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Wrestling with the Word, episode 15: Sunday of the Passion, Year B (April 5, 2009) March 19, 2009

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Sunday of the Passion

This day begins the week that defines the Christian faith. When Jesus enters the area of Jerusalem for the celebration of Passover and Unleavened Bread, the fulfillment of his teachings about suffering and death begin to unfold. Apart from his own identity, the events that unfold have no more meaning for us than the unjust, undeserved, and horrible execution of any person, past or present. But Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is the issue that distinguishes this week from all others. And the ways in which the writers of the New Testament told the story of the Passion provide the events with meaning. That meaning, that message, that news, gave new life and a future with hope to the early followers of Jesus, for those who have became Jesus’ disciples for two millennia and for us today.

Download or listen to Wrestling with the Word, episode 15: Sunday of the Passion, Year B.


Psalm 31:9-16
The psalm is one of lament and thanksgiving. The psalmist laments the suffering of some chronic malady and is now on the verge of a violent death. In verses 1 and 17 appears the plea “not be put to shame” (Isa. 50:7). The petitioner has become such a sorry sight that not only enemies but also friends have rejected him. In the midst of his worst hour the psalmist realizes that pouring out such a lament is not a complaint against God but a petition to a God who cares and understands. To this God the psalmist surrenders in faith and trust, especially in the words that Jesus quotes from the cross (Ps. 31:5 at Luke 23:46). The thanksgiving at verses 21-24 brings the psalm to a close.


Isaiah 50:4-9a
God enables the servant to endure suffering in order to be the Lord’s witness in a hostile world.

The passage is the third of the so-called “servant songs” in Second Isaiah, the others being (1) 42:1-4; (2) 49:1-6; (4) 52:13–53:12. The speaker of songs 1 and 4 is the Lord, while in 2 and 3 the speaker is the servant himself. The identity of the servant has been the subject of scholarly debate for centuries, answers ranging from the prophet himself, to the king, to the exiled people of Jerusalem, and of course, to Jesus. The immediate context is interesting since vv. 1-3 speak of the Lord as having the power to deliver the people from their exile and then our verses attest to God’s accomplishing that deed through the servant.

Key Words
V. 4.  limmûddîm = “those who are taught”:  The expression appears twice in this verse but nowhere else in this exact form. The term seems to imply the gift of wisdom, i.e., those who are wise, perhaps even “a teacher” (NRSV). The purpose of this God-given wisdom is not for the servant’s own glory but “to sustain the weary (yā‘ēp) with a word.” The weary can include even “youths” who are exiles in Babylon, but the Lord who does not grow weary “shall renew their strength” (Isa. 40:28-31).

V. 6.  gēwî nātattî  lemakkîm ûlechāyay lemōretîm = “I gave my back to those who smite and my cheek to those who make bare (by pulling out the beard)”:  The submission to an act of violence sounds like that at Neh. 13:25.

V. 7.  kî-lō’ ’ēbôš = “for I shall not be put to shame”:  the same expression occurs in the wisdom Psalm 119 at v. 6. The plea to never “be put to shame” appears in Ps. 31:1, 17. Note the repeated concern about not being put to shame at Ps. 25:2, 3, 20. This psalm of lament contains also the plea that the Lord “teach” the petitioner (vss. 4-5) along with all those “that fear the Lord” (v. 12).

V. 9.  kullām kabbeged yiblû = “all of them will wear out like a garment”:  The imagery appears also in terms of the created order at Ps. 102:26 and Isa. 51:16 in contrast to YHWH who remains forever.


Philippians 2:5-11
The humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ causes the entire universe to bow at his name and confess him as Lord, so that God might be glorified.

Paul wrote this epistle from prison, but we do not know which one. If this imprisonment was the one in Rome (Acts 28:14-31), he wrote the letter about 59-60. If his imprisonment was in the one in Caesarea, described at Acts 23:33—26:32), then he wrote about 56-58. If, however, this imprisonment is in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:30ff; 2 Cor. 1:8ff.), then he wrote this epistle between 53-55. In any case, at 1:27 Paul turns to issues of life style among the Christians at Philippi. Against opponents who teach a false gospel, Paul urges them to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving for the faith of the gospel.” Here he provides the hymn to demonstrate Jesus as the role model for humility. Jesus’ humiliation paves the way to exaltation, a theme that Paul takes in a slightly different direction at 2 Corinthians 8:9: “… that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.”

The verses represent a pre-Pauline hymn or creed. The word hos in v. 6 is typical of the beginning of creeds and hymns; see 1 Tim. 3:16. Attempts to define its origin have ranged from a Christian Aramaic psalm to a Hellenistic myth about the first human.

Key Words
V. 5.  phroneite = “have an attitude”:  While the words are different, especially in Greek, one wonders about the connection with the “transformed mind” Paul urges in Romans 12:2.

Vv. 6-7.  morphē theou … morphēn doulou:  “form of God … form of servant”:  The contrast alone explains the significance of the term for Paul. The LXX word for “image (of God)” in Gen. 1:26-27 is eikōn not morphē; only in Dan. 3:19 is Hebrew/Aramaic tselem (“image”) translated by morphē in LXX.

V. 6.  harpagmon = “robbery, prize, booty, a thing to be grasped for or held on to”:  Since Christ already had the “form” and did not need to grasp for it; the translation “held on to” seems more appropriate.

Vv. 10-11. The words “every knee should bow, and every tongue confess” are virtually identical to the LXX rendering of Isaiah 45:23. There “all the ends of the earth” shall worship God. Here the picture is even bigger.


Mark 14:1—15:47
Because of who he was and who the crowd claimed him to be, Jesus died. his death is described by the pattern of the psalms of lament.

1. The anointing by the woman: 14:3-92.

2. The Identity of Jesus on Trial

  • 14:53-65 Jesus appears before the religious authorities. The High priest asks: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answers: “I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” For references on the use of “I AM” see : Exod 3:1-15; 20:1; Leviticus (manyentries throughout); Isaiah 40—55; Mark 6:50; John 8:24, 28, 58; 13:19; 18:4-6
  • 15:1-5: Jesus’ identity is on trial before Pilate
    Pilate asks: “Are you the king of the Jews?” and Jesus answers: “You have said so.”
  • 15:16-20: The soldiers mock Jesus “Hail, King of the Jews!”
    The title written: “The King of the Jews”
    Chief priests and scribes mock Jesus: “Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
    Centurion: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1, 11; 3:11; 9:7; Ps. 22:27)

3. The use of Psalm 22 and other psalms of lament

  • 15:34: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1)
  • 14:18 “One of you will betray me, who is eating with me” using lament Psalm 41:9: “Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted his heel against me.”
  • 14:34 “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” using lament Psalm 42:6, 11: “My soul is cast down within me”
  • 15:24 They crucified him (Ps. 22:16: “they have pierced my hands and my feet”)
  • 15:24 They divided his garments among them, casting lots for them (Ps. 22:19)
  • 15:29 They derided him, wagging their heads (Ps. 22:7: “All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, wagging their heads.”)
  • 15:36 One ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, gave it to him to drink (Ps. 69:21: “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink”)

Why the use of psalms of lament, especially Psalm 22?

  • 15:39 Centurion: “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1, 11; 3:11; 9:7; Ps. 22:27)
  • 14:22-25 The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
    Jesus says: “Take eat; this is my body…. This is my blood of the covenant (Exod 24:3-8; Zech. 9:11), which is poured out for any. Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Ps. 22:26)

4. “Who killed Jesus?” (14:27 using Zech. 13:7)