From: Mark 14:1-15:47
The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark
The conspiracy against Jesus
The anointing of Bethany and the treachery of Judas
 Then Judas Iscariot, who was one of the twelve, went to the chief priests in
order to betray him to them.  And when they heard it they were glad, and
promised to give him money. And he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Preparations for the Last Supper. Judas’ treachery foretold
 And when it was evening he came with the twelve.  And as they were at
table eating, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me, one who
is eating with me.”  They began to be sorrowful, and to say to him one after
another, “Is it I?”  He said to them, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping
bread into the dish with me.  For the Son of man goes as it is written of him,
but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been
better for that man if he had not been born.”
The institution of the Eucharist
The disciples will desert Jesus
Jesus’ prayer and agony in the garden
The arrest of Jesus
 And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body;
and they seized him,  but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
Jesus before the chief priests
Jesus before Pilate
The crowning with thorns
The crucifixion and death of Jesus
 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land
until the ninth hour.  And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi,
Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsa-
ken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling
Elijah.”  And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put it on a reed and
gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take
him down.”  And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last.  And
the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.  And when the
centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, he said,
“Truly this man was the Son of God!”
 There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Mag-
dalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome,
 who, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered to him; and also
many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
The burial of Jesus
1. The Passover was the main national and religious festival. It lasted one week,
during which the eating of leavened bread was forbidden, which is why the period
was known as the Azymes, the feast of the Unleavened Bread. The celebration
opened with the passover meal on the night of the 14th to 15th of the month of
Nisan. The essential rite of the meal consisted in eating the paschal lamb sacri-
ficed in the temple the afternoon before. During the meal the youngest member
of the family asked what was the meaning of the ceremony; and the head of the
household explained to those present that it commemorated God’s liberation of
the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt, and specifically the passing of the
angel of Yahweh, doing no harm to the first-born of the Hebrews but destroying
the first-born of the Egyptians (cf. Ex 12).
2. The chief priests and the scribes sought every means to ensure the condem-
nation and death of the Lord prior to the Passover, for during the festival Jerusa-
lem would be thronged with pilgrims and they feared that Jesus’ popularity might
cause the complications referred to in the Gospel text. Cf. the note on Mt 26:3-5.
3-9. It was a custom at the time to honour distinguished guests by offering them
scented water. This woman treated the Lord with exquisite refinement by pour-
ing a flask of nard over his head: and we can see that he was very appreciative.
Three hundred denarii was approximately what a worker would earn in a year: so
her action was very generous. Breaking the flask to allow the last drop to flow,
so that no one else could use it, implies that Jesus merited everything.
It is important to notice the significance our Lord gave to this gesture: it was an
anticipation of the pious custom of embalming bodies prior to burial. This woman
would never have thought that her action would become famous throughout the
world, but Jesus knew the transcendence and universal dimension of even the
smallest episodes in the Gospel story. His prophecy has been fulfilled: “Certain-
ly we hear her story told in all the churches. . . . Wherever in the world you may
go, everyone respectfully listens to the story of her good service. . . . And yet
hers was not an extraordinary deed, nor was she a distinguished person, nor
was there a large audience, nor was the place one where she could easily be
seen. She made no entrance onto a theatre stage to perform her service but did
her good deed in a private house. Nevertheless . . . , today she is more illustri-
ous than any king or queen; no passage of years has buried in oblivion this ser-
vice she performed” (St John Chrysostom, “Adversus Iudaeos”, 5, 2).
This episode teaches us the refinement with which we should treat the holy hu-
manity of Jesus; it also shows that generosity in things to do with sacred wor-
ship is always praiseworthy, for it is a sign of our love for the Lord. Cf. the note
on Mt 26:8-11.
10-11. In contrast with the generous anointing by the woman, the Gospel now
reports Judas’ sad treachery. Her magnanimity highlights the covetousness of
Jesus’ false friend. “O folly, or rather ambition, of the traitor, for ambition spawns
every kind of evil and enslaves souls by every sort of device; it causes forgetful-
ness and mental derangement. Judas, enslaved by his mad ambition, forgot all
about the years he had spent alongside Jesus, forgot that he had eaten at his
table, that he had been his disciple; forgot all the counsel and persuasion Jesus
had offered him” (St John Chrysostom, “Hom. de prodit. Judae).
Judas’ sin is always something Christians should he mindful of: “Today many
people are horrified by Judas’ crime — that he could he so cruel and so sacrile-
gious as to sell his Master and his God; and yet they fail to realize that when
they for human reasons dismiss the rights of charity and truth, they are betra-
ying God, who is charity and truth” (St Bede, “Super qui audientes” ... ).
12-16. At first sight our Lord’s behaviour described here seems quite out of char-
acter. However, if we think about it, it is quite consistent: probably Jesus wanted
to avoid Judas knowing in advance the exact place where the Supper will be held,
to prevent him notifying the Sanhedrin. And so God’s plans for that memorable
night of Holy Thursday were fulfilled: Judas was unable to advise the Sanhedrin
where they could find Jesus until after the celebration of the passover meal (dur-
ing which Judas left the Cenacle): cf. Jn 13:30.
St Mark describes in more detail than the other evangelists the place where the
meal took place: he says it was a large, well-appointed room — a dignified place.
There is an ancient Christian tradition that the house of the Cenacle was owned
by Mary the mother of St Mark, to whom, it seems, the Garden of Olives also
17-21. Jesus shows that he knows in advance what is going to happen and is
acting freely and deliberately, identifying himself with the will of his Father. The
words of vv. 18 and 19 are a further call to Judas to repent; our Lord refrained
from denouncing him publicly, so making it easier for him to change his mind.
But he did not want to remain silent about the incipient treachery; they should
realize that the Master knew everything (cf. Jn 13:23ff).
22. The word “this” does not refer to the act of breaking the bread but to the
“thing” which Jesus gives his disciples, that is, something which looked like
bread and which was no longer bread but the body of Christ. “This is my body.
That is to say, what I am giving you now and what you are taking is my body.
For the bread is not only a symbol of the body of Christ; it becomes his very
body, as the Lord has said: the bread which I shall give for the life of the world
is my flesh. Therefore, the Lord conserves the appearances of bread and wine
but changes the bread and wine into the reality of his flesh and his blood” (Theo-
phylact, “Enarratio in Evangelium Marci”, in loc.). Therefore, any interpretation
in the direction of symbolism or metaphor does not fit the meaning of the text.
The same applies to the “This is my blood” (v. 24). On the realism of these ex-
pressions, see the first part of the note on Mt 26:26-29.
24. The words of consecration of the chalice clearly show that the Eucharist is
a sacrifice: the blood of Christ is poured out, sealing the new and definitive Cove-
nant of God with men. This Covenant remains sealed forever by the sacrifice of
Christ on the cross, in which Jesus is both Priest and Victim. The Church has
defined this truth in these words: “If anyone says that in the Mass a true and pro-
per sacrifice is not offered to God, or that to be offered is nothing else but that
Christ is given us to eat, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, “De S. Missae
sacrificio”, chap. 1, can. 1).
These words pronounced over the chalice must have been very revealing for the
apostles, because they show that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were in fact
a preparation for and anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice. The apostles were able to
grasp that the Covenant of Sinai and the various sacrifices of the temple were
merely an imperfect pre-figurement of the definitive sacrifice and definitive Cove-
nant, which would take place on the cross and which they were anticipating in
A clear explanation of the sacrificial character of the Eucharist can be found in
the inspired text in chapters 8 and 9 of the Letter to the Hebrews. Similarly, the
best preparation for understanding the real presence and the Eucharist as food
for the soul is a reading of chapter 6 of the Gospel of St John.
At the Last Supper, then, Christ already offered himself voluntarily to his Father
as a victim to be sacrificed. The Supper and the Mass constitute with the cross
one and the same unique and perfect sacrifice, for in all these cases the victim
offered is the same — Christ; and the priest is the same — Christ. The only differ-
ence is that the Supper, which takes place prior to the cross, anticipates the
Lord’s death in an unbloody way and offers a victim soon to be immolated; where-
as the Mass offers, also in an unbloody manner, the victim already immolated on
the cross, a victim who exists forever in heaven.
25. After instituting the Holy Eucharist, our Lord extends the Last Supper in inti-
mate conversation with his disciples, speaking to them once more about his im-
minent death (cf. Jn, chaps. 13-17). His farewell saddens the apostles, but he
promises that the day will come when he will meet with them again, when the
Kingdom of God will have come in all its fullness: he is referring to the beatific life
in heaven, so often compared to a banquet. Then there will be no need of earthly
food or drink; instead there will be a new wine (cf. Is 25:6). Definitively, after the
resurrection, the apostles and all the saints will be able to share the delight of
being with Jesus.
The fact that St Mark brings in these words after the institution of the Eucharist
indicates in some way that the Eucharist is an anticipation here on earth of pos-
session of God in eternal blessedness, where God will be everything to everyone
(cf. 1 Cor 15:28). “At the Last Supper,” Vatican II teaches, “on the night he was
betrayed, our Saviour instituted the eucharistic sacrifice of his body and blood.
This he did in order to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross throughout the ages
until he should come again, and so to entrust to his beloved Spouse, the Church,
a memorial of his death and resurrection: a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a
bond of charity, a paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind is
filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us” (”Sacrosanctum
26. “When they had sung a hymn”: it was a custom at the passover meal to re-
cite prayers, called “Hallel”, which included Psalms 113 to 118; the last part
was recited at the end of the meal.
30-31. Only St Mark gives us the exact detail of the two cockcrows (v. 30), and
Peter’s insistence that he would never betray Jesus (v. 31). This is another sign
of the connexion between St Mark’s Gospel and St Peter’s preaching; only Peter,
full of contrition and humility, would so deliberately tell the first Christians about
these episodes in which his presumption and failures contrasted with Jesus’ me-
rcy and understanding. The other evangelists, surely out of respect for the figure
of Peter, pass over these incidents more quickly.
This account shows us that our Lord takes into account the weaknesses of those
whom he calls to follow him and be his apostles. Peter is too self-confident; very
soon he will deny him. Jesus knows this well and, in spite of everything, chooses
him as head of the Church. “They [the disciples] remain just like that until they
are filled with the Holy Spirit and thus become pillars of the Church. They are or-
dinary men, complete with defects and shortcomings, more eager to say than to
do. Nevertheless, Jesus calls them to be fishers of men, co-redeemers, dispen-
sers of the grace of God. Something similar has happened to us. . . . But I also
realize that human logic cannot possibly explain the world of grace. God usually
seeks out deficient instruments so that the work can more clearly be seen to be
his” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ Is Passing By”, 2 and 3).
32-42. The very human way Jesus approaches his passion and death is notewor-
thy. He feels everything any man would feel in those circumstances. “He takes
with him only the three disciples who had seen his glorification on Mount Tabor,
that these who saw his power should also see his sorrow and learn from that sor-
row that he was truly man. And, because he assumed human nature in its entire-
ty, he assumed the properties of man — fear, strength, natural sorrow; for it is na-
tural that men approach death unwillingly” (Theophylact, “Enarratio in Evange-
lium Marci”, in loc.).
Jesus’ prayer in the garden shows us, as nothing else in the Gospel does, that
he prayed the prayer of petition — not only for others, but also for himself. For, in
the unity of his Person there were two natures, one human and one divine; and,
since his human will was not omnipotent, it was appropriate for Christ to ask the
Father to strengthen that will (cf. St Thomas Aquinas, “Summa theologiae”, III,
q. 21, a. 1).
Once more, Jesus prays with a deep sense of his divine sonship (cf. Mt 11:25;
Lk 23:46; Jn 17: 1). Only St Mark retains in the original language his filial excla-
mation to the Father: “Abba”, which is how children intimately addressed their
parents. Every Christian should have a similar filial trust, especially when pray-
ing. At this moment of climax, Jesus turns from his private dialogue with his
Father to ask his disciples to pray so as not to fall into temptation. It should be
noted that the evangelists, inspired by the Holy Spirit, give us both Jesus’ prayer
and his commandment to us to pray. This is not a passing anecdote, but an epi-
sode which is a model of how Christians should act: prayer is indispensable for
staying faithful to God. Anyone who does not pray should be under no illusions
about being able to cope with the temptations of the devil: “If our Lord had said
only “watch”, we might expect that our own power would be sufficient, but when
he adds “pray”, he shows that “if he keeps not” our souls in time of temptation,
in vain shall they watch who keep them (cf. Ps 127:1)” (St Francis de Sales,
“Treatise on the Love of God”, book 11, chap. 1).
34. “But when he had gone on a little way, he suddenly felt such a sharp and bit-
ter attack of sadness, grief, fear, and weariness that he immediately uttered, e-
ven in their presence, those anguished words which gave expression to his over-
burdened feelings: ‘My soul is sad unto death.’ For a huge mass of troubles took
possession of the tender and gentle body of our most holy Saviour. He knew that
his ordeal was now imminent and just about to overtake him: the treacherous be-
trayer, the bitter enemies, binding ropes, false accusations, slanders, blows,
thorns, nails, the cross, and horrible tortures stretched out over many hours. O-
ver and above these, he was tormented by the thought of his disciples’ terror, the
loss of the Jews, even the destruction of the very man who so disloyally betrayed
him, and finally the ineffable grief of his beloved Mother. The gathered storm of all
these evils rushed into his most gentle heart and flooded it like the ocean sweep-
ing through broken dikes” (St Thomas More, “De tristitia Christi”, in loc.).
35. “Therefore, since he foresaw that there would be many people of such a deli-
cate constitution that they would be convulsed with tenor at any danger of being
tortured, he chose to enhearten them by the example of his own sorrow, his own
sadness, his own weariness and unequalled fear, lest they should be so dishear-
tened as they compare their own fearful state of mind with the boldness of the
bravest martyrs that they would yield freely what they fear will be won from them
by force. To such a person as this, Christ wanted his own deed to speak out (as
it were) with his own living voice: ‘O faint of heart, take courage and do not des-
pair. You are afraid, you are sad, you are stricken with weariness and dread of
the torment with which you have been cruelly threatened. Trust me; I conquered
the world, and yet I suffered immeasurably more from fear; I was sadder, more af-
flicted with weariness, more horrified at the prospect of such cruel suffering dra-
wing eagerly nearer and nearer. Let the brave man have his high-spirited martyrs,
let him rejoice in imitating a thousand of them. But you, my timorous and feeble
little sheep, be content to have me alone as your shepherd; follow my leadership.
If you do not trust yourself, place your trust in me. See, I am walking ahead of
you along this fearful road. Take hold of the border of my garment and you will
feel going out from it a power which will stay your heart’s blood from issuing in
vain fears, and will make your mind more cheerful, especially when you remem-
ber that you are following closely in my footsteps (and I am to be trusted and will
not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can bear, but I will give together
with the temptation a way out that you may be able to endure it) and likewise
when you remember that this light and momentary burden of tribulation will pre-
pare for you a weight of glory which is beyond all measure. For the sufferings of
this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come which will be re-
vealed in you. As you reflect on such things, take heart, and use the sign of my
cross to drive away this dread, this sadness, and weariness like vain specters
of the darkness. Advance successfully and press through all obstacles, firmly
confident that I will champion your cause until you are victorious and then in turn
will reward you with the laurel crown of victory’” (ibid.).
36. “Jesus prays in the garden. “Pater mi” (Mt 26:39), “Abba Pater!” (Mk 14:36).
God is my Father, even though he may send me suffering. He loves me tenderly,
even while wounding me. Jesus suffers, to fulfil the Will of the Father. . . . And I,
who also wish to fulfil the most holy Will of God, following the footsteps of the
Master, can I complain if I too meet suffering as my traveling companion?
“It will be a sure sign of my sonship, because God is treating me as he treated
his own divine Son. Then I, just as he did, will be able to groan and weep alone
in my Gethsemane; but, as I lie prostrate on the ground, acknowledging my no-
thingness, there will rise up to the Lord a cry from the depths of my soul: ‘Pater
mi, Abba, Pater, . . . fiat!’” (St. J. Escriva, “The Way of the Cross”, I, 1).
41-42. “See now, when Christ comes back to his apostles for the third time,
there they are, buried in sleep, though he commanded them to bear up with him
and to stay awake and pray because of the impending danger; but Judas the trai-
tor at the same time was so wide awake and intent on betraying the Lord that the
very idea of sleep never entered his mind.
“Does not this contrast between the traitor and the apostles present to us a clear
and sharp minor image (as it were), a sad and terrible view of what has happened
through the ages from those times even to our own? [. . .] For very many are slee-
py and apathetic in sowing virtues among the people and maintaining the truth,
while the enemies of Christ in order to sow vices and uproot the faith (that is, in-
sofar as they can, to seize Christ and cruelly crucify him once again) are wide
awake — so much wiser (as Christ says) are the sons of darkness in their gene-
ration than the sons of light (cf Lk 16:8)” (St Thomas More, “De tristitia Christi”,
43-50. The Gospel reports the arrest of our Lord in a matter-of-fact sort of way.
Jesus, who was expecting it, offered no resistance, thereby fulfilling the prophe-
cies about him in the Old Testament, particularly this passage of the poem of the
Servant of Yahweh in the Book of Isaiah: “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth
. . . because he poured out his soul to death . . .” (Is 53:7 and 12). Dejected on-
ly moments earlier at the beginning of his prayer in Gethsemane Jesus now rises
up strengthened to face his passion. These mysteries of our Lord, true God and
true man, are truly impressive.
51-52. This detail about the young man in the linen cloth is found only in St Mark.
Most interpreters see in it a discreet allusion to Mark himself. It is probable that
the Garden of Olives belonged to Mark’s family, which would explain the pres-
ence there at night-time of the boy, who would have been awakened suddenly
by the noise of the crowd.
“One sees rich men — less often, it is true, than I would like — but still, thank
God, one sometimes sees exceedingly rich men who would rather lose every-
thing they have than keep anything at all by offending God through sin. These
men have many clothes, but they are not tightly confined by them, so that when
they need to run away from danger, they escape easily by throwing off their
clothes. On the other hand we see people — and far more of them than I would
wish — who happen to have only light garments and quite skimpy outfits and yet
have so welded their affections to those poor riches of theirs that you could soo-
ner strip skin from flesh than separate them from their goods. Such a person
had better get going while there is still time. For once someone gets hold of his
clothes, he will sooner die than leave his linen cloth behind. In summary, then,
we learn from the example of this young man that we should always be pre-
pared for troubles that arise suddenly, dangers that strike without warning and
might make it necessary for us to run away; to be prepared, we ought not be so
loaded with various garments, or so buttoned up in even one, that in an emergen-
cy we are unable to throw away our linen cloth and escape naked” (St Thomas
More, “De tristitia Christi”, in loc.).
53-65. This meeting of the Sanhedrin in the house of the high priest was quite ir-
regular. The normal thing was for it to meet during the daytime and in the temple.
Everything suggests that the rulers arranged this session secretly, probably to
avoid opposition from the people, which would have thwarted their plans. The di-
rect intervention of the high priest and the ill-treatment of the prisoner before sen-
tence were also illegal. The Jewish authorities had for some time past been of a
mind to do away with Jesus (cf., e.g., Mk 12:12; Jn 7:30; 11:45-50). Now all they
are trying to do is give their actions an appearance of legality — that is, looking
for concurring witnesses to accuse him of capital crimes. Because they do not
manage to do this, the chief priest goes right to the key issue: was Jesus the
Messiah, yes or no? Jesus’ affirmative answer is regarded as blasphemy. Ap-
pearances are saved; they can now condemn him to death and ask the Roman
procurator to ratify the sentence (cf. the note on Mt 27:2). Despite the irregulari-
ties and even though not all the members of the Sanhedrin were present, the sig-
nificance of this session lies in the fact that the Jewish authorities, the official re-
presentatives of the chosen people, reject Jesus as Messiah and condemn him
57-59. From the Gospel of St John (2:19) we know the words of Jesus which
gave rise to this accusation: “Destroy the temple, and in three days I will raise it
up.” Now they accuse him of having said three things: that he is going to destroy
the temple; that the temple of Jerusalem is the work of human hands, not some-
thing divine; and that in three days he will raise up another one, not made by
hands of men. As can be seen, this is not what our Lord said. First they change
his words: Jesus did not say he was going to destroy the temple; and, secondly,
they apply what he said to the temple of Jerusalem, not understanding that Je-
sus was speaking about his own body, as is made plain in St John (2:21-22). Af-
ter the Resurrection, the apostles understood the depth of Jesus’ words (Jn 2:22):
the temple of Jerusalem, where God’s presence was manifested in a special way
and where he was offered due worship, was but a sign, a prefiguring of the huma-
nity of Christ, in which the fullness of divinity, God, dwelt (cf. Col 2:9).
The same accusation is made at the martyrdom of St Stephen: “We have heard
him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the
customs which Moses delivered to us” (Acts 6:14). In fact, St Stephen knew that
the true temple was no longer that of Jerusalem but Jesus Christ; but once again
they misinterpreted his meaning and accused him as they had our Lord.
61. As at other points during his passion, Jesus kept completely silent. He ap-
peared defenseless before the false accusations of his enemies. “God our Sa-
viour,” St Jerome says, “who has redeemed the world out of mercy, lets himself
be led to death like a lamb, not saying a word; he does not complain, he makes
no effort to defend himself. Jesus’ silence obtains forgiveness for Adam’s protest
and excuse” (”Comm. on Mark”, in loc.). This silence is another motive and en-
couragement to us to be silent at times in the face of calumny or criticism. “In
quietness and in trust shall be your strength,” says the prophet Isaiah (30:15).
“’Jesus remained silent, “Jesus autem tacebat.”’ Why do you speak, to console
yourself, or to excuse yourself?
“Say nothing. Seek joy in contempt: you will always receive less than you de-
“Can you, by any chance, ask: ‘Quid enim malifeci’, what evil have I done?’” (St.
J. Escriva, “The Way”, 671).
61-64. The high priest was undoubtedly trying to corner Jesus: if he replied that
he was not the Christ, it would be equivalent to his contradicting everything he
had said and done; if he answered yes, it would be interpreted as blasphemy,
as we shall see later. Strictly speaking it was not blasphemy to call oneself the
Messiah, or to say one was the Son of God, taking that phrase in a broad sense.
Jesus’ reply not only bore witness to his being the Messiah; it also showed the
divine transcendence of his messianism, by applying to him the prophecy of the
Son of man in Daniel (7:13-14). By making this confession, Jesus’ reply opened
the way for the high priest to make his theatrical gesture: he took it as a mocke-
ry of God and as blasphemy that this handcuffed man could be the transcendent
figure of the Son of man. At this solemn moment Jesus defines himself by using
the strongest of all the biblical expressions his hearers could understand — that
which most clearly manifested his divinity. We might point out that had Jesus
said simply “I am God” they would have thought it simply absurd and would have
regarded him as mad: in which case he would not have borne solemn witness to
his divinity before the authorities of the Jewish people.
63. The rending of garments was a custom in Israel to express indignation and
protest against sacrilege and blasphemy. The rabbis had specified exactly how
it should be done. Only a kind of seam was torn, to prevent the fabric being dam-
aged. With this tragi-comic gesture Caiaphas brings the trial to an end, cleverly
sabotaging any later procedure that might favour the prisoner and show up the
64. Through Luke 23:51 and John 7:25-33 we know that not all the members of
the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus, for Joseph of Arimathea did not consent in this
act of deicide. It maybe supposed, therefore, that they were not present at this
meeting of the council, either because they had not been summoned or because
they absented themselves.
66-72. Although the accounts given by the three Synoptic Gospels are very alike,
St Mark’s narrative does have its own characteristics: the sacred text gives little
details which add a touch of colour. He says that Peter was “below” (v. 66),
which shows that the council session was held in an upstairs room; he also men-
tions the two cockcrows (v. 72), in a way consistent with our Lord’s prophecy de-
scribed in v. 30. On the theological and ascetical implications of this passage,
see the note on Mt 26:70-75.
1. At daybreak the Sanhedrin holds another meeting to work out how to get Pi-
late to ratify the death sentence. And then Christ is immediately brought before
Pilate. It is not known for certain where the governor was residing during these
days. It was either in Herod’s palace, built on the western hill of the city, south
of the Jaffa Gate, or the Antonia fortress, which was on the north-east of the tem-
ple esplanade. It is more than likely that, for the Passover, Pilate lived in the for-
tress. From there he could have a full view of the whole outside area of the tem-
ple, where unrest and riots were most likely to occur. In the centre of this impres-
sive building there was a perfectly paved courtyard of about 2,500 square meters
(approximately half an acre). This may well have been the yard where Pilate
judged our Lord and which St John (19:13) called The Pavement (”Lithostrotos”,
in Greek). Philo, Josephus and other historians depict Pilate as having the de-
fects of the worst type of Roman governor. The evangelists emphasize his co-
wardice and his sycophancy bordering on wickedness.
2. Jesus’ reply, as given in St Mark, can be interpreted in two ways. It may mean:
You say that l am king; I say nothing; or else: I am a king. The second interpreta-
tion is the more common and logical, since in other Gospel passages he affirms
his kingship quite categorically (cf. Mt 27:37 and par.; in 18:36-38). In St John’s
Gospel (18:33-38) Jesus tells Pilate that he is a King and explains the special
nature of his kingship: his Kingdom is not of this world; it transcends this world
(cf. the note on Jn 18:35-37).
3-5. On three occasions the evangelists specify that Jesus remained silent in
the face of these unjust accusations: before the Sanhedrin (14:61); here, before
Pilate; and later on, before Herod (Lk 23:9). From the Gospel of St John we know
that our Lord did say other things during this trial. St Mark says that he made no
further reply, since he is referring only to the accusations made against our Lord:
being false, they deserved no reply. Besides, any attempt at defense was futile,
since they had decided in advance that he should die. Nor did Pilate need any
further answer, since he was more concerned to please the Jewish authorities
than, correctly, to find Jesus innocent.
6-15. Instead of simply coming to the rescue of this innocent prisoner, as was
his duty and as his conscience advised him, Pilate wants to avoid a confronta-
tion with the Sanhedrin; so he tries to deal with the people and have them set Je-
sus free. Since it was customary to release a prisoner of the people’s choice to
celebrate the Passover, Pilate offers them the chance of selecting Jesus. The
priests, seeing through this maneuver, incite the crowd to ask for Barabbas. This
was not difficult to do, since many felt disillusioned about Jesus because he had
not set them free of the foreign yoke. Pilate could not oppose their choice; and
so it became even more difficult for him to give a just decision. All he can do now
is appeal to the people on behalf of ‘the King of the Jews”. The humble and help-
less appearance of Jesus exasperates the crowd: this is not the sort of king they
want, and they ask for his crucifixion.
In the course of the trial Pilate was threatened with being reported to the emperor
if he interfered in this affair (cf. Jn 19:12); he now accedes to their shouting and
signs the warrant for death by crucifixion, to protect his political career.
15. Scourging, like crucifixion, was a degrading form of punishment applied only
to slaves. The whip or flagellum used to punish serious crimes was strengthened
with small sharp pieces of metal at the end of the thongs, which had the effect of
tearing the flesh and even fracturing bones. Scourging often caused death. The
condemned person was tied to a post to prevent him collapsing. People con-
demned to crucifixion were scourged beforehand.
These sufferings of Jesus have a redemptive value. In other passages of the Gos-
pel our Lord made carrying the cross a condition of following him. Through self-
denial a Christian associates himself with Christ’s passion and plays a part in
the work of redemption (cf. Col 1:24).
“Bound to the pillar. Covered with wounds. The blows of the lash sound upon his
torn flesh, upon his undefiled flesh, which suffers for your sinful flesh. More blows.
More fury. Still more . . . It is the last extreme of human cruelty.
“Finally, exhausted, they untie Jesus. And the body of Christ yields to pain and
falls limp, broken and half dead.
“You and I cannot speak. Words are not needed. Look at him, look at him . . .
“After this . . . can you ever fear penance?” (St. J. Escriva, “Holy Rosary”, sec-
ond sorrowful mystery).
16-19. The soldiers make Jesus object of mockery; they accuse him pretending
to be a king, and crown him and dress him up as one.
The image of the suffering Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns, with a reed
in his hands and an old purple cloak around his shoulders, has become a vivid
symbol of human pain, under the title of the “Ecce homo”.
But, as St Jerome teaches, “his ignominy has blotted out ours, his bonds have
set us free, his crown of thorns has won for us the crown of the Kingdom,
wounds have cured us” (”Comm. in Marcum”, in loc.).
“You and I . . . , haven’t we crowned him anew with thorns and struck him and
spat on him?” (St. J. Escriva, “Holy Rosary”, third sorrowful mystery).
21. “Jesus is exhausted. His footsteps become more and more unsteady, and
the soldiers are in a hurry to he finished. So, when they are going out of the city
through the Judgment Gate, they take hold of a man who was coming in from a
farm, a man called Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus, and
they force him to carry the Cross of Jesus (cf. Mk 15:21).
“In the whole context of the Passion, this help does not add up to very much.
But for Jesus, a smile, a word, a gesture, a little bit of love is enough for him to
pour out his grace bountifully on the soul of his friend. Years later, Simon’s sons,
Christians by then, will be known and held in high esteem among their brothers
in the faith. And it all started with this unexpected meeting with the Cross.
“’I went to those who were not looking for me; I was found by those who sought
me not (Is 65:1)’”.
“At times the Cross appears without our looking for it: it is Christ who is seeking
us out. And if by chance, before this unexpected Cross which, perhaps, is there-
fore more difficult to understand, your heart were to show repugnance . . . don’t
give it consolations. And, filled with a noble compassion, when it asks for them,
say to it slowly, as one speaking in confidence: ‘Heart: Heart on the Cross!
Heart on the Cross!’” (St. J. Escriva, “The Way of the Cross”, V).
St Mark stops for a moment to say who this Simon was: he was the father of
Alexander and Rufus. It appears that Rufus, years later, moved with his mother
to Rome; St Paul sent them affectionate greetings in his Letter to the Romans
(16:13). It seems reasonable to imagine that Simon first felt victimized at being
forced to do such unpleasant work, but contact with the Holy Cross — the altar
on which the divine Victim was going to be sacrificed — and the sight of the suf-
fering and death of Jesus, must have touched his heart; and the Cyrenean, who
was at first indifferent, left Calvary a faithful disciple of Christ: Jesus had amply
rewarded him. How often it happens that divine providence, through some mis-
hap, places us face to face with suffering and brings about in us a deeper con-
When reading this passage, we might reflect that, although our Lord has rescued
us voluntarily, and although his merits are infinite, he does seek our cooperation.
Christ bears the burden of the cross, but we have to help him carry it by accep-
ting all the difficulties and contradictions with which divine providence presents
us. In this way we grow in holiness, at the same time atoning for our faults and
From the Gospel of St John (19:17) we know that Jesus bore the cross on his
shoulders. In Christ burdened by the cross St Jerome sees, among other mean-
ings, the fulfillment of the figure of Abel, the innocent victim, and particularly of
Isaac (cf. Gen 22:6), who carried the wood for his own sacrifice (cf. St Jerome,
“Comm. in Marcum”, in loc.). Later, weakened from the scourging, Jesus can go
no further on his own, which is why they compel this man from Cyrene to carry
“If anyone would follow me . . . Little friend, we are sad, living the Passion of our
Lord Jesus. See how lovingly he embraces the Cross. Learn from him. Jesus
carries the Cross for you: you . . . carry it for Jesus.
“But don’t drag the Cross . . . . Carry it squarely on your shoulder, because the
Cross, if you carry it like that, will not be just any Cross. . . . It will be the Holy
Cross. Don’t carry your Cross with resignation: resignation is not a generous
word. Love the Cross. When you really love it, your Cross will be . . . a Cross
without a Cross. And surely you will find Mary on the way, just as Jesus did”
(St. J. Escriva, “Holy Rosary”, fourth sorrowful mystery).
22. There is no doubt about where this place was: it was a small, bare hill, at
that time outside the city, right beside a busy main road.
23. Following the advice of Proverbs (31:6), the Jews used to offer dying crimi-
nals wine mixed with myrrh or incense to drug them and thus alleviate their
Jesus tastes it (according to Mt 27:34), but he does not drink it. He wishes to re-
main conscious to the last moment and to keep offering the chalice of the Pas-
sion, which he accepted at the Incarnation (Heb 10:9) and did not refuse in Geth-
semane. St Augustine (”On the Psalms”, 21:2 and 8) explains that our Lord wan-
ted to suffer to the very end in order to purchase our redemption at a high price
(cf. 1 Cor 6:20).
Faithful souls have also experienced this generosity of Christ in embracing pain:
“Let us drink to the last drop the chalice of pain in this poor present life. What
does it matter to suffer for ten years, twenty, fifty . . . if afterwards there is hea-
ven for ever, for ever. . . for ever?
“And, above all rather than because of the reward, ‘propter retributionem’ what
does suffering matter if we suffer to console, to please God our Lord, in a spirit
of reparation, united to him on his cross; in a word: if we suffer for Love? (St. J.
Escriva, “The Way”, 182).
24-28. Crucifixion, as well as being the most degrading of punishments, was also
the most painful. By condemning him to death, Jesus’ enemies try to achieve the
maximum contrast with his triumphant entry into Jerusalem some days previous-
ly. Usually, the bodies of people crucified were left on the gibbet for some days
as a warning to people. In the case of Christ they also sought death by crucifi-
xion as the most convincing proof that he was not the Messiah.
Crucifixion took various forms. The usual one, and perhaps the one applied to Je-
sus, consisted of first erecting the upright beam and then positioning the cross-
beam with the prisoner nailed to it by his hands; and finally nailing his feet to the
lower part of the upright.
According to St John’s Gospel (19:23-25) the seamless tunic — that is, woven in
a piece — was wagered for separately from the rest of his clothes, which were di-
vided into four lots, one for each soldier. The words of this verse reproduce those
of Psalm 22:18. Any Jew versed in the Scriptures reading this passage would
immediately see in it the fulfillment of a prophecy. St John expressly notes it (cf.
19:24). St Mark, without losing the thread of his account of the Passion, implicit-
ly argues that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, for in him this prophecy is
Looking at Jesus on the cross, it is appropriate to recall that God “decreed that
man should be saved through the wood of the Cross. The tree of man’s defeat be-
came his tree of victory; where life was lost, there life has been restored” (”Ro-
man Missal”, Preface of the Holy Cross).
25. “The third hour”: between nine o’clock and noon. St Mark is the only evange-
list who specifies the time at which our Lord was nailed to the cross. For the re-
lationship between our clock and the Jewish system in that period, see the note
on Mt 20:3.
26. This inscription was usually put in a prominent place so that everyone could
see what the prisoner was guilty of. Pilate ordered them to write “Jesus the Naz-
arene, King of the Jews,” in Latin, Greek and Hebrew; St Mark summarizes the
Motivated by malice, these Jews accuse Jesus of a political crime, when all his
life and preaching left it quite clear that his mission was not political but super-
natural. On the meaning of the inscription over the cross and the circumstances
surrounding it, see John 19:19-22 and note.
27. Jesus is thus put to further shame; his disciples will also experience the hu-
miliation of being treated like common criminals.
But in the case of Jesus this was providential, for it fulfilled the Scripture which
prophesies that he would be counted among the evildoers. The Vulgate, follo-
wing some Greek codices, adds: “And the scripture was fulfilled which says,
‘He was reckoned with the transgressors’” (v. 28; cf. Lk 22:37). “Positioned be-
tween the evildoers,” St Jerome teaches, “the Truth places one on his left and
one on his right, as will be the case on the day of judgment. So we see how dis-
tinct the end of similar sinners can be. One precedes Peter into Paradise, the
other enters hell before Judas: a brief confession brings eternal life, a momenta-
ry blasphemy is punished with eternal death” (”Comm. in Marcum”, in loc.).
The Christian people have from early on given various names to these thieves.
The most common in the West is Dismas for the good thief and Gestas for the
29-32. Christ’s suffering did not finish with the crucifixion: there now follows a
form of mockery worse (if possible) than the crowning with thorns. He is mocked
by passers-by, by the priests chanting insults with the scribes, and even by the
two crucified thieves (cf., however, the clarification in Lk 23:39-43). They com-
bine to reproach him for his weakness, as if his miracles had been deceptions,
and incite him to manifest his power.
The fact that they ask him to work a miracle does not indicate that they have any
desire to believe in him. For faith is a gift from God which only those receive who
have a simple heart. “You ask for very little,” St Jerome upbraids the Jews, “when
the greatest event in history is taking place before your very eyes. Your blindness
cannot be cured even by much greater miracles than those you call for” (”Comm.
on Mark”, in loc.).
Precisely because he was the Messiah and the Son of God he did not get down
from the cross; in great pain, he completed the work his Father had entrusted to
him. Christ teaches us that suffering is our best and richest treasure. Our Lord
did not win victory from a throne or with a sceptre in his hand, but by opening his
arms on the cross. A Christian, who, like any other person, will experience pain
and sorrow during his life, should not flee it or rebel against it, but offer it to God,
as his Master did.
33. The evangelist reports this as a miraculous phenomenon signaling the magni-
tude of the crime of deicide which was taking place. The phrase “over the whole
land” means over all the immediate horizon, without specifying its limits. The nor-
mal interpretation of the meaning of this event is dual and complementary; Origen
(In “Matth. comm.”, 143) sees it as an expression of the spiritual darkness which
overtook the Jewish people as a punishment for having rejected — crucified — him
who is the true light (cf. Jn 1:4-9). St Jerome (”Comm. on Matthew”, in loc.) ex-
plains the darkness as expressing, rather, the mourning of the universe at the
death of its Creator, nature’s protest against the unjust killing of its Lord (cf.
These words, spoken in Aramaic, are the start of Psalm 22, the prayer of the
just man who, hunted and cornered, feels utterly alone, like “a worm, and no
man; scorned by men and despised by the people” (v. 7). From this abyss of mi-
sery and total abandonment, the just man has recourse to Yahweh: “My God,
my God, why art thou so far from helping me. . . . Since my mother bore me thou
has been my God. . . . But thou, O Lord, be not far off! O thou my help, hasten to
my aid!” (vv. 2, 10 and 19). Thus, far from expressing a moment of despair, these
words of Christ reveal his complete trust in his heavenly Father, the only one on
whom he can rely in the midst of suffering, to whom he can complain like a Son
and in whom he abandons himself without reserve: “Father, into thy hands I com-
mit my spirit” (Lk 23:46; Ps 31:5).
One of the most painful situations a person can experience is to feel alone in
the face of misunderstanding and persecution on all sides, to feel completely in-
secure and afraid. God permits these tests to happen so that, experiencing our
own smallness and world-weariness, we place all our trust in him who draws
good from evil for those who love him (cf. Rom 8:28).
“So much do I love Christ on the Cross that every crucifix is like a loving reproach
from my God: ‘. . . I suffering, and you . . . a coward. I loving you, and you forget-
ting me. I begging you, and you . . . denying me. I, here, with arms wide open as
an Eternal Priest, suffering all that can be suffered for love of you . . . and you
complain at the slightest misunderstanding, over the tiniest humiliation . . .’” (St.
J. Escriva, “The Way of the Cross”, XI, 2).
35-36. The soldiers near the cross, on hearing our Lord speak, may have thought,
wrongly, that he was calling on Elijah for help. However, it seems it is the Jews
themselves who, twisting our Lord’s words, find another excuse for jeering at him.
There was a belief that Elijah would come to herald the Messiah, which is why
they used these words to continue to ridicule Christ on the cross.
37. The evangelist recalls it very succinctly: “Jesus uttered a loud cry, and
breathed his last.’ It is as if he did not dare make any comment, leaving it to the
reader to pause and meditate. Although the death of Christ is a tremendous mys-
tery, we must insist: Jesus Christ died; it was a real, not an apparent, death; nor
should we forget that our sin was what caused our Lord’s death. “The abyss of
malice, which sin opens wide, has been bridged by his infinite charity. God does
not abandon men. His plans foresee that the sacrifices of the Old Law were insuf-
ficient to repair our faults and re-establish the unity which has been lost: a man
who was God must offer himself up. To help us grasp in some measure this un-
fathomable mystery, we might imagine the Blessed Trinity taking counsel toge-
ther in its uninterrupted intimate relationship of infinite love. As a result of its eter-
nal decision, the only-begotten Son of God the Father takes on our human condi-
tion and bears the burden of our wretchedness and sorrows, to end up sewn with
nails to a piece of wood. Let us meditate on our Lord, wounded from head to
foot out of love for us” (St. J. Escriva, “Christ is Passing By”, 95).
“. . . Now it is all over. The work of our Redemption has been accomplished. We
are now children of God, because Jesus has died for us and his death has ran-
“Empti enim estis pretio magno! (1 Cor 6:20), you and I have been bought at a
“We must bring into our lives, to make them our own, the life and death of Christ.
We must die through mortification and penance, so that Christ may live in us
through Love. And then follow in the footsteps of Christ, with a zeal to co-redeem
“We must give our lives for others. That is the only way to live the life of Jesus
Christ and to become one and the same thing with him” (St. J. Escriva, “The
Way of the Cross, XIV).
38. The strictly sacred precinct of the temple of Jerusalem had two parts: the
first, called “the Holy Place,” where only priests could enter for specific liturgical
functions; the second, called “the Holy of Holies” (”Sancta Sanctorum”). This
was the most sacred room where once the Ark of the Covenant stood, containing
the tablets of the Law. Above the Ark was the “propitiatory” with figures of two
cherubim. Only once a year did the high priest have access to the Holy of Holies,
on the great Day of Atonement, to perform the rite of purification of the people.
The curtain of the temple was the great curtain which separated the Holy of Ho-
lies from the Holy Place (cf. 1 Kings 6:15f).
The prodigy of the tearing of the curtain of the temple — apparently of no great im-
portance — is full of theological meaning. It signifies dramatically that with Christ’s
death the worship of the Old Covenant has been brought to an end; the temple of
Jerusalem has no longer any raison d’être. The worship pleasing to God — in spi-
rit and truth (cf. in 4:23) — is rendered him through the humanity of Christ, who is
both Priest and Victim.
39. Regarding this passage St Bede says that this miracle of the conversion of
the Roman officer is due to the fact that, on seeing the Lord die in this way, he
could not but recognize his divinity; for no one has the power to surrender his
spirit but he who is the Creator of souls (cf. St Bede, “In Marci Evangelium ex-
positio”, in loc.). Christ, indeed, being God, had the power to surrender his spi-
rit; whereas in the case of other people their spirit is taken from them at the mo-
ment of death. But the Christian has to imitate Christ, also at this supreme mo-
ment: that is, we should accept death peacefully and joyfully. Death is the point
planned by God for us to leave our spirit in his hands; the difference is that Christ
yielded up his spirit when he chose (cf. Jn 10-18), whereas we do so when God
“Don’t be afraid of death. Accept it from now on, generously . . . when God wills
it, where God wills it, as God wills it. Don’t doubt what I say: it will come in the
moment, in the place and in the way that are best: sent by your Father-God.
Welcome be our sister death!” (St. J. Escriva, “The Way”, 739).
43-46. Unlike the apostles, who fled, Joseph of Arimathea, who had not consen-
ted to the decision of the Sanhedrin (cf. Lk 23:51), had the bold and refined piety
of personally taking charge of everything to do with the burial of Jesus. Christ’s
death had not shaken his faith. It is worth noting that he does this immediately
after the debacle of Calvary and before the triumph of the glorious resurrection of
the Lord. His action will be rewarded by his name being written in the Book of
Life and recorded in the Holy Gospel and in the memory of all generations of
Christians. Joseph of Arimathea put himself at the service of Jesus, without ex-
pecting any human recompense and even at personal risk: he ventured his so-
cial position, his own as yet unused tomb, and everything else that was needed.
He will always be a vivid example for every Christian of how one ought to risk
money, position and honour in the service of God.
Source: “The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries”. Biblical text from the
Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of
the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and
by Scepter Publishers in the United States.
|Gospel||Mark 11:1-10 ©|
|Blessings on him who comes in the name of the Lord.|
|First reading||Isaiah 50:4-7 ©|
|Psalm||Psalm 21:8-9,17-20,23-24 ©|
|Second reading||Philippians 2:6-11 ©|
|Gospel||Mark 14:1-15:47 ©|
|Gospel||Mark 15:1-39 ©|