Reflection April 2nd, 2023 (Palm/ Passion Sunday)
Mark 11:1-11/ Mark 15:6-47
God Who Knows Our Suffering
Gospel of Mark
During this Season of Lent, during our story time, we have been learning about the Gospel of Mark. We learned that the purpose of the Gospel of Mark was to comfort the original audience, early Christians, who were living in fear of persecution and death. The many miracle stories were intended to show them that Jesus had enough power to save them from their trials. The passion stories were intended to show them that God understands their suffering and can relate to them because Jesus went through similar experiences. We examined some stories from the arrest and suffering of Jesus. Today, we continue to examine the story of his suffering and death, and what happened after his death.
Man Running Off Naked (Mark 14:51-52)
Last Sunday, we learned about the first part of the Passion Narrative, which starts with the betrayal of Judas. Jesus shares his last Passover meal with his followers, prays, gets arrested, and gets tried before the religious leaders and Pilate. Before we start today’s story in which Jesus dies, there is one short part that I would like to mention. After the arrest of Jesus, there are two odd verses that were added before his first trial. Mark 14:51-52 says, “A certain man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.” It seems odd and irrelevant to the story and it has been troubling scholars for centuries. What you should know about this confusing part is that scholars think this man is the author of the gospel himself and that this is his way of saying, “I was there.”
Simon of Cyrene and Jesus’ Last Words on the Cross
I won’t mention everything that happens to Jesus before he dies and I highly recommend that you read chapters 14 and 15 during this coming Holy Week. Today, I would like to draw your attention to two episodes in the Passion Narrative. One is Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry the cross and the other is Jesus’ last words on the cross.
Even though Simon got involved in Jesus’ story involuntarily, by carrying Jesus’ cross for him, he went down history as a role model of faith. His story must have been a comfort for the early Christians who would have seen, with fear, their fellow Christians being arrested and executed. Adding Simon’s story was meant to both comfort and encourage the original audience. They are not alone in this struggle. They have each other. They can and should help each other carry their crosses. This reminds of Jesus’ saying to deny oneself and pick up one’s cross in order to follow him. We are reminded that following Jesus is not a cakewalk. But the comforting message is that we are not alone in carrying our crosses to follow Jesus.
The next part that deserves our attention is Jesus’ last words on the cross. According to Mark, Jesus’ last words before dying were “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It is difficult to believe that this is historically accurate. First, who could have heard and understood what he was saying when the bystanders misunderstood him and thought he was calling for Elijah? Second, this line is a direct quote from Psalm 22. It has been a comfort for so many people from the times of the Old Testament. By making Jesus say it on the cross, the author of the Gospel tried to comfort and encourage the early Christians who have lost their community members to the Romans.
It is the author saying to his audience, “Don’t face your persecution with despair. Jesus was also unfairly killed, speaking these words. Participating in the suffering of Jesus is glorious.” This may not feel like a message of encouragement, but it is. Being persecuted was a reality for Mark’s audience. It could not have been avoided. But as Jesus didn’t avoid his fate and stayed brave and faithful to his beliefs, his followers should do the same. This message is an encouragement to bravely keep their faith.
Joseph of Arimathea
After Jesus died, a very important event happened. A man named Joseph from Arimathea came forward and demanded Jesus’ body to bury. The reason why this story is important is because this is Joseph coming out as a disciple of Jesus. The Bible says that he was a respected member of the council. He had power and social status. It would have ruined him to be discovered as a follower of Jesus. That is why this is the first time we hear his name. This is Joseph coming out of the closet. He followed Jesus secretly, but now that he was wrongfully executed, he decided to come forward. This brave act is faith. Along with this story, we are encouraged to openly live as ourselves and by our conviction, religious faith or otherwise.
Lessons from the Gospel of Mark
We are not persecuted as Christians in Canada today, but I believe that human experiences are more or less similar and relatable. Since next Sunday is Easter, we do not discuss chapter 16 today.
What can we learn from the overall message of the Gospel of Mark, and especially the Passion Narrative? I believe that first and foremost, we learn that God is with us through good times and bad. When we suffer, we are to remember that we are not alone. We have our siblings, biological or otherwise, who understand and support us, as well as God.
We also learn that making mistakes is not the end of the world. We always have a second chance. Look at the crowd that shouted “Hosanna” when Jesus entered Jerusalem. They later demanded that Jesus be crucified when Pilate asked them if Jesus or Barabbas should be released according to the tradition at the festival, since it was Passover. Look at Judas who betrayed Jesus after being his disciple. Look at Peter who denied Jesus out of fear. The author of Mark’s gospel is telling us that we all make mistakes and it’s okay.
We will examine the resurrection story next Sunday, but today, let us remember that God, who understands our suffering because Jesus lived and died as one of us, is powerful and full of empathy. This God is on our side and will always protect and guide us.
The Gospel of Mark is all about presenting Jesus as the God who can relate to our human experience of suffering. God is saying, “I understand you. I can relate to you. You are not alone in the dark.” This is a powerful and encouraging message. While going through the Holy Week that has started, and throughout all our lives, let us remember this message. Let us remember this message and bring it to our siblings outside our church community to bring them hope and encouragement: for this is why Jesus lived and died the way he did.