March 23, 1997 Mark 14, 1–15, 47
ON THIS PASSION SUNDAY, as the world focuses on the death of Jesus Christ, the Evangelist Mark's Passion narrative helps focus our meditation. The central question that this Gospel—and this day—asks of every believer is: “How do I respond to the death of Jesus Christ? What does it mean for my life?”
The Gospel deftly illustrates the many different possible responses, both positive and negative, along with their ramifications. The negative responses to the death of Jesus begin with the treachery of Judas Iscariot, who keeps “looking for an opportune way to hand Jesus over.” This “one of the Twelve” not only welcomes Jesus' death—he engineers it. Judas'satisfied anticipation of Jesus'death, along with Peter's heartless denial, poignantly remind us of the depravity of which we are capable when we do not live in the truth.
Asecond negative response to the death of Jesus emerges from the Twelve during the Last Supper. When Jesus gives them his word that one of them is about to betray him, “they began to say to him sorrowfully, one by one, ‘Surely not I!’” It is a response filled with denial, defensiveness, cowardice and callousness. No one asks Jesus to explain such a staggering claim. No one dares to repudiate the very possibility of such a betrayal. Instead, the “sorrow” they feel is only for themselves.
A third negative response is the people's mockery of Jesus as he hangs in crucifixion. Even the men crucified with Jesus “likewise kept taunting him” … taunting the Word with cruel, hateful words. Surely we're beyond such mockery. Which one of us enjoys voicing the jeering words of the crowd when the Passion is read aloud at Mass? And yet, every moment that we take our eyes off the crucifix, every moment that we make the source and summit of our life something other than the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we make a mockery of the crucified one.
To know the positive way to respond to the death of Jesus we must first look to the woman in Simon the leper's house who breaks her perfume jar, sparing no expense in her ardent desire to prepare Jesus for burial. She suffers the criticism of others, she jeopardizes her reputation, she risks rejection, and she exhausts a resource she can never recover. But “she has done what she could.” Likewise, it is essential that we be extravagant in uniting ourselves to the death of Jesus. For only in such self-emptying does the “Good News proclaimed throughout the world” make any sense.
But even those who are not prepared for the death of Jesus can be converted by it—if they confront it honestly and openly. “The centurion who stood guard over him on seeing the manner of his death, declared, ‘Clearly this man was the Son of God!’” Those courageous enough to look upon the crucifixion truthfully in all its horror and magnificence become transformed by its power.
The power of the Jesus' crucifixion doesn't end at death. The death of Jesus is a reality that every Christian must, like Joseph of Arimathea, be “bold enough” to appropriate and possess. The more we own the death of Jesus and identify personally with it, the more we will know the splendor of his New Life. And, like the two Marys who “observed where Jesus had been laid,” we must make constant meditation on the death of Jesus Christ the life-giving center of our lives.
Father Cameron, a Register contributing editor, teaches homiletics at St. Joseph Seminary, Yonkers, N.Y.