A Homily for Palm Sunday

Published on 25 Mar 2021

Now the traitor had arranged a signal with them. He had said. ‘The one I kiss, he is the man. Take him in charge, and see he is well guarded when you lead him away [1]. 

Judas identifies Jesus for those who come to arrest him.  His persecutors do not know him.  They need the help of a renegade apostle to pick him out from everyone else. Not long before he has entered Jerusalem triumphantly. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, others greenery which they had cut in the fields [2].  Those cheering knew and honoured him.  The owner of the tethered colt that no one has yet ridden [3] who might protest about its being borrowed for the triumphal entry was to be told, The Master needs it [4].  Who the master was and what he was about were sufficiently well known for this to be an acceptable explanation.  Nevertheless, many did not know Jesus.  The expert Judas was needed at the time of the arrest to make the identification.  Even when working miracles, even when addressing large crowds Jesus had been self-effacing. He had not sought to make himself known by everyone.  Later he would say to the Eleven, when he ascended from them, that they should go out to the whole world and proclaim the Good News [5].  Judas, the missing one of the Twelve, had already done his ‘proclaiming’ by identifying the Lord for those who had come to take him away to trial and execution.

The one I kiss.  Judas the friend of Jesus betrays him with a kiss.  Christ is handed over to his enemies by one who was dear to him.  Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve approached the chief priests with an offer to hand Jesus over to them.  It is an apostle’s business to communicate the Good News.  There is meant to be a sharing of the Lord with others.  It is to be hoped that those to whom he is handed over will treat him well.   Jesus’ friends enlarge the circle of his amity by helping others to receive him properly.  Judas handed his friend over to those who would destroy him.  What had happened to the friendship of the betrayer for the one he betrayed? Let him release him, if this is his friend [6].   True friendship frees it does not imprison.  Jesus and Judas had once been close. Now, that Judas is near, is dangerous for Jesus.  The betrayer renounces his friendship and the Lord judges: better for that man if he had never been born [7].   This judgement revealed that there would be no going back on the treacherous kiss. Like everyone else, Judas might have repented and been saved by One who endures almost any betrayal.  He could not allow himself to be rescued.  Jesus though innocent, suffered willingly for sinners and accepted unjust condemnation to save the guilty [8].   He is the most faithful of friends but is often let down. They all deserted him and ran away [9]. Judas does not come back. You will all lose faith [10] the master foretells of the twelve, but only Judas does not retrieve what has been lost.  For him, it is too late.  Alas for that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed [11].  Others are almost as bad, but allow the damaged friendship to be mended.  Peter recalled how Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice you will have disowned me three times’. And he burst into tears [12]. 

See he is well guarded when you lead him away [13]. Judas gives advice to a number of men armed with swords and clubs [14].  No doubt they were grateful.  The betrayer has a sound apostolic instinct that what is handed over should be guarded carefully.  The passion of Christ is the record his mistreatment and we are given many details.  Some of them started spitting at him, and, blindfolding him, began hitting him with their fists[15].  The Lord’s being done cruelly to death is the means of our salvation. The righting of everything is achieved by a great wrong. They rained blows on him [16]. By contrast, the apostle seeks to hand on the Word with tenderness and care.  The anointing by the woman at Bethany is an emblem of that gentleness: I tell you solemnly wherever throughout the whole world the Good news is proclaimed, what she has done will be told also in remembrance of her [17].  The Lord’s body had been anointed early, in advance of his death. Yet, the saviour of the world is not blown over by a breath. God raised him high and gave him the name which is above all other names [18].  He is not easily destroyed.   He should not, however, be attacked at all. The one who shares him with others wants to do so attentively, even scrupulously. The Lord has given me a disciples tongue.  So that I may know how to reply to wearied he supplies me with speech [19].  Jesus is a gift not meant to be lost or squandered.  Judas’ instructions to the guards mention that they should lead him away.   The betrayer is right that it requires force to take the Lord from those he has come to help. Christ does not easily give up on any of us. Yet he does not force us to believe in him.  Judas speaks as if Jesus were dangerous.  He is indeed a threat to what is evil.  However, he offers no violence or resistance to is enemies.  Nor does he snap at the heels of his friends.  The insult of the scribes has a grain of truth: He saved others, he cannot save himself [20].  The Lord chooses not to save himself since he was humbler yet, even to accepting death, death on a cross [21]. The armed guard was always out of place.

Am I a brigand that you had to set out to capture me with swords and clubs? I was among you, teaching in the Temple day after day and you never laid hands on me [22].  The teaching of Jesus does not impact on all who hear it, or might hear it, if they chose.  He passes some of us by, though not without his loving us all dearly.  Any one of us might hear and accept him and, later, run away from his suffering and what we fear it might entail for us.  Our saviour peacefully puts up with everything which happens, including the many and repeated betrayals.  He understands our weakness and has grown accustomed to our fickleness.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak [23]. In communion with the Father, the Son had gathered the strength he needs for what is to come.  It is all over.  The hour has come. Now the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners [24].  It was for this that he came into the world.   He allows us each to play our part in his great work.  We come and go as he suffers and dies.  We are ennobled by our contemplation of his passion.  We are humbled by our betrayals and flights.   Judas was needed to identify Christ when they came to arrest him in the garden.  The parody of apostolic proclamation was enacted before old friends, who had lately been too sleepy to pray and would soon be on the run from danger. For Jesus, the betrayers are always close at hand [25].    They are friends who offer a welcome and then depart in a hurry.  Jesus, who enters the holy city in triumph, is betrayed or abandoned those closest to him.  He is led outside the walls by his enemies to be killed.  He will return in glory and will know his friends once more.

Homily by Fr Peter Gallagher SJ


[1]              Mark 14.34

[2]              Mark 11.8

[3]              Mark 11.2

[4]              Mark 11.3

[5]              Mark 16.15

[6]              Psalm (22) 21.9

[7]              Mark 14.21

[8]              Roman Missal, Preface of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

[9]              Mark 14.50

[10]            Mark 14.27

[11]            MRK 14.21

[12]            Mark 14.72

[13]            Mark 14.34

[14]            Mark 14.43

[15]            Mark 14.65

[16]            Mark 14.65

[17]            Mark 14.9

[18]            Philippians 2.9

[19]            Isaiah 50.4

[20]            Mark 15.31

[21]            Philippians 2.8

[22]            Mark 14.48-49

[23]            Mark 14.38

[24]            Mark 14.41

[25]            Mark 14.42