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A reflection for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion

Michael Hagan reflects on the readings for March 28, 2021.
Catholic Voices

Readings (Year B)

Isaiah 50:4-7
Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24
Philippians 2:6-11
Mark 14:1—15:47

Reflection: The full story

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words echo in today’s responsorial psalm and then pierce our hearts when we hear them again on the lips of the crucified Jesus in Mark’s gospel. On the surface, these words are a scandal. Does God the Father abandon Jesus on the cross?

This passage always brings me back to a non-denominational bible study I was a part of in college. About half a dozen of us met in a dorm room down the hall from my own. One day, the leader passed around a painting of Jesus’ crucifixion. Above Jesus was the Holy Spirit and then God the Father.

The leader challenged this depiction. After all, Jesus seems to say he was abandoned by God. Was the painting ignoring Jesus’ words and romanticizing this gruesome scene?

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At the time, I didn’t have an answer. Could the Son be separate from the Father and the Holy Spirit, even for a brief moment? And if God didn’t abandon Jesus, why would Jesus say those words?

The answersrequire us to look beyond the surface. Jesus quotes Psalm 22 when he cries out on the cross about his apparent abandonment. Many Jewish people hearing Jesus’ words would have made this connection. In quoting the first line of this psalm, Jesus brings to mind the whole psalm, not just that line.

Psalm 22 goes on to describe a man with pierced hands and feet and persecutors who cast lots for his garments—heard now as a prophecy of Jesus’ crucifixion. The psalmist continues to explain that the Lord “did not turn away from me, but heard when I cried out.” Finally, the psalm ends with “all the ends of the earth” bowing to the Lord and proclaiming God as king.

Talk about a different story! Going a little deeper into Jesus’ words shows us that rather than lamenting a terrible defeat, Jesus is invoking his own victory. The Father did not abandon the Son, just as God does not abandon us.

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When we stay at the surface level, whether in the scriptures or in our own lives, we run the risk of missing the full story.

Has a difficult person been placed into your life recently? Does the church propose a teaching that is hard for you to understand or accept? Have you had a hard time understanding your suffering over the last year? Pray that God will take you beyond the surface level and show you the ways God is still writing the story.

If you need a reminder of why it matters, take a look first at the cross, and then at the empty tomb.


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About the author

Michael Hagan

Michael Hagan holds an M.A. in theology from Villanova University and currently works for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington in Vermont.

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