It’s too late, you are already settled and seated in your pew before you remember that the Passion readings are part of Palm Sunday Mass. Yes, it is a lengthy reading but the Passion Narrative contains most of the reasons and hopes for our Christian faith. If you think standing for ten minutes is a long time, try hanging on a cross all day, it is the very least we can do.
Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, a time where we are uniquely focused on the depth and passion of God’s love for us, while at the same time, we become keenly aware of what it means to be a Christian and all that we claim we believe.
This year we hear Mark’s version of the Passion. For the most part Mark is kind of the Joe Friday of Dragnet, compared to the other Gospel writers. “Just the facts.” Up until the Passion, Mark’s Gospel is kind of a romp through an account of Jesus ministry and passion. In an almost breathless way, in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is in constant motion. We find out that Mark is a better Gospel writer than a geologist, since he plays pretty loose with his description of places and travels of Jesus. As economical as Mark’s Gospel is, when it comes to the Passion, he slows the pace and Mark falls in line with the Passion narratives of the other three Gospels.
While each Gospel writer is unique in their purpose and manner, they all become quite similar in the Passion account. The reason for this is because the events of the Passion would have been the first thing that the early Christians would have remembered. Imagine after Jesus’ resurrection you decided you need to write down all the vital things of Jesus’ life. Where would you start? Most living during the actual time of Jesus ministry saw little reason to write anything down, but afterward it became clear how vital it was to chronicle all of Jesus life, death and resurrection. You would most likely begin writing about the events that just happened and then work backwards because the most recent events of Jesus would have been fresh in your mind. This is why the Passion Narratives are so similar. The oral tradition and later the written tradition, cemented first, the most critical part of Jesus’ life, those last few days.
Most scholars believe Mark’s Gospel was written first and Matthew and Luke, both had access to or knew something of Mark’s Gospel. The three Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are very similar, while John tends to stand on it’s own. Regardless, all four Gospel renditions of the passion are more similar than any other account of Jesus’ life. As we participate in today’s Passion, imagine you are living in first century Palestine and hearing it for the first time without any prior knowledge. What would your reaction to this be? How would it challenge you?