (verse 11).

The Palm Sunday context of Isaiah 50 leads one instinctively to the coming suffering of Jesus that will culminate in his crucifixion (John 19:16-18) and resurrection (John 20:13-16). Christians have historically viewed the suffering of Jesus as divinely ordained by God and willingly accepted by Jesus, and that clearly fits the model of the servant in verses 4-9.

But if the servant in verses 4-9 is to be a model for the community of faith in exile, shouldn’t the servant also serve as a model for us? How can we read the passage in that context?

Are we sustaining the weary (verse 4)? From the beginning of Isaiah 40, one of the themes of Second (and Third) Isaiah is the proclamation, “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:3; see also 49:13; 51:3, 12; 52:9; 57:18; 61:2; 66:13). Is our effort to sustain the weary based on listening to the God who gives us the tongue of a pupil (verse 4) whose ears have been opened (verse 5) by God? Or, are these efforts motivated by political ideologies or ongoing quests for power, celebrity, and fortune?

Are we willing to submit to perceived persecution without fighting back (verse 6)? Jeremiah proclaims, before the Exile begins, that the community of faith should settle down for 70 years of life in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:4-9). Jesus reminds us that “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10, 11-12; see also Luke 6:22-23).

And how do we read these exhortations to non-resistance with other biblical traditions that proclaim the value of civil disobedience to those who persecute us (for example: the midwives in Exodus 1; Rahab the Canaanite in Joshua 6; the stories of resistance in the book of Daniel) or with the Confessing Church’s opposition to the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s?

As I write this, the federal administration is rolling out millions of COVID-19 vaccines across the United States, and for the first time in many months, the defeat of this virus can be envisioned. While I deny that COVID-19 is in any way a divine gesture of judgment, it is worth pondering how the church responded to it from the standpoint of this servant song. And if the church’s response was indeed lacking, it is worth pondering what a better response might look like, a response that is grounded in the model that the servant of Isaiah 50 gives us.10

May the church always and everywhere be counted amongst those who “trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon their God” (verse 10, lightly edited).

Notes

  1. For a recent discussion around the identity of the Servant, see, e.g., John Goldingay, “Servant of Yahweh” who lists the Messiah, some other individual, the prophet, and Israel as possible identifications (M. J. Boda & G. J. McConville, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets [Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012], 703–706).
  2. So Marvin A. Sweeney, Isaiah 40-66 (Forms of the Old Testament Literature; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 178: “Thus, 49:14–52:12 as a whole focuses on YHWH’s announcement of salvation for Zion.” In contrast, John Goldingay, Isaiah 40–55 (International Critical Commentary; Edinburgh: T&T Clark [2006], pages 180, 205) sees a sharper distinction between 49:14– 50:3 (“YHWH’s Response to Abandoned Zion” and 50:4–11 (“The Awakening of YHWH’s Servant”), which he assigns to the section 50:4–53:12.
  3. G.S. Ogden and J. Sterk, A Handbook on Isaiah (Reading: United Bible Societies, 2011), 1411–13. 
  4. Klaus Baltzer, “So that there can be no doubt at all as to who has appeared here, the first saying begins: ‘the Lord, Yahweh. ‘The Servant of Yahweh’ is the correspondence, even if this is not expressly said” (Deutero–Isaiah [Hermeneia; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 2001], 338).
  5. See Mark Throntveit’s 2010 Working Preacher commentary on Isaiah 50:4–9a, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sunday-of-the-passion-palm-sunday-3/commentary-on-isaiah-504-9a-8 [accessed December 22, 2020]. 
  6. Sweeney, Isaiah 40–66 (Forms of the Old Testament Literature; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016), 181.
  7. The translation of the imperfects is uncertain. Shalom Paul (Isaiah 40–66 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012], 352, 354) translates as the future tense “will help me”; Goldingay, Isaiah 40–55, 212 thinks they are both habitual presents (“supports me”). Baltzer, Deutero-Isaiah, 338 translates verse 7 as a future tense (“will help me”) and verse 9 as a present tense (“helps me”). Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns [1990], 484) agree that verse 9 is a future tense imperfect (“will help me”) but have no explicit treatment of verse 9.
  8. The NRSV translation, “teacher” is wrong: Brown-Driver-Briggs, 541 (“taught, as disciples”), Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, 8:9 (“The term limmûd refers to a pupil who receives instruction or is otherwise introduced to something), Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, 4:551 (“tongue of the pupils”).
  9. See, for example, Ogden and Sterk, Handbook on Isaiah, pp 1429 (“The Hebrew text of verse 10 is difficult and it allows for a variety of interpretations”) and 1431 (“Like verse 10, verse 11 is difficult to interpret”).
  10. See Michael Luo, “An Advent Lament in the Pandemic,” https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/an-advent-lament-in-the-pandemic?fbclid=IwAR3V4biluHczlskrN0I9C7timu5t3lVgesFoQD1HzXYh4NqoI0hKJp1882Q [accessed Dec. 22, 2020].

 


Psalm

Commentary on Psalm 31:9-16

Jerome Creach

Psalm 31 is one of three psalms that appear prominently in the story of Jesus’ passion.1

For the Gospel writers this psalm, along with Psalms 22 and 69, seems to have expressed better than any other passages the nature of Jesus’ suffering and his emotional turmoil while being rejected, betrayed, and crucified.

Psalm 31 appears explicitly only one time, in Luke 23:46 when Jesus quotes verse 5a, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” But the entire psalm provides appropriate backdrop for Jesus’ passion. The psalm is a prayer by one who suffers unjustly and in that suffering puts complete trust in God.

Psalm 31:9-16 is chosen as a lectionary reading for the Sunday of the Passion, the beginning of Holy Week. It is appropriately paired with Isaiah 50:4-9a, which gives testimony to the suffering of God’s servant. Like the servant in the Isaiah passage, the psalmist in Psalm 31:9-16 reports that he or she trusts completely in God, yet is rejected by the people. This combination of trust and rejection makes the passage well-suited for Passion Sunday.

This section of Psalm 31 begins and ends with petitions for God’s favor and protection. Verse 9 opens with a cry to God to be gracious “for I am in distress.” The word for distress is a general term that may apply to many circumstances. It derives from a verb that means “to bind” or “be restricted.” Thus the noun communicates the idea of being in dire straits, with no possible escape. A form of the same word appears in verse 7 with the sense of “adversities.”

Verses 9b-10 then gives a litany of symptoms of this distress that suggests sickness, depression, and perhaps persecution. This mixture of references is typical of psalms in which the psalmist petitions God for help (see Psalm 6 for a similar mix of images). If the reader desires to know the exact situation of the psalmist such inexact language may be frustrating. But if the reader wishes to identify with the psalmist and to use the words of the psalm to lift his or her circumstances to God in prayer, the openness of the language may be a welcomed feature.

The language of verses 9-10 has in common with other petitions in the Psalms two important features: first, although the language is stereotypical and does not allow a narrow interpretation, all such language seems to complain about death in one way or another. The psalmist is overtaken with the forces of death that rack the body and spirit and allows enemies to have their way. Thus, the psalmist asks God to intervene and transform the situation (“deliver me,” verse 15).

Second, the psalmist seems to assume this is a problem for God and that the very fact of the psalmist’s distress is reason enough for God to act. As Walter Brueggemann says, “the speaker intends to turn his problem into a problem for Yahweh.”2 These two features of the complaint and petition provide grand illustration of the verse Jesus cites on the cross: “Into your hand I commit my spirit.”

Verses 11-13 draw the plight of the psalmist close to that of the suffering servant of Isaiah. So wretched is the psalmist, “an object of dread” (verse 11) that people on the street run away, just as they “hide their faces” from the despised servant (Isaiah 53:3). But perhaps the psalmist bears closest similarity to the prophet Jeremiah. With “terror all around” (verse 13) the psalmist, like Jeremiah is rejected by many acquaintances and is the victim of vicious plots (Jeremiah 20:3).

The psalmist’s testimony that “I have become like a broken vessel” is like an expression in Jeremiah 22:28. The term translated “broken” means literally “perishing.” Thus, the psalmist complains of having an experience that is supposed to be the experience of the wicked (see the term “perish” in Psalm 1:6; 2:12).3 This was Jeremiah’s complaint as well. More importantly, it was Jesus’ experience that, though he lived faithfully in dependence on God, he was despised and rejected.

In the final portion of the lectionary reading for Passion Sunday (verses 14-16), the psalmist voices complete trust in God despite the dire circumstances. The psalmist declares “trust” in the Lord and declares, “you are my God,” which is to say, “you control my life” (verse 14). Verse 15 uses the word “hand,” which refers to power and authority to describe the locus of the psalmist’s hope. The psalmist acknowledges that he or she has no power to affect the future. This power is God’s alone.

Verse 16 concludes the passage with two petitions that are common in the Psalter. “Let your face shine” evokes the priestly blessing in Numbers 6:25 in which Aaron calls on God’s favor for the Israelites. References to the light of God’s countenance (Psalm 4:6) or the shining of God’s face (Psalm 11:7; 17:15) are common descriptions of God’s favor. Since the Israelites believed they could not literally see God’s face (Exodus 33), this language may refer to the rays of the sun which symbolized God’s protection and care.

The second petition in verse 16 is for God to “save” “in your steadfast love.” “Steadfast love” refers to God’s covenant faithfulness by which God is known (Psalms 90:14; 106:1). Thus the psalmist appeals to God’s character as just and faithful, as one who does not abandon those who rely on him. As Psalm 31 is read on Passion Sunday and in the context of Jesus’ suffering and death, this final petition may be read rightly as the prayer of Jesus, the one who placed his spirit in the protective power of his God (Psalm 31:5).


 Notes:

  1. Commentary first published on this site on April 13, 2014.
  2. Walter Brueggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Facets; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 31.
  3. J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The Book of Psalms,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IV (Ed. Leander E. Keck; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), p. 801.

Second Reading

Commentary on Philippians 2:5-11

Jennifer T. Kaalund

In the 1990s, Gatorade launched a campaign: “Be Like Mike.” 

Though the advertisements were for a sports drink, the implicit message was that you would perform like Michael Jordan if you drink Gatorade. However, the ability to soar to those heights and play basketball at the highest level was not found in the sports drink or the shoes. Jordan’s success is attributed to his hard work, dedication to the sport, and discipline. He studied tapes, exercised in order to create the strongest possible body, and practiced various elements of the game until he perfected them. While good shoes and refreshment may be helpful, they did not make him extraordinary. On the contrary, he made Gatorade seem extraordinary.

Throughout the Christian scriptures, believers are encouraged to be imitators of God, to be like Jesus.1 We are told to walk like Jesus (1 John 2:6), to forgive one another (Colossians 3:13), to be kind to one another (Ephesians 4:32), and to love as Jesus did (John 13:34). And, here in Philippians 2:5-11, this hymn encourages us to have the same mind as Christ. The Greek here, (phronēte, translated: mind), can also be translated as “thinking.” So, “let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” can be understood as a directive for us to think as Jesus thought. 

In our contemporary context, we think of the mind as the seat of our intellect; it determines how we feel and think, processes what we know, and ultimately determines how we behave. However, in the ancient philosophical world, some schools of thought held that the mind was part of the soul. Others suggested that the mind (nous) held eternal truths. As such, to have the same mind as Jesus means more than merely thinking good and happy thoughts; it implies taking on the nature or character of Jesus. 

In this hymn in particular, and throughout Philippians, two aspects of Jesus’ character are emphasized—his humility and obedience. If we are to have the mind of Christ, we must be humble and obedient. These are relational terms. Humility is one’s posture in relation to another; obedience is a form of deference, to act or respond out of respect. They are neither weak nor passive conditions. This hymn also makes clear a relationship between humility and exaltation. “Therefore God exalted him and gave him a name that is above every name” (2:9). God exalts in response to our obedience. Jesus did not exploit his equality with God. He did not wield his power in ways that he could have. He did not seek fame or fortune. Though acknowledging our ability and work is important, our success will ultimately come from the recognition that we will receive from the one who has called and equipped us. In order to be like Jesus, we must not exploit our relationship with God, but respond to it by demonstrating our willingness to serve. 

Shape-shifting Jesus

Throughout the hymn, we also find the word “form” (morphē), which can also mean shape or likeness. The various forms that Jesus takes suggest that we must also be flexible in order to be like Jesus. We must be able to adjust, change, and adapt to meet the current need. Jesus is found in the form of God, in the form of a slave, and finally in the form of a human. Jesus was not stagnant. He was a shape-shifter. He was obedient to God’s will by becoming what God needed him to be. 

An example of this shape-shifting is exemplified by Jesus emptying himself (2:7). Perhaps the image of a pitcher of water being poured into a glass is instructive. Though we often focus on the pitcher and understand the act of emptying as a loss, we should concomitantly focus on the glass or the act of filling up. The water shifts and takes the shape of its object, ultimately changing it. When Jesus pours himself into the form of an enslaved person, he dignifies, indeed, deifies this likeness. Jesus lowers himself to uplift. Jesus emptied himself into humanity in order to change it. In the ultimate act of empathy, Jesus becomes who and what we are, so we, in turn, can become who and what he is. 

Minding the gap

While traveling on trains, we are often reminded to mind the gap. It is a cautionary statement; to be careful of the distance between spaces, the holes and cracks where one might fall, trip, or be injured. I think this warning is implicit in the text, even while Paul warns explicitly of evil workers in this letter. Growing to be more like Jesus can be filled with pitfalls. When we do not have the mind of Jesus, we are likely to behave in ways that do not glorify God. When we do not have the mind of Jesus, there is discord, confusion, and destruction. How, then, do we keep our minds stayed on Jesus?

Like Gatorade, Christians have a tool, the Bible, that can prove helpful to becoming more Christ-like. We must refresh ourselves by studying the life, words, and actions of Jesus. We must practice kindness, love, forgiveness, humility, and obedience until we have perfected them. To avoid the gaps, we must be focused and intentional. We must demonstrate our willingness to be shape-shifters. We must exercise our empathy, not just in words, but by becoming what God needs for us to be. 

Palm Sunday serves as a reminder that a triumphant beginning and ending is possible, indeed inevitable, though the journey between these places will be difficult. These seemingly impossible moments present us with opportunities to practice being humble and obedient, to extend forgiveness, and to have a willingness to change so that we can become more like Christ. Let us mind the gaps and not fall for things that would separate us from God or from each other.  

During the season of Lent, as we journey with Jesus to the cross, let us walk mindfully, being concerned about what concerns him. In this particularly challenging moment, let us be reminded that the God who meets us at the cross is the God who will give us resurrecting power. The Psalmist posits: What is humanity that God is mindful of us?2 But perhaps the question that we should carry with us is how we can be mindful of God as we follow Jesus and mind the gaps.

Notes

  1. Some examples include: 1 Peter 2:21, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 Thessalonians 1:6, and Ephesians 5:1-2 
  2. Psalm 8:4

Suplementario Evangelio

Comentario del San Marcos 11:1-11

Carmen Bernabé Ubieta

[¿Buscas un comentario sobre San Marcos 14:1—15:47? Fíjate en este comentario del Domingo de la Pasión de Theodore W. Jennings, Jr.]

En este Domingo de Ramos cambiamos de evangelista. Hoy leemos la versión marcana del relato que narra la entrada de Jesús en Jerusalén a lomos de un asno. Lo que está en juego es el tipo de mesianismo que encarna Jesús y lo que eso supone.

El significativo contexto inmediato de este pasaje es la subida a Jerusalén desde Jericó. Allí el relato (Mc 10:46-52) presenta a un hombre ciego que reclamaba la atención de Jesús llamándole “Hijo de David” y pidiéndole ser curado de su ceguera. Una vez recobrada la vista, el narrador nos cuenta que le seguía por el camino. Era ciego cuando llamaba a Jesús “Hijo de David” y una vez curado emprende el camino de subida a Jerusalén, siguiendo a Jesús. Lo que esto supone se irá haciendo evidente, pero quien escucha el relato ya tiene una idea de lo que significa gracias a las tres predicciones de la pasión (8:31-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34) y a que allí se decía lo que implicaba subir a Jerusalén, lo que justificaba también la mención del miedo de quienes seguían a Jesús (10:32)

Este hombre, Bartimeo, se convierte en paradigma de la ceguera que han mostrado los discípulos en los relatos precedentes, donde han puesto de manifiesto su falta de entendimiento para comprender el mensaje de Jesús, los valores contraculturales que entraña y que el verdadero discípulo debe asumir. Frente al honor, el ansia de riquezas y el poder, se proponen el servicio, el desprendimiento, y la humildad. Este hombre ciego recupera la vista y sigue a Jesús por el camino en su subida a Jerusalén. Pronto quedarán en evidencia las implicaciones de ello. Jesús seguirá “tratando de abrir los ojos” sobre su misión y su persona.

Casi al finalizar la subida de la ladera oriental del Monte de los Olivos, en la aldea de Betfagé, donde terminaba el camino que subía de Jericó, y a punto de ver a Jerusalén y al Templo, Jesús prepara su entrada en la ciudad. A lomos de un burrillo prestado, comienza la bajada de la ladera occidental para, una vez cruzado el torrente seco del Cedrón, entrar en Jerusalén y en el atrio del Templo.

La forma en que Marcos narra la entrada de Jesús en Jerusalén aparece como el reverso de la salida de David, cuando huyendo de su hijo Absalón, tuvo que subir a prisa la cuesta occidental del Monte de los Olivos para esconderse en el desierto (2 Sam 15:13-16:14). La gente que acompañaba a David iba llorando (2 Sam 15:23), al igual que el mismo David, al que el relato describe marchando a pie, con los pies descalzos, llorando y con la cabeza cubierta (2 Sam 15:30), la imagen de un hombre humillado y vulnerable. “Un poco más allá de la cumbre” (donde el relato de Marcos sitúa Betfagé) le sale al encuentro un hombre de nombre Siba, que le da dos asnos aparejados, con comida y bebida (2 Sam 16:1-3). En su camino de huida, David es maldecido por un hombre que le acusa de haber usurpado el reino de Saúl, acusación que acepta como algo que proviene del mismo Yahvé (2 Sam 16:5-13).

Por el contrario, en el relato de Marcos, Jesús baja la cuesta del Monte de los Olivos hacia Jerusalén, entre aclamaciones de quienes también llegan para celebrar la Pascua en la ciudad y que, extendiendo mantos y ramos por donde pasaba, gritaban: “¡Hosana! ¡Bendito el que viene en el nombre del Señor! ¡Bendito el reino de nuestro padre David que viene! ¡Hosana en las alturas!” (vv. 9-10). Así entra Jesús en Jerusalén.

Como el ciego de Jericó, esta muchedumbre le relaciona con David y al reino que ha proclamado como aquel otro reino davídico idealizado que algunos esperaban que volviera a implantar un descendiente de David, identificado con el Mesías, un Mesías poderoso, guerrero, dominante, que les libraría del yugo romano. Era el tipo de esperanza mesiánica más habitual en aquel momento, aunque no la única.

Quienes le aclaman parecen reconocerle como Mesías al estilo de David. Sin embargo, hay dos detalles en este breve relato que niegan la corrección de esta aclamación (como ha sucedido en el relato del “ciego” de Jericó): el primero es la alusión al Salmo 118 “Bendito el que viene en nombre del Señor,” donde aquel que llega es comparado con la piedra desechada por los arquitectos convertida por Dios en piedra angular; el segundo, la indicación de que Jesús iba a lomos de un pollino que no había sido montado aún (v. 2), donde hay una alusión a Zac 9:9, que habla de la llegada de un rey justo, humilde, montado en una cría de asna, que suprimiría los carros de guerra y los arcos, proclamando la paz a las naciones. Los dos detalles desmienten ese tipo de mesianismo davídico y apuntan a un tipo de mesianismo que no coincide con lo que la multitud parece esperar y asignar a Jesús. Estas aclamaciones coinciden con la designación del ciego de Jericó cuando aún estaba ciego: “Jesús, hijo de David” (10:47b.48b).

Esta discusión sobre el tipo de mesianismo y su relación con David vuelve a aparecer en 12:35-37. En boca de Jesús, el evangelista Marcos pone una interpretación diferente a la de los escribas. El Mesías, el ungido por Yahvé para una tarea, el salvador esperado, no puede ser hijo de David, y sus medios no pueden ser los de un rey guerrero, la fuerza, el dominio, el poder. El recuerdo de la pasión y muerte de Jesús, al que el texto de este domingo da paso y que celebraremos durante la próxima semana, nos permitirá meditar sobre esos deseos humanos y la lógica del Dios de Jesús; la distancia entre las aclamaciones del Domingo de Ramos y los gritos desilusionados de la multitud manejada por las autoridades religiosas (15:11-14). Sin embargo, la lógica de Dios que Jesús encarnó no acabará en la sepultura sino en el domingo de resurrección. Esa es la fuerza y el suelo que nos sostiene; esa es la esperanza que nos impulsa.