This Sunday in the lectionary is Palm Sunday, the week before Easter, and here in Year B we are offered the choice between reading the account in Mark 11 and John 12. I am going to look at Mark 11, since we have been doing a lot in the Fourth Gospel in recent weeks, and the account in Mark makes some important connections back with ideas that we found in its early chapters. We perhaps ought to note from the outset that the festival of ‘Palm Sunday’ is a later construction of the church; Mark makes no mention of palms (which are only found in the account in John 12.13), and the idea that this occurred seven days before Jesus’ resurrection relies on counting back in Mark’s chronology, which is more likely to be a narrative creation of Mark than a historical schedule.
It is worth remembering the events that have immediately preceded this reading, since they put this event in its theological context. On the one hand, Jesus has just come through Jericho where he has healed blind Bartimaeus, who has unequivocally identified Jesus as ‘Son of David’, a title with clear messianic implications. As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the secrecy around his identity is cast off, and his explicit claims to be the anointed one of God become clear. On the other hand, the episode immediately before that is the dispute between the disciples about who is greatest. Jesus puts an end to their argument with one of the most important statements in this gospel:
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10.45).
As at the beginning of the gospel, where the sonship of Jesus proclaimed at his baptism wove together ideas of royal enthronement with suffering servanthood, the juxtaposition of these two episodes makes it clear what kind of king Jesus is.
For full details, see the article posted earlier in the week.