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April 1, 2009
Breaking Open the Word
By James Cavanagh
April 5: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
Overview: At the hour of our Lord’s death, the whole world was plunged into darkness. In Mark’s version of the passion, Christ is portrayed not so much as an innocent lamb who meekly goes to his death, but as a determined warrior “who set his face like flint” (first reading) about to enter the arena where the decisive conflict between good and evil would be played out. As Jesus is bound, beaten and finally crucified, the powers of darkness seem victorious. But even at the beginning of his ordeal, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus confidently forecasts his triumph: “After I am raised up I will go before you to Galilee.” God’s strategy for conquering evil differs radically from what the disciples expected. Evil would not be conquered by force of arms, but by the disarming power of self-sacrificial love. Having emptied himself of divine glory (second reading) the Son of God and Redeemer of mankind was hidden from his enemies, human and demonic. Only the centurion at the foot of the cross recognizes and proclaims Jesus’ true identity. Looking beyond the badly beaten, bloody body hanging dead upon the cross, he sees God’s victory and the downfall of Satan. The centurion sees the divine glory: “Truly,” he says, “This man was the Son of God!”
Key verse: “At noon, darkness came over the whole land” (Mk 15:33).
“Catechism of the Catholic Church”: Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan. The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of “the righteous one, my Servant” as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part (Nos. 599, 601, 604).
Pope Benedict XVI: “(Christ) takes to himself the whole suffering people of Israel, all of suffering humanity … and he makes God present in the very place where he seems definitively vanquished and absent. The cross of Jesus is a cosmic event. The world is darkened when the Son of God is given up to death. And on the cross the Church of Gentiles is born. The Roman centurion understands this and acknowledges Jesus as the Son of God. From the cross he triumphs—ever anew” (“Way of the Cross”).