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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - Will You Stay or Will You Run?

Robert Barron - Will You Stay or Will You Run?

Robert Barron - Will You Stay or Will You Run?
TOPICS: Palm Sunday

Peace be with you. Friends, we come today to Palm Sunday and therefore to the beginning of the holiest week of the year. It's the Church's custom, as you know, on Palm Sunday, to read the entire Passion narrative from one of the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. We of course read John's Passion on Good Friday. Well, in the cycle this year, we have St. Mark's version of the Passion, which happens to be the earliest. By common consensus, Mark is the first Gospel written. So here's the first account of the Passion.

Now, Matthew, Mark, and Luke have a lot in common in their accounts, but each one has some distinctive features. I want to draw attention today just to three features of the story that are distinctive to St. Mark's account. Each one, I think, packs a punch spiritually. Here's the first one at the very beginning of the account, unique to Mark. While Jesus is at the home of Simon, the leper, a woman enters with an alabaster jar of perfume. Breaking the jar open, she pours the perfume on Jesus' head. Now, this is a strange gesture, and the bystanders, right away, notice it. Here's this jar of very expensive perfume. She doesn't just dab a little bit on him. She breaks open the jar and pours it over his head. It's an extravagant, over-the-top gesture. And that's why the more rationalistic people standing by say, "Well, look, this could have been sold, the money given to the poor. What a waste". No, no; but Jesus praises her, and says, quite accurately, that she'll be remembered forever for this gesture.

Why does Mark want this scene at the very beginning of his Passion narrative? Why does he want, as it were, the aroma of this great gift to waft over the whole story? I remember a sermon years ago by Paul Tillich, the famous Protestant theologian. And he was sort of mocking the Kantian view that religion should be seen within the limits of reason alone. So Immanuel Kant, the great Enlightenment philosopher, wanted to present a version of religion that was entirely rational, reasonable. And Tillich said, quite rightly, I think, that's never adequate to religion. I mean, there's a rational dimension to it, to be sure, but there is something extravagant, over-the-top about authentic religion. This woman isn't calculating in a rational way. No, she's expressing, in this extravagant manner, her gift of self to Jesus. Now, why does the aroma of this gift waft over the whole story? Because it anticipates the Passion itself.

What will Jesus do, but break open his own life and pour it out. Not measuring it out with coffee spoons, as T.S. Elliot said, but rather pouring it out. Can we see her action here as a sign of the way we ought to respond to the extravagant self-gift of Jesus. We respond with an answering extravagance. Okay? Here's the second item that's unique to Mark's account. "After singing songs of praise, they walked out to the Mount of Olives". Now, that might just kind of pass through your mind, but this little description comes at the end of the account of the Last Supper. This is the night before Jesus dies, and he knows it. This is the eve of his execution. He's about to enter into this horrific process of being tried and tortured and crucified. And what did they do as they enter into this process? They sing. Now, this is the Passover meal. They're singing the joyous hymns of Passover. But this just stays in my mind as something very powerful. On the eve of his self-offering, on the eve of this great act of sacrifice, Jesus and his friends, sing songs of praise to God. What is the Crucifixion? It's not just tragedy.

Albert Schweitzer said Jesus was one more revolutionary ground under by the wheel of history. His promising and inspiring life came to this tragic end. That's the way things go. Even our greatest heroes, well, eventually they're done away with. No, no, no; none of that despair. On the eve of his execution, Jesus sings a song of praise. I don't know if you know the story of this Spanish priest, Fr. Martin Pascual. Look him up on YouTube. Martin Pascual was a Spanish priest who was arrested during the time of the Spanish Civil War when the Church was under such persecution. And he was executed. Now, the reason I bring him up is, we have these extraordinary photographs of him. Again, look him up on the internet. They were taken within minutes of his execution. And there he is. He's a very young man. I think he was only in his mid-twenties when he was killed. And he's looking at the camera with a kind of jaunty expression, a little smile playing on his lips, kind of delight in his eyes. This is moments before he died. You think he'd be trembling in terror. His face filled with anguish. Mm-mm. His face was filled with joy.

How come? Because he was a man of the Christian faith, who knew that death is not the end, death does not have the final word; that God's love is more powerful than anything that's in the world, including death itself. And so Jesus and his disciples, and then listen, all his disciples up and down the ages to the present day, sing, sing, even on the eve of execution, because they know the great secret. They know the great secret: God's love is more powerful than anything in the world, including death itself. Just one more observation on this point. When we gather for Mass, we Catholics, we're gathering for the re-presentation of the cross of Jesus. Listen, now, during the prayer of consecration, when the priest will say, "The night before he died, Jesus took bread," etc. Don't let those words just pass through your mind. "The night before he died".

There's something awful, but every Mass brings you to that terrible moment. And yet what do we do all through the Mass, including right after the consecration, when the dying of Christ is re-presented, what do we do? We sing. Of course we do. Of course we do. Jesus and his disciples sing on the eve of the Crucifixion. Okay. One more feature that is unique to St. Mark's account. We're now in the Garden of Gethsemane. Another awful moment: Jesus begging his Father that this cup might pass away, Jesus sweating blood, etc. They've come now to arrest him. And we hear this: "There was a young man following him who was covered by nothing but a linen cloth. As they seized him, he left the cloth behind and ran off naked".

Hm. Strange little detail, isn't it? Tell you the first reason why it's really strange. Who in the world would have been dressed that way, especially that time of year? Remember we hear in other accounts that it was a cold night in the early spring. Nobody would have been wearing just one simple linen cloth covering their nakedness. Who is this young man following Jesus? Can I suggest he's not a figure who was actually there on the scene. He's more like a figure in a Renaissance painting. Sometimes the painters will depict a scene of the life of Christ, but then they'll put in the scene someone from their own time in the garb of that time. And the idea is the viewer is meant to see himself or herself in that figure. He brings the contemporary person into the scene. Can I suggest, that young man is probably functioning that way in the story. He's wearing, what they say in Greek, is a "sindona". A sindona, a white garment covering your nakedness. That's exactly how a baptized, indeed, newly baptized person would have been dressed.

So in the ancient Church, when someone was baptized, they took off their street clothes. That was a sign of getting rid of the old self. They were lathered up, if you want, with the chrism. And then they were put down in the water, baptized. Then coming up out of the water, a sign of resurrection, they were dried off, and then they put on them a sindona. They put on them a simple white garment that covered their nakedness. Who is this young man? Mind you, too, described as a follower of Jesus. Well, that's code for disciple. Jesus says, "Come, follow me". Who's this follower clothed in a simple white garment? He's all of us baptized. Friends, what will Baptism involve? Willy-nilly, what will it involve? Eventually, we'll come to the point where we've got to make a decision.

Do we stand with Christ even when it costs? Do we stand with Christ even when it's dangerous? Or... listen now, fellow sinners, because we all know what this is like. Fellow sinners, listen to me. Do we, at that decisive moment, run away, leaving our baptismal identity behind? You see, this pathetic young man running off naked into the night, having left behind his white garment, that's every one of us sinners, who at the moment of truth abandon the Lord and run off, leaving our baptismal identity behind. Let this young man, let this image, draw you into the scene. What would I do? Be honest now. What would I do at this moment of truth? When I knew that standing with Christ would cost me, even cost me big time. What would I do? Sadly, a lot of us do what this young man did. We run away, leaving our baptismal identity behind.

Now, I don't want to leave you on that negative note. And I want to give a little teaser for next week. Watch how in Mark's Gospel, that young man in the white sindona, makes an appearance a little bit later in the Gospel. Watch for him; it's a sign of hope. So, as we move into Holy Week, let the imagery of Mark's account stay in your mind, and maybe with special attention to these three moments. The woman that breaks open the jar of perfume. You break open your life in response to Christ's extravagant gift. Jesus and his friends singing, yes, even on the eve of his execution. So we know that death does not have the final word. And finally, this young man in the white garment. What would you do? What would I do at the moment of truth? Enter, please, into the power of this Holy Week. And God bless you.
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