Passion/Palm C

Last revised: April 30, 2019
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RCL: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Phil 2:5-11; Luke 22:14-23:56
RoCa: Isaiah 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23:56

Philippians 2:5-11


1. Willard Swartley, “Discipleship and Imitation of Jesus/Suffering Servant: The Mimesis of New Creation,” in Violence Renounced, pp. 225-226. After quoting this text, he comments:

Even though this text does not use either of the key terms, imitation or type, it clearly portrays the believers patterning their conduct after the suffering and obedience of Christ Jesus. Hence this important text takes its place in this list. Further, this text is joined to imitation in Philippians 3:17 (see p. 225) by the similar exhortation, “be of the same mind” (touto phroneite in 2:5 and touto phronomen in 3:15).The context of this foundational confession on Jesus’ self-emptying and humbling to the cross is Paul’s admonition in vv. 3-4 to put away conduct that proceeds from mimetic rivalry: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Then follows: “let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”

2. René Girard, Violence Renounced; link to an excerpt on the importance of Imitatio Christi.

3. Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, pp. 103, 139, 154, 210.

4. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, Sacred Violence, pp. 172, 176, and the longer section, “The Church as a Structure of Agape Based on the Imitation of Christ Crucified,” pp. 174-182.

5. Clint Schnekloth has a beautiful blog on loving Jesus that flows from this passage and into the spirit of this Holy Week, “Jesus.”

Reflections and Questions

1. To me, this is the quintessential biblical text expressing “good mimesis.” We are to have the mind of Christ, who even though he is equal to God, does not get caught up in rivalistic mimesis. Rather, he takes the role of the servant. This also ties in with John’s account of the Last Supper, the gospel text for Maundy Thursday: Jesus teaches his disciples servanthood, urging them to take him as a model.

Luke 22:14-23:56


1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from April 1, 2007, “King of Creation,” on the Processional Gospel, Luke 19:28-48 (Society of St. John at St. Mark’s Chapel, Palo Alto).

2. For an anthropology sometimes known as an “anthropology of the cross,” the resources abound as to unpacking the meaning of the Passion. What strikes me the most on Palm/Passion Sunday these days (i.e., since receiving my Girardian pair of glasses) is the role of the crowd in moving from the praise of Palm Sunday to the murderous shouts of Good Friday. “The Question of Anti-Semitism in the Gospels,” (Girard Reader, p. 211-221) is an article of René Girard‘s which focuses nicely on the role of the crowd in the gospels. He compares Herod, for example, in the beheading of John the Baptist, to Pilate, and says: “the two sovereigns yield to mimetic pressure; they become part of the crowd. The purpose is to show that a crowd in a lynching mood is the supreme power. For the Gospels, political power has been rooted in the crowd since the foundation of the world.” (See more on the crowd in the first “reflection” below.)

3. Other good Holy Week resources from René Girard include: “The Passion (excerpt),” Things Hidden, pp. 167ff.; The Scapegoat, chapters nine, “The Key Words of the Gospel Passion,” ten, “That Only One Man Should Die,” and twelve, “Peter’s Denial.” Finally, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, ch. 12, “Scapegoat” (excerpt), which begins with the observation, “The passion accounts shed a light on mimetic contagion that deprives the victim mechanism of what it needs to be truly unanimous and to generate the systems of myth and ritual: the participants’ unawareness of what is driving them.” And ends with the comment, “All discourses on exclusion, discrimination, racism, etc. will remain superficial as long as they don’t address the religious foundations of the problems that besiege our society.” The concept of “Scapegoat” forms the bridge.

4. Also, see Girardians Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled, chapter 12, “‘It Is Accomplished (excerpt)'”; Robert Hamerton-Kelly, The Gospel and the Sacred, pp. 40-59; Raymund Schwager, Jesus in the Drama of Salvation, “Third Act: The Bringer of Salvation Brought to Judgment” and “Redemption as Judgment and Sacrifice.”

5. Gil Bailie, “The Gospel of Luke” audio series, tape 11 in its entirety and the beginning of tape 12. These lectures are also now available online in clips; this portion is covered by “The Poetry of Truth,” Part 147, Part 148, Part 149, Part 150, Part 151Part 152, Part 153, Part 154, Part 155, Part 156, Part 157, Part 158, Part 159, Part 160, Part 161, Part 162, Part 163, Part 164, Part 165, Part 166, Part 167, Part 168, Part 169, Part 170, Part 171, Part 172, Part 173, Part 174, Part 175, Part 176, Part 177, Part 178, Part 179.

6. The most unusual and unique passage in Luke’s Passion account, one without parallel, is 23:27-31:

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Difficult as this saying of Jesus is, N.T. Wright‘s thesis makes eminent sense of it (cf., Jesus and the Victory of God, pp. 567-570; Luke for Everyone, pp. 281-284). Wright postulates that Jesus came as an apocalyptic prophet to his people, warning them against the way of armed rebellion. He is even more than that; he is the suffering Messiah who has come to take on to himself the fate of his people if they persist in armed rebellion. He lets himself be convicted as an insurrectionist, crucified between two others. Yet he is but like green wood, not a true rebel. In thirty years the revolutionaries will multiple and become dry tinder for the violent conflagration of the Roman-Jewish War. The women mourning Jesus’ death will then be mourning their own sons. (For more on Wright’s thesis, see Part III of “My Core Convictions.”)

7. Brian McLaren, We Make the Road By Walking, ch. 32, “Peace March.” In this book that basically offers an alternative lectionary — 52 chapters that takes the reader through a year of close encounter with the Christian message — this is the chapter on Palm/Passion Sunday. I share two crucial paragraphs:

Suddenly we feel the full drama of this moment. We recall another parade that frequently occurs on the other side of Jerusalem, whenever Herod rides into the city in full procession from his headquarters in Caesarea Philippi. He enters, not on a young donkey, but on a mighty warhorse. He comes in the name of Caesar, not in the name of the Lord. He isn’t surrounded by a ragtag crowd holding palm branches and waving their coats. He’s surrounded by chariots, accompanied by uniformed soldiers with their swords and spears and bows held high. His military procession is a show of force intended to inspire fear and compliance, not hope and joy.

And so the meaning of this day begins to become clear to us. Caesar’s kingdom, the empire of Rome, rules by fear with threats of violence, demanding submission. God’s kingdom, the kingdom of heaven, rules by faith with a promise of peace, inspiring joy. Jesus’ tears are telling us something: he knows that our leaders aren’t going to listen to him. They’re going to respond to Caesar’s violence with violence of their own, and that’s why Jesus just made that dire prediction. (p. 150)

7. Andrew Marr, Abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey (Three Rivers, MI) is a long-time reader and writer on Mimetic Theory and in his blog, “Imaginary Visions of True Peace,” made these reflections on the day in 2013, “Crying Out with Palm Branches in Our Hands.”

8. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby in 2013, “In the End Herod and Pilate Join the Mob“; in 2019, “The Stones Shout Out!”

Reflections and Questions

1. Something else that has brought home the role of the crowd to me is that in our congregation we use a Palm/Passion Sunday liturgy by Walter Wangerin, Jr. (from Ragman), called “The Cry of the Whole Congregation,” which movingly gets the congregation to participate as the crowd. How did the “Hosanna!”‘s of Sunday turn to the “Crucify Him!”‘s of Friday? Were they that mistaken about Jesus? Or does the whole story say more about the crowd than it does about Jesus? If the latter, then it calls for an anthropological interpretation. It is the crowd’s need for a scapegoat that sets events in motion. Typically, one finds explanations that opt for the former, focusing on Jesus and people’s mistaken views about Jesus. One often hears the line of argument, for instance, that Zealots were hoping for a Messiah to lead them into victorious battle over their enemies and simply mistook Jesus to be that kind of Messiah, turning on him by Good Friday. In the past, I’ve indulged in those kinds of musings myself. But now they seem beside the point to me. Whether one was a Zealot, or Pharisee, or simple peasant, or Roman soldier, or Sanhedrin official, whether Herod or Pilate, they all came together out of their need to find some measure of peace through a scapegoat. It is the unity of an otherwise diverse crowd that is most telling. It is in the crowd that we locate the universal scope of the cross. Link to a sermon on these themes entitled “Brief Reflections on the Passion.”

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