The gospel is charged through and through with this announcement. Mark opens his account with, ‘the kingdom of God is approaching” (1:15). At one point the disciples do ask, “When?” (Matthew 24:3) and they get an indirect answer, “Stay awake!” Dries van den Akker, in Pathways to God, a “Jesuits in Britain” website, tells us Mark uses the word ‘approaching’ three times in his gospel. This is the first. The second is when Jesus ‘approaches’ Jerusalem (11:1) and sends two disciples to fetch a donkey.
This event, celebrated each year as ‘Palm’ Sunday, is an unambiguous announcement of the arrival of the kingdom, foretold by Zechariah (9:9): “your king is approaching riding on a donkey.” Luke tells us the Pharisees object; they knew full well what all this meant. But Jesus said, “If the people keep silence the stones will cry out” (19:40). There was such bursting forth of energy – like the explosion of a star in a distant galaxy – that nothing can stop it.
That is the announcement of Palm Sunday But the third time Mark uses the word ‘approaching’ is in Gethsemane, where Jesus felt “terror and anguish” (14:34). He endures his agony alone as his friends went to sleep and when he roused them he said, “The hour has come. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is approaching.” (14:42)
For Mark, the approaching kingdom means the approaching passion. No passion, no kingdom.
Is there a way we can stop parcelling up these things in religious language? Because when we do use this language we anaesthetize the passion and separate it from ordinary life. We can even put the passion in a box marked ‘Holy Week’ as though that is the time for thinking of the passion.
And yet we know the passion is with us always. We cannot escape it while we live this life. It is something to endure but also something to relish. Jesus said, “I have longed to drink this cup” knowing this was the only way to achieve the purpose for which he came. No one longs for suffering but one can accept suffering knowing it is the way to purification and victory. By couching this in religious language we can rob suffering of its sting and that is no help to anyone. God did not create us to suffer. But his creation became tainted with evil, in a way we will never satisfactorily understand, and it is through struggling against this evil that we attain the purpose and fulfilment of our lives. “For the sake of the joy which lay ahead of him Jesus endured the cross, disregarding the shame of it and has taken his place at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 12:2).
25 March 2018 Palm Sunday B
Mark 11:1-10 Isaiah 5:4-7 Philippians 2:6-11 Mark 14:1 – 15:47Post published in: Faith