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Palm Sunday: Glory flows from the obedience of selfless love

On the Readings for Sunday, March 28, 2021, Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

"Entry of Christ into Jerusalem" by Pietro Lorenzetti (1280–1348) [Wikipedia Commons]

• Mk 11:1-10 or Jn 12:12-16
• Psa 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24
• Phil 2:6-11
• Mk 14:1—15:47

The readings for Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, are dramatic and demanding. They are excruciating in their raw depictions of violence and suffering. They also, as in the case of the great Christological hymn in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, are marked by exultation in the glory streaming forth from the pain and sacrifice of the Suffering Servant. Glory comes not from the power to suppress and enslave, but from the freely chosen obedience of selfless love.

St. Mark’s account of the Passion is terse and vivid; it is replete with unsparing descriptions of sort of sin, viciousness, and evil. “The behavior of men in the Passion account,” noted Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, “is portrayed with a realism bordering on gruesomeness. Any and all sins are committed against God himself in the person of Jesus.” And that inescapable fact, of course, is true today, for us.

The bloody drama of what happened two thousand years ago in Jerusalem is not safely stored in the basement of history, but confronts us in the course of our ordinary, daily lives. For we, too, have sinned. We also have been tempted and have failed. And we, at the foot of the Cross, are invited to admit our part in the death of Jesus Christ and to confess his name, his identity, his place in history and in our lives.

St. Mark’s account is also a marvel of literary economy and theological implication. Here I will just highlight some statements made within it, with the invitation to contemplate, for a few moments, the love, humility, suffering, and glory of the Son of God.

“Amen, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed to the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.” The woman with the alabaster jar of perfumed oil is not named, but she is remembered. More than remembered, she is redeemed. More than redeemed, she becomes, through Jesus’ declaration, a sign of redemption. Why? Because she emptied herself of all she had to express her love for—and faith in—the One who emptied himself and took the form of a slave on her behalf. She did what she could. Will I? Will you?

“Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who is eating with me.” Judas walked and lived with Jesus for three years. And then he betrayed his apparent master. Yet Jesus was patient; he gave Judas every chance to come to his senses and repent. His love for the sinner endured the proximity of the sin, even while his respect for man’s free will allowed the damnation freely chosen.

“This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” Fully aware of his approaching death, the God-man made clear he was freely giving his life and establishing a new and everlasting covenant between God and mankind. This “stream of gladness”, as St. Clement of Alexandria called it, is the Eucharist—not a symbol, but the true body, blood, soul, and divinity of the Savior.

“Amen, I say to you, this very night before the cock crows twice you will deny me three times.” How have I denied Christ in the dark hours of my life? When have I chosen the acceptance of strangers over being identified as a follower of Christ? Why?

When asked, “Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed One?”, Jesus answered: “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’” These are either the words of a lunatic who has lost touch with reality, or words from the Lord of reality. There is no alternative. Pilate, gazing into the eyes of the living God, turned away.

“Truly this man was the Son of God!” The Roman centurion—surely a witness of many gruesome executions—recognized deity in death. Gazing into the eyes of the dying God, he did not turn away.

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Selfless love is consonant with deep humility. Roman centurions here and elsewhere in the Gospels perceived something in Christ that spoke to humanness, likely a question raised in the minds of the more educated officer class during brutal combat. Trained to think rather than react. That they seemed disposed whereas the ordinary foot soldiers displayed extraordinary cruelty toward Jesus’ Jewishness, his Messiahship. Jewish ruling class except for the very few were as arrogant and vicious. Religious men outwardly pious in reality pietistic. Self perceived as godlike enraged by the godliness of the Son their very antithesis. Apotheosis has many features, primarily the exaltation of self. Frequently evident in our self adulation more so in we clerics, an anomaly of practice of the virtues and sacramental life. Boethius [Manlius Severinus] in his Theological Tractates IX says that all beings that exist are good though they do not share in that good, which is the essence of the Prime Good. God. Who’s good and existence are identical. “Let us postulate as good all things that are, are good, and if they could possibly be good if they did not derive that from the Prime Good. This leads me to perceive that their Goodness and their existence are two different things” (Boethius). He demonstrates it’s only by participation in God’s good, the moral life that Man can be good in the likeness of God. A matter of the heart. The Saints speak to the means by which we participate in God’s good. To become like Him. Like Christ who figuratively emptied himself of divinity out of love for us we by that example compelled to acknowledge our nothingness before God. Easily said difficult to do [Francis of Assisi didn’t receive the stigmata chasing butterflies]. As immortalized by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the line between good and evil runs through the heart of men.

    • Solzhenitsyn’s line between good and evil in the economy of salvation is distinguished by embrace or refusal of the Cross. Christ learned the meaning of obedience through suffering (Heb 5:8). That meaning is selfless love.

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