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Sunday Scripture: Spiritual lessons in the Lord’s passion and death

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

By Father Tim Schehr

Palm Sunday: Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

Is there a way to make this Sunday’s “long Gospel” seem a little shorter? Try listening for the many spiritual lessons we can find in the lesser known characters in Mark’s account of the Lord’s passion and death.

As the reading begins we hear about an unnamed woman who anoints the Lord with very expensive perfumed oil. As she honors the Lord in this way she clearly shows that she understands what Jesus came into this world to do. She understands that Jesus will die for her and for the world. She wants to express her gratitude for this wonderful sacrifice. Jesus announces to everyone present that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed her devotion will be told in her memory. This woman gives us the example of someone who values nothing more than her Lord and His sacrifice for the sins of the world. In sharp contrast is the complaint of others including even the Lord’s own closest followers. They complain about wasting such valuable ointment.

Then we hear about an unnamed man. We know nothing more about him but we do know he listens to the words of “the Teacher.” When disciples tell him “the Teacher” is looking for a room where He can share the Passover meal with His disciples this unnamed man takes them to an upper room all fitted out for the occasion. This is the one and only time in Mark’s gospel Jesus refers to himself as “the Teacher.” But He certainly has an attentive student in this man. We might ask ourselves if we listen so attentively to the Lord.

Another little known character in Mark’s account is the young man who follows Jesus into the garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus is arrested this young man panics and runs off. He is not yet ready to be so loyal to the Lord as to suffer for Him. But now he has nothing in this world. In his escape he even leaves behind the linen cloth he was wearing. Could it be this was the beginning of his return to the Lord? Now that he has no earthly possessions he at least has nothing to entice him away from walking the spiritual journey that leads to eternal life. If this is his ultimate journey we can certainly walk beside him.

There is also another Simon in the Gospel. He is just passing by. A visitor making his way to Jerusalem from a place called Cyrene. Suddenly he finds himself pressed into service to do the very thing Jesus always challenged His disciples to do — carry the cross. We wonder what became of this Simon of Cyrene. Mark tells us he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. Were this father and his two sons later members of the Jerusalem church? And where are Simon Peter and the sons of Zebedee? It seems Simon of Cyrene and his two sons have taken their place as substitute disciples.

A centurion assigned to oversee the crucifixion of Jesus and two others that day declares out loud what we have not yet heard from the Lord’s own disciples. He announces that this Jesus was truly the Son of God. Do we make the same pronouncement by word and example?

Finally we meet Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jerusalem council, who awaits the kingdom of God. This Joseph is bold enough to get permission to bury the body of Jesus. He wraps Him in linen cloths and places Him in a tomb carved out of rock. Does Joseph believe he will never see the Lord again in this world? Or does he, like us, await the good news to come on the third day?

Father Schehr is a member of the faculty of the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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