Keyword Search

  • Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company
    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company

Passion/Palm Sunday, Cycle B


There is a long tradition on the Sixth Sunday in Lent for many people within Christianity of reading one of the texts each year that portray Jesus riding on an animal into the city of Jerusalem. This “Palm Sunday” tradition can be maintained by reading and by dramatizing Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16 during the Series B year as the Processional Gospel at the beginning of the worship service. The experience will be even more profound if the readings and dramatizations of one of these “Triumphal Entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem texts is preceded by a dramatic reading or dramatization of Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, either with the entire worshiping congregation processing into the church building or with choir members and other liturgists with strong voices beginning outside the entrance to the building and processing in to join the worshiping congregation already seated.

We should take every opportunity to dramatize these texts. They are action texts. Our dramatizations during worship should not be limited to Christmas and Easter. The more services utilizing dramatic action that we have during the Church Year the better and more vibrant our praise and worship of God will be. This also involves more of our people, especially youth, makes our worship services more memorable, and increases attendance at our worship services.

After the processional using the Psalm 118 and Mark 11 or John 12 texts, the reading of texts from the Liturgy of the Passion and a brief interpretative message that applies the texts to our own life situation should follow.

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Most people who participate in Christian worship services and hear this text on the Sunday prior to Good Friday associate the claims of daily direct inspiration of this portion of the third Servant Song of the Isaiah tradition with Jesus, as though Isaiah 50:4-9a was written about Jesus or as prophecies pointing to Jesus. We as Christians can certainly interpret the Older Testament in whatever ways that we choose, and it is helpful for us to visualize Jesus as we read or hear this Isaiah text. It would be appropriate, nevertheless, for us as leaders in Christian worship services to share in some way with our congregations a recognition that the Suffering Servant Songs have a context of their own as a composite expression of the Israelite and Jewish prophetic tradition at its best. For Jews, the Prophetic tradition itself and those who are inspired and courageous leaders among the Israelite and Jewish people have the experiences that we as Christians associate with Jesus. We can gain a greater appreciation for the perspective of Jewish people regarding what we as Christians label as the Suffering Servant Songs (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-11; and 52:13–53:12) if we read the entire Isaiah document, or at least Isaiah 40-66.

Psalm 31:9-16

Our use of this individual lament within a Christian Order of Service clearly indicates that for us also, as for the psalmist, complete deliverance is still to come; it will happen in the future. For us the complete deliverance will be experienced in the Easter appearances of Jesus the Risen Christ, and in our own Easter appearances. Nevertheless, together with the psalmist, we too cry to the Lord God for deliverance here and now.

Philippians 2:5-11

This magnificent poetic expression of faith in Jesus as the Christ has been considered by many, perhaps by most, commentators to have been quoted by Paul from a previously existing source. If, however, Paul was using a beautiful expression of faith of someone else in which much of what is written in Isaiah 45:23 about faith in the Lord God “to whom every knee shall bend and every tongue shall acclaim” is ascribed to Jesus as the Christ, Paul did not introduce it as a quotation. The content of this expression of faith is not unlike what Paul had written elsewhere, in Romans 5:19 for example, and the way in which Philippians 2:5-11 continues without a “wrinkle” what Paul wrote in Philippians 2:1-4 suggests to me that this beautiful expression of faith is Paul’s own composition.

Most commentators also have thought that the words in 2:6 in which it is written that Jesus as the Christ was en morphe Theou is a statement that expressed a belief in the divine pre-existence of Jesus. These words are then considered to be similar in thought to the high Christology of John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15. When seen, however, in the context of Paul’s entire letter to the Philippians and of his other letters, Paul was writing in 2:6 that Jesus was a person created by God to be, as indicated in Genesis 1:26-27, “in the form and image of God,” just as Adam, the first man and all of humankind, including everyone of us, was and has been. What was so strikingly different about Jesus, according to Paul in Philippians 2:7-8, was that Jesus, unlike Adam and all of the rest of us in humankind, did not consider divinity as something “to be grasped,” but lived as a servant of God, in his words and deeds a courageous advocate of God and of God’s oppressed people. As a result of the way in which Jesus had lived, willing even to be tortured and crucified by the Romans, God highly exalted Jesus as the Risen Christ, giving to him as the Risen Christ a name that is greater than any other name, etc.

Unlike most other commentators, therefore, I personally consider what we have as Philippians 2:5-11 to have been written by Paul himself and to be consistent with Paul’s Christology elsewhere, which is not pre-existence Christology, but a Christology in which Jesus was made to be the Christ, the Divine Son of God, by God, in and through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Paul, therefore, provides for us on this Sunday of the Passion, a beautiful panorama of the entire Christ event, a most fitting preparation for our reading and hearing of the passion of Jesus texts that were developed after Paul himself had been executed by the Romans, and for the Easter texts that will follow for us one Sunday later.

Mark 14:1–15:47

In vivid detail, and from a theological perspective, the Markan writer and the redactors and other writers of the Gospel traditions who followed him, provided passion of Jesus as the Christ accounts. As we read them, it is very important that we read and hear them in the context of the life situation of those who composed them. We should be aware that although portions of the passion accounts are based on historically verifiable information, providing historical information was not their writers’ primary purpose. From the perspective of an historian, it can be said with certainty that Jesus was seized in the Garden of Gethsemane by a contingent of Caiaphas’ bodyguards, who were obeying orders given by Caiaphas, who reported to Caiaphas later that same night that their mission had been accomplished. Under orders from Caiaphas, his “goons” then delivered Jesus over to the night duty segment of Pontius Pilate’s crucifixion squad, who tortured Jesus during the remainder of the night, along with the two other young men who had been designated for crucifixion the next morning. The men who tortured their three victims were relieved in the morning by the day shift of the crucifixion squad, who also under previously issued orders from Pilate, dragged Jesus and the other two young Jews through the streets of Jerusalem and crucified them. From the perspective of an historian, the “trials” of Jesus are historically verifiable. They occurred during the merciless beatings by the soldiers during the night.

Decades ago, when I was a child and a student at home with my parents, our family attended Lenten services in our congregation every Wednesday evening throughout the Lenten season. From Ash Wednesday until the Wednesday during “Holy Week,” we heard a composite harmonized King James Version of the Passion accounts, with sermons based on the lengthy segment read that evening.

Now, with our three year lectionary and since the early 1990s the Revised Common Lectionary, we are urged to read the entire passion account, and during this year of Series B, this means Mark 14:1–15:47, or perhaps only Mark 15:1-39 (40-47). When I was a child, I heard the portions of the Passion accounts in which the Jews are presented as putting heavy pressure on “poor Pontius Pilate,” practically forcing him to give the order for the crucifixion of Jesus, and I had no questions whatsoever about the historicity of those portions. Later, however, I began to have some questions about what actually may have happened on the night prior to the crucifixion of Jesus. I began to wonder why Jesus’ own people would have been so hateful and almost rabid about wanting Jesus to be killed in such a horribly painful way. I could not understand this, especially since Jesus was such a kind and considerate person, healing and encouraging so many of his fellow Jews.

It was not, however, until I participated in several Lutheran-Jewish consultations in Minnesota and Wisconsin in 1975 and 1976 that I had the opportunity to hear directly from Jewish scholars how they felt about those hateful texts that accused Jews of deicide. As a result, I began a serious study of the Passion accounts and other portions of the Newer Testament in which Jews are condemned as cruel, hateful, and hypocritical. This resulted in the research and writing of my book, Mature Christianity: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish Polemic of the New Testament (Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1985), which, after additional work, I published as Mature Christianity in the 21st Century: The Recognition and Repudiation of the Anti-Jewish Polemic of the New Testament (New York: Crossword, 1994). My next step in this process was to prepare a new translation of the New Testament that is sensitive to both the anti-Jewish and the sexist materials in these documents. The result was The New Testament: A New Translation and Redaction (Lima, OH: Fairway Press, 2001). In this translation, in addition to being sensitive in my translation of the religiously racist and sexist texts, I placed the segments that are the most viciously anti-Jewish and the most degrading to women in small-print form, in order to make it easier for the reader to respond as each reader wishes.

I have shared all of this in order to suggest that instead of the shorter reading of Mark 14:1–15:47 using only Mark 15:1-39, (40-47) that is suggested as an option in the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors and other worship leaders might wish to read Mark 14:1-54, 66-72, and Mark 15:16-47, passing over Mark 14:55-65 and Mark 15:1-15, the most anti-Jewish portions on this occasion. In addition, by using my translation listed above for this reading, there will be further sensitivity to the faith and commitment of millions of Jews and of women.

If you are interested in more details about my own struggles with these issues, please see my articles, “Appropriate Christian Responses to the ‘Teaching of Contempt’ for Jews in the New Testament,” in Defining New Christian/Jewish Dialogue, ed. by Irvin J. Borowsky, New York: Crossroad, 2004), 15-25, and “Replacing Barriers with Bridges,” in Faith Transformed: Christian Encounters with Jews and Judaism, ed. by John C. Merkle (Collegewille, MN: The Liturgical Press, 2003), 71-89. For an analysis of our need for greater sensitivity to the issue of anti-Jewish materials within the New Testament documents as we revise our lectionaries, see “Removing Anti-Jewish Polemic from our Christian Lectionaries: A Proposal,” (also in Spanish).

Leave a Reply

  • Get Your FREE 30-day Trial Subscription to SermonSuite NOW!
    Chris Keating
    The Double-Dog Dare Days of August
    August’s lazy, hazy dog days quickly became a deadly double-dog dare contest between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, the supreme leader of North Korea. Both nations have been at odds with each other for nearly 70 years. During his working golf vacation in New Jersey last week, President Trump responded to North Korea’s rhetorical sword-rattling by launching a verbal preemptive strike of his own.
         Call it the Bedminster bombast, or the putt that rocked Pyongyang. But the duel between the two countries is more than fodder for late-night comedians. It’s a deadly standoff with history-changing repercussions.
         There is no vacation from matters of national security, or the orations of war. Indeed, much of the war of words between Washington and North Korea seems to confirm Jesus’ counsel in Matthew: “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” The contrasts between these barbed exchanges and the biblical understanding of peacemaking offers an intriguing opportunity to hear Jesus’ words in a world filled with double-dog (and even triple-dog) dares....more
    Feeding The 5,000
    The assigned Gospel text for this week skips over a couple of sections in Matthew's story. Matthew 14:34-36 cites Jesus' journey to Gennesaret. The crowds of people recognized him immediately and all of the sick came to him for healing. Just a touch of Jesus' garment brought healing to many. The crowd in Gennesaret recognized Jesus. They came to him in their need....more
    Wayne Brouwer
    Religious balkanization
    One dimension of religious life we have in common across faith traditions and denominational lines is the incessant divisiveness that split our seemingly monolithic communities into dozens of similar yet tenaciously varied subgroups. A Jewish professor of psychology said of his tradition, "If there are ten Jewish males in a city we create a synagogue. If there are eleven Jewish males we start thinking about creating a competing synagogue."...more
    C. David McKirachan
    Jesus Is Coming, Look Busy
    Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
    I had a parishioner who would walk out of the sanctuary if he saw a djembe (African drum) out in front to be used in worship.  I asked him about it, in a wonderfully pastoral manner, and he told me that things like that didn’t belong in worship.  I said that it was in the bible to praise God with pipes and drums (I think it is).  He told me he didn’t care what the Bible said, he knew where that thing came from and he wouldn’t have it.  I asked him why things from Africa would bother him.  He told me that he knew I was liberal but that didn’t mean he had to be.  I agreed with him but cautioned him that racism was probably one of the worst examples of evil in our world and I thought he should consider what Christ would think of that.  He asked me who paid my salary, Christ or good Americans....more
    Janice Scott
    No Strings Attached
    In today's gospel reading, Jesus seemed reluctant to heal the Canaanite woman's daughter. He told her that he wasn't sent to help foreigners, but only his own people, the Chosen Race. The words sound unnecessarily harsh, but perhaps this is an interpretation unique to Matthew, for this story only appears in Matthew's gospel, which was written for Jews....more
    Arley K. Fadness
    Great Faith
    Object: Hula Hoop or circle made out of ribbon, twine or rope
    What an amazing morning to come to church today. I am so glad to see you and talk to you about a wonderful story from the bible. Let me begin by showing you this circle. Now let's get into this circle. (Physically, all move into the circle) It's fun for us all to be together in this circle. We don't want anyone to be left out. To be left out is to be sad. To be kept out is even more sad and painful....more

Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen