What words can one utter after the reading of this gospel? The most dramatic events in all creation are recounted by Mark in his customary simplicity and minimal use of words, but both the telling and the hearing break the heart. We ask: How can people be so cruel? How could the disciples have been so blind? We cringe at the hypocrisy of the high priests of the time. We are repelled by the fickle crowd. We are shocked, astounded, and then we come to our senses and realize that had we been present we probably would have acted as they did.
Just a moment, you will say. Yes, we are surrounded by hypocrisy and meanness of heart and misery of spirit, but at least we are not dealing with the Son of God. They did not know who he was.
Most of the time, we act as if we don’t know who he is. All the foibles, sins, and vices presented here in such an understated manner persist in our society and plague our lives also.
Friendship and love are gifts of immeasurable value. The pain in Jesus when he speaks the words “one of you will betray me,” cuts us to the core. Betrayal of friendship is bitter and affects both the betrayer and the betrayed. Judas must have had good qualities when Jesus chose him. It was probably the sin of pride that brought him to the horrible act portrayed in this gospel. Even more so, betrayal of love leaves wounds that never quite heal. Poor Peter. How sure he was of his love for his friend and teacher and how bitterly he denied him during the course of this terrible night. After the resurrection, Jesus will spend precious hours teaching Peter about the meaning of love and forgiveness, and Peter will spend the rest of his life proving to himself that indeed his love and loyalty are beyond reproach. Cowardice will no longer be a part of his personality.
In all this heartbreak, the abandonment of the beloved in the hour of his greatest need hurts the most. “Watch and pray with me,” Jesus asks his closest friends. Nothing in the gospels shows as poignantly that Jesus, like each one of us, needs his friends as he walks through the valley of death and agony. We are not meant to go through the dreadful experience of death all alone. A loved one who remains with us to the end, a friend who continues to pray fervently even when all hope is extinguished, a hospice nurse who remains to sustain the family, all these offer a service that Jesus asked of his disciples but did not receive. Again, his full humanity with all its accompanying terror of abandonment is revealed in the loneliness of the Garden of Gethsemane, and before such agony we remain speechless. “Let this cup pass from me,” and the answer is No.
And we who pray for healing, for deliverance, for reprieve from pain, for a miracle even, go back to this painful story and learn from Jesus to say, “Thy will be done.”
Outside the circle of love and friendship, the fickleness of the crowd surprises us. A few days before, they were clamoring for him because he had fed them with both bread and stories, and he had healed their sick. Now they are appalled by his weakness and, together with the mob, cry out for his blood. We like for our leaders to be invincible. Even in the church we have too little patience for any weakness we see in others, especially our clergy. We are too easily swayed and seduced by gossip, innuendo, and all the lies that slip through the airwaves. But we in the church are asked to remain faithful, careful, and not to be judgmental. Let us not be arrogant in thinking that we would have acted with more decorum and loyalty as Palm Sunday ends and the fear slips through.
Palm Sunday, so filled with triumph and hope, is already forgotten. The darkness of the events of Holy Week is beginning to cast its shadow over us all. In remembering the events of this crucial week in the long unfolding of humanity’s history, we are filled with sorrow and then with gratitude. We will not be abandoned to remain in the darkness. The light will break forth again after the fear and the loneliness of that horrible death in Golgotha. We will be pulled out of the abyss. And all because Jesus accepted the will of his Father even unto death and, remembering all of us in the hour of his death, he prayed, “Father, forgive them.”
In this forgiveness we trust as we continue moving toward the light.