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A Scripture Reflection for the PASSION/PALM SUNDAY

by Stephen Bevans, SVD | March 24, 2018

A Scripture Reflection for the PASSION/PALM SUNDAY
March 25, 2018




Mark 11:1-10 (before the procession with palms)

Isaiah 50:4-7

Psalm 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24

Philippians 2:6-11

Mark 14:1-15-47






If it did not fall during Holy Week this year, we would be celebrating today—March 25—the Feast of the Annunciation, the day on which the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would become the mother of God, the day on which “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). Instead we celebrate today Passion or Palm Sunday, and begin our week-long commemoration of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. We read today from one of the Servant Songs of Isaiah, and the account of Jesus’ passion according to Mark.

In a real way, though, it is quite appropriate that we read these readings on the day we usually reflect on the Word becoming flesh, on the Incarnation. After all, in many ways, Jesus’ embrace of the cross is the pinnacle of what it means that God became incarnate, for the cross offers us the clearest picture of who God is: the one who loves us “unto the end”; the one who “lays down his life for his friends.”

This is why it’s so appropriate today that we read, in our second reading, the famous hymn of Incarnation from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We usually translate the opening of this hymn “although he was in the form of God”—presuming that because he was God, “emptying himself” was something that he didn’t really have to do, that becoming human was a kind of abasement of the divine dignity. A couple of years ago, however, I read an interpretation of this passage that was startling different, and—at least to me—made a lot more sense and was a lot more inspiring. The interpreter—the eminent scripture scholar Michael J. Gorman—argued both theologically and from the sense of the Greek text that a better translation of the opening line would be “because he was in the form of God.” In other words, Incarnation is not something that debases or humiliates God. It is actually what expresses who God really is, what God is actually like. What it means to be God, in other words, is to be completely self-emptying, completely self-giving. It illustrates, in the colorful phrase of my friend Tony Gittins, that God is “love hitting the cosmic fan.”

This is what we see in our first reading, in which the servant of God is totally open to God’s will, knowing that God is ultimately on his side, and that love ultimately wins. This is what we see in Jesus’ passion, the narrative that tells us how far God will go to show the depths of divine love. This is not a story of death and despair and vain suffering. It is a story of love, a story we know that ends not in the emptiness of death but the fullness of life.

We will celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation in its own right in a few more weeks—on April 9—the Monday of the second week of the Easter. Still, there is something special about celebrating Incarnation on Palm Sunday with the reading of the hymn from Philippians and of St. Mark’s passion. It is a reminder of what Incarnation really means, and how we who are believers in Incarnation are to act in our world. Because he was in the form of God Jesus emptied himself. It is because we believe in such a God that we empty ourselves. Only, of course, to be filled with paschal joy and overflowing life.


The above image is from the Public Domain.

Author information Stephen Bevans, SVD

Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture
S.T.B., S.T.L., Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; M.A., Ph.D., University of Notre Dame; Study: University of Cambridge

Steve Bevans is a priest in the missionary congregation of the Society of the Divine Word and Louis J. Luzbetak, SVD, Professor Emeritus of Mission and Culture.

After completing his Licentiate in Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome in 1972, he served as a missionary to the Philippines until 1981. In 1986 he received a Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame and has taught at CTU since that time, officially retiring from the faculty in 2015.

He is the author or co-author of six books and editor or co-editor of eleven, including Models of Contextual Theology (2002), Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (2004), and An Introduction to Theology in Global Perspective (2009). In 2013, he edited A Century of Catholic Mission, and, in 2015, with Cathy Ross, Mission on the Road to Emmaus: Constants, Context, and Prophetic Dialogue.

He is a member of the World Council of Churches' Commission on World Mission and Evangelism.

Books written by Steve Bevans

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