As far as we know, Mark’s Gospel contains the earliest written Passion account of Jesus. His gospel gives us the framework of the church’s Holy Week celebration, beginning with the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem as the humble and suffering Messiah, and ending with his death on the cross and entombment.
Since Mark’s Passion account is so climactic and important in the gospel’s overall plan, Mark’s entire gospel has been described as a Passion narrative with a long introduction. Throughout his gospel, Mark shows that Jesus’ identity as teacher, healer, and Messiah can be properly understood only in light of the cross.
Contemplating the Passion of Jesus should make us somewhat uncomfortable. After all, it speaks about dimensions of the human situation that are terrifying: hatred, fear, injustice, misunderstanding, and innocent suffering. It shows us what sacrifice and selflessness are needed to overcome these terrible realities. The Passion shows us a God who seems to be helpless, refusing to intervene and cancel the horrible consequences of human choice and destructive deeds. We see a Messiah who not only humbles himself to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, but who refuses to save himself and come down from the cross.
Jesus’ agonizing Passion proceeds relentlessly. At 9 a.m. Jesus is nailed to the cross. At noon darkness falls over the whole land as witness to the cosmic tragedy of Jesus’ crucifixion. At 3 p.m. the parched lips of Jesus cry out the desperate words, preserved in his native Aramaic, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). With the opening words of Psalm 22, Jesus begins to pray that great psalm of lament. Readers familiar with the Scriptures of Israel know that what seems to be a cry of despair is the beginning of a prayerful struggle that ends in triumphant hope.
The climax of Mark’s Passion account, and indeed of his whole gospel, is the cry of the Roman centurion who looks upon the cross of the tortured and lifeless Christ: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Only in looking on the cross can anyone really understand Jesus and the meaning of his life. The cross is not a doctrine we can convincingly explain or a fact we can logically understand. It is ultimately a mystery to be contemplated. It is the truth of divine love made flesh and spent to the end.
Questions and Suggestions to Help You Pray:
What aspects of the Passion account seem terrifying to you? What aspects seem comforting?
When have you felt abandoned? How can it help you to know that Jesus experienced abandonment from his friends and felt abandoned by God?
Pray the words of Psalm 22, the words that Jesus prayed from the cross. Pray them with Jesus, allowing them to become your own prayer of lament and hope. Continue praying in your own words.
The entire liturgical year of the church is focused on the paschal mystery of Christ celebrated during the days of the holy Triduum. On Holy Thursday, you will gather with Christ at the sacrificial table of the new covenant. On Good Friday, you will tenderly kiss the wood of the cross. On Holy Saturday, you will wait at the tomb, and in the Easter Vigil, you will process with the light of Christ, gather at the font of baptism, and celebrate his risen presence by eating his body and drinking his blood in the Eucharist. Join with the church and walk with Jesus this week.
Stephen Binz is a Scripture scholar, speaker, and author of more than twenty books on the Bible. This is taken from his Conversing with God in Lent. You can buy the book or read more by visiting www.wau.org.