Sunday, 16 April 2006

Palm Sunday

The Gospel reading of today is this:

Jesus, then, six days before Passover, came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, he who had died, whom he raised from the dead. Lazarus, then, there set him a meal, and Martha was serving; Lazarus, on the other hand, was one of those reclining at meal with him. Mary, then, taking a pound of myrrh, pure nard, very expensive, anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the myrrh. One of his disciples, then, Judas Iscariot, he who would betray him, said: ‘Why was this myrrh not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?’ He said this not because the poor mattered to him but because he was a thief, and he had the money-box and he used to take what was put in it. Jesus then said: ‘Let her be, she has kept this for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you; me you do not always have.’ Knowing, then, that he was there, a great crowd from the Jews also came, not on account of Jesus alone, but also to see Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. The High Priests, however, took counsel to kill Lazarus too, because on his account many of the Jews were going and believing in Jesus. The next day, a great crowd, which had come for the Feast, hearing that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took palm fronds and came out to meet him; and they were shouting: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!’ Finding, then, a young ass, Jesus sat on it, as it is written: ‘Have no fear, daughter of Zion! Behold your king comes to you sitting on the colt of an ass.’ But his disciples did not at first know these things; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written concerning him and that they did these things. The crowd, then, which was with him was bearing witness that he had called Lazarus from the tomb and had raised him from the dead. On account of this also the crowd met him, because they heard that he had done this sign.

(John 12, 1 – 18)

A few points about this Gospel passage. In an echo of the Song of Songs, Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anoints the feet of Jesus with a pound of precious perfume and wipes his feet with her hair. Mary is a type of the Hesychast who cultivates a pure Eros or love for Jesus: the mystic approaches Jesus not only intellectually but with a pure love free of disturbances of fleshly desire.

As for Judas, there’s not much here about secret ways to Jesus, about secret agreements to help out Jesus in his return to his celestial home. Too bad—John is the disciple who reclined against Jesus’ breast in the Last Supper; he’s the eye-witness who’s reporting here, and he seems to have had a very sharp eye for detail.

Jesus is the King of Israel. Palm Sunday is an important Feast of the Master, but it lasts only a day: it is the preliminary to Holy Week; and immediately we leave the atmosphere of joy and exultation and turn to the King of Glory, as the icons of Christ’s suffering and crucifixion are entitled. As John himself says in the Gospel passage: ‘…when Jesus was glorified…’. When was Jesus glorified? On the Cross. The Cross is a very deep statement about the human condition.

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