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March 21, 1997     The Message
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March 21, 1997

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The Message -- for Catholics of Southwestern Indiana 9 "Commentary __ Passion according to Mark: An abandoned Jesus tary for 1997: Passion Sun- Year B: 7 !Passion story according reading for year. Mark con- that began r One. the apparent all heav- actors. The that the Jesus into the temptation to a total rejection by By FATHER DON DILGER COLUMNIST God! Why have you for- of the gospel Jesus is mis- s identity as Son of God never his closest disciples. His family they consider him to be religious leaders try many and plot to kill him. Now the of Jesus' one-year ministry his disciples in Jerusalem for trace the theme of abandonment gins with the anointing of Woman. Judas Iscariot plots OVer to the religious authorities. The rejection and abandonment at work. After the Last Sup- disciples go outside Jerusalem to The theme continues with Peter would deny him three times. The Big Three of the disci- ples accompany Jesus to private prayer, but they fall asleep while he is praying. The crowd sent to arrest Jesus is led by the treasurer of the apostles, Judas Iscariot. who points out Jesus in the darkness by the kiss of betrayal. The disciples, his closest friends, all flee. Perhaps the most intriguing episode in the abandonment of Jesus is what happens next. A young man, wrapped only in a sheet, is still following Jesus. The arresting people grab him. He slips out of the sheet and runs away naked, thus having the distinction of being the first streaker. Only Mark recounts this strange episode. Matthew and Luke, studiously copying from the Gospel of Mark, both omit this story. Why? Because they recognize what Mark intended to say by it - that the disciples who at the beginning of Jesus' ministry abandoned everything to follow Jesus, now totally abandon everything, even their clothes, to get away from him. Matthew and Luke through- out their gospels try to cover up or lessen the aban- donment-of-Jesus-theme in the Gospel of Mark. The rejection of Jesus continues with his trial. Witnesses lie about various statements of Jesus. The religious authorities reject his claim to be mes- siah. The guards ridicule him as a prophet while Peter, who seems to have returned from his first flight, publicly denies that he even knows Jesus and anathematizes or curses him. In the trial before Pilate, when the Roman prefect reminds tbem of his custom of amnesty for one prisoner on Passover, the crowd demands the release of a mur- derer rather than the release of Jesus. Then they demand Jesus' crucifixion. Before the sorrowful procession to Calvary, Jesus is ridiculed as a king, then crucified between two criminals. Even on the cross he is ridiculed by people passing by and by tile religious leadership of his own people. Finally, for the awesome cry of total abandonment even by God, Mark chooses the opening verse of Psalm 22: "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me!" And Jesus dies alone. No family or disciples at the foot of the cross in the Gospel of Mark. Regular readers of this column know that Mark writes in this vein because he expresses the sentiments of the Christians at Rome who felt totally abandoned by God during the horrors of the recently ended persecution by the imperial Roman government under Emperor Nero. Even though Mark will carry the theme of abandonment of Jesus to the end of the gospel, he does not leave his Christian congregation without hope. Thus, when Jesus dies, the temple veil rips apart from top to bottom, a sign of vindication of Jesus from the Father. Then a total stranger representing the Roman government, the Roman officer in charge of Jesus' crucifixion, says: "Indeed this man was the Son of God!" Only an author inspired by the Holy Spirit could have chosen this final and remarkable message of hope and victory to tell a suffering peo- ple: "We shall ot,ercome!" 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