Today, Palm and Passion Sunday, we will reflect exclusively on St Mark’s Gospel text (14: 1-15, 47), which is dense and rich in concrete details. For a reflection on the other two Readings of the day, which are common to all three cycles, please refer to and , my blogposts of 2022 and 2023, respectively


Several incidents precipitated a crisis two days before the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread[1]: Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem; the cleansing of the Temple, and the spin-off indicating the end of Jerusalem and the Temple; Jesus’ authoritative teaching and claims to Divine Sonship; the miracles He worked and the growing multitude around him. All this added up to a situation that could not be ignored.[2]

Hence, the high degree of tension between the Temple aristocracy and Jesus’ supporters at large, symbolised, on the one hand, by the chief priests and the scribes who sought to arrest Jesus, and on the other, by the grateful woman who broke open the lid of her alabaster jar of pure nard ointment and poured out her love.

There was also high treason, best symbolised by the Judas kiss. Jesus was spot on: ‘Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me… one who is dipping bread in the same dish with me.’ That was insider betrayal out of greed which even made Peter’s denial out of fear look banal: whereas Peter disowned His Master, Judas sold Him. And we have it from our Divine Lord: ‘For the Son of Man goes as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed!’

Profound words these that would not apply, for instance, to Peter, James and John (the same trio from Mount Tabor) who Jesus thrice found sleeping, unable to keep watch with Him, who was distressed in the Garden of Olives, sat and prayed: their fault was accidental, unpremeditated, for their spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

On the other hand, absolutely premeditated were the actions of the chief priests, the elders and the scribes late that night. When they sought testimony against Jesus, many bore false witness; when the testimony failed to agree, the high priest took it upon himself to accuse Jesus, and the temple aristocracy joined in condemning Him to death. The garment tearing by the high priest was a sign of outrage prescribed for an officiating judge in the face of blasphemy. [3]

The Sanhedrin, or supreme council and tribunal of the Jews, had religious, civil and criminal jurisdiction. But theirs was more of a cross examination than a trial per se.[4] Early in the morning they handed over Jesus to the Roman Governor Pilate, who held court at that hour, ‘since only the Romans could carry out the death sentence’. To clinch it, the temple authorities emphasized their verdict’s political dimension: Jesus’ claim of messianic kingship, threatening the Pax Romana.

On the other hand, Pilate, especially at his wife’s bidding, indeed took Jesus to be the ‘King of the Jews’. He knew that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. Nonetheless, he gave in to them and to the customary public acclamation that, much to his chagrin, favoured Barabbas, a rebel against Roman power and murderer in the insurrection – both of which Jesus was not. That much was enough for Pilate to be on the side of Jesus, whose alleged offence against the Torah did not concern him as a Roman. ‘Why, what evil has He done?’ asked Pilate, but feebly. Then, he played to the gallery; without pressing for coherent answers, he delivered him to be crucified, so as not to risk his own career.

Then in the praetorium (Governor’s residence) there erupts over Jesus ‘the brutal mockery of those who know they are in a position of strength… He whom they had feared only days before was now in their hands. The cowardly conformism of weak souls feels strong in attacking Him who now seems utterly powerless.’[5] They mock him, strip him, and lead Him out to crucify Him. Most likely they are supporters of Barabbas.

And what of Jesus’ supporters? They probably remained hidden out of fear. In a way, they too betrayed Jesus, like so many who fail to bear Him witness today. That is when passersby step in and do the honours. Look at Simon of Cyrene,[6] who promptly agreed to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha, while the womenfolk[7] looked on, helplessly, from afar. And finally, when Jesus breathed His last, and the curtain of the temple tore in two, the centurion (Roman commander) exclaimed, ‘Truly, this man was the Son of God!’

A late realisation, almost in vain? Yes, but Jesus’ death was not in vain. ‘God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood’ (Rom 3: 23, 25) All things considered, Caiaphas’ words about the need for one man to die, to save the nation (and the world, as St John points out) fulfilled the content of Jesus’ mission. And alas, in a moment of high drama, the Jews, declared, ‘We have no king but Caesar’, unwittingly siding with Rome and renouncing Israel’s messianic hope.

The irony of ironies is that in 70 A.D. both Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed by the very Romans that the Jews had sided with, for it was written, ‘I will strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered.’ And then they had no Jesus to rebuild it.

[1] Passover is the first night of the seven-day, annual feast of unleavened bread during which the Israelites ate only unleavened bread, as a commemoration of their Exodus from Egyptian bondage. Since they left Egypt hastily, with no time to let the bread rise, they made their bread without leaven (yeast) on that very first Passover night.

[2] Cf. Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, p. 168.

[3] Gnilka, Matthausevangelium II, quoted by Joseph Ratzinger, p. 178.

[4] Op. cit., p. 176

[5] Op. cit., p. 182

[6] There is no indication that Simon knew Jesus. He was a Jew who resided in North Africa and happened to be in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion, and later became his disciple and missionary.

[7] ‘Mary the mother of Joses’: Joses was a relative of Jesus.