On hearing the passion three times
This past weekend I had the opportunity to hear the Passion read three different times. My pastor was in a car accident a couple weeks ago and is laid up for Holy Week. (Please remember him, Fr. Metzler, in your prayers.) Since I served as his master of ceremonies for the last Triduum, he asked me to expand my duties and serve at each of the Palm Sunday liturgies as well. (Pretty easy, since except for the opening rite it is pretty much a standard mass. But it helps me, the deacons and the altar servers get in sync. It is kind of like opening in Peoria before taking it to Broadway.)
Because of this, I heard the passion read on Saturday night and twice on Sunday. I was not sure what to expect, but I sort of assumed that I would sit quietly and half hear it the second two times. But instead, I was quite surprised when each time I listened to it, something new and different lept out at me. None of my thoughts were deep or profound: I share them to illustrate the richness of the text, and to ask you to share what particularly struck you this Sunday as you listened to the passion.
On Saturday night, I was struck by the story of the woman with the alabaster jar pouring “costly, genuine spikenard” on Jesus’ head, much to the consternation of the onlookers. I was immediately reminded of a story about Dorothy Day, recounted by Jim Forrest:
Tom Cornell tells the story of a donor coming into the Catholic Worker and giving Dorothy a diamond ring. Dorothy thanked her for it and put it in her pocket. Later a rather demented lady came in, one of the more irritating regulars at the house. Dorothy took the diamond ring out of her pocket and gave it to the woman.
Someone on the staff said to Dorothy, “Wouldn’t it have been better if we took the ring to the diamond exchange, sold it, and paid that woman’s rent for a year?”
Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity and could do what she liked with the ring. She could sell it for rent money or take a trip to the Bahamas. Or she could enjoy wearing a diamond ring on her hand like the woman who gave it away. “Do you suppose,” Dorothy asked, “that God created diamonds only for the rich?”
On Sunday morning at the early mass, I focused on the fact that Jesus was crucified between two “revolutionaries”. Unnamed in the gospels, in the apocyrypha they are called “Dismas” and “Gestas.” Their crimes have changed over the years. Dismas is traditionally known as the “good thief.” Depending on the translation, they have been called “rebels” (NIV), “robbers” (RSV), “bandits” (NRSV) and “thieves” (KJV). The underlying Greek word is “lestes”, usually translated as robber, plunderer, brigand. The translation as “revolutionary” or “rebel” is due (I think) to the fact that crucifixion was the traditional punishment for those who rebelled against Roman imperial rule. (It was also used in other cases, particularly to punish slaves.) Though not a translation I would propose, I wondered how we would understand the passage if we read the word as “terrorists”. Though an anachronism, this word probably does sum up what the Romans felt about those who violently opposed their rule.
And finally, at the second mass on Sunday, I noticed that Joseph of Arimathea was described as courageous:
[He] courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.
I have heard this passion a number of times and have read this account closely several times, but this is the first time I really noticed this description. Previously, I always thought of him simply as a pious or holy man. Matthew describes him as “rich” and a “disciple” (Mt 27:57, NRSV); Luke as “good and righteous” (Lk 23:50, NRSV). Why did Mark choose to emphasize his courage? It must have taken some degree of fortitude to ask Pilate for the body: to bowdlerize an old saying, “poop spatters” and anyone associating himself with Jesus at this moment would have grounds for worrying about repercussions from both Pilate and the Sanhedrin. The fact that Joseph was rich and an member of the Sanhedrin would probably have helped to shield him from catastrophic consequences but it was still a reasonable concern. Further, it seems to have been common for Romans to leave the body hanging for several days to serve as a gruesome reminder of Roman might. Thus asking for the body so quickly was asking Pilate to do something out of the ordinary. Was this word included simply to emphasize the difference between him and the 12 disciples, who all (except in John’s account) fled, or with the two Mary’s and Salome, who were brave enough to watch from a distance, but did not approach him to help with the burial? I am really not sure and I continue to chew on this one.
Your thoughts, on these or other parts of the Passion, are welcome as we proceed together towards the joy of Easter.