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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: St Mark’s Passion gives a ‘warts and all’ view of humankind

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Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

‘Warts and all.’ It means an unsanitised picture or narrative of someone, free of enhancements, complete with flaws. It means being shown the unadulterated truth, the bad along with the good. Some ascribe the saying to Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector (or military dictator) in the 1650s, when England was briefly a republic. Though it was to be a quasi-royal portrait, he told the painter to make a true likeness, unflattering, revealing all his “roughness, pimples [and] warts”.

Mark’s Passion (Mk chs 14-15) is a ‘warts and all’ picture of humanity. He held nothing back in his account of Jesus’ last days, as every weakness and vice of the human heart was uncovered. So, our narrative begins with the violent and deceitful intentions of the authorities as they plot Jesus’ downfall. Next, we glimpse the judgmentalism of the bystanders toward a woman anointing Jesus with nard: apparently she should have given the value to Project Compassion or perhaps to them!

Then, at the Last Supper, greed and treachery consume Judas. Even faithful Peter proves overconfident and ultimately cowardly. Jesus rightly predicts his denials and the others’ desertion. Exhausted, drunk or despairing, they sleep when they should be watching in the garden. A feigned kiss seals Jesus’ fate. A melee follows, a man loses his ear, another his clothes, a third His freedom. It’s a night of humanity at its worst!

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Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

But there’s more to come. The religious authorities conduct a kangaroo court replete with confected allegations and perjuries. There’s melodramatic disgust at imagined blasphemy, violence against the accused, perversion of justice. The secular authorities are no better. Pressure from a maddened crowd, coupled with Pilate’s utter lack of conviction, means a murderer is freed and the most innocent of men condemned. Soldiers demonstrate a brutality that lurks in the darkest recesses of the human heart. The fickleness of the crowd, the jeering of the self-righteous, the abuse even of his fellows on the gibbet. It’s a shameful day for humanity.

Mark’s Passion pulls no punches. No one is let off the hook. Whatever your personal weaknesses, they are there in the Passion story. Yet amidst the warts there is beauty still. Evil is only ever parasitic on good, and the contrast with imperfections brings goodness to the fore. A woman of Bethany anoints Jesus, demonstrating love and conviction, a willingness to be close to her Redeemer, no matter what others say. Simon of Cyrene shares in the Lord’s suffering, literally bearing His cross, as all disciples must if we are to share in His glory. Joseph of Arimathea, at odds with the rest of the Council, asks for the body of Jesus that he might bury it reverently. Mary of Magdala and the other women stand close-by. All these demonstrate that human beings can resist the pressures of the crowd, of the culture, of the powerful. We can conquer our own fears and frailty, and choose the path of courage and strength. We are free to repent of sins and vices, and pursue grace and virtue. Love can conquer all: though dark descends and the veil of the Temple is rent asunder, still a centurion can profess Jesus as Son of God.

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2023

Dear friends, we began our celebration today on a high note by joining the children of Jerusalem, singing Hosanna to the King, the new David, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest (Mk 11:1-10). But by chanting Mark’s Passion and sacrificing Christ’s body and blood, we also face up to the warts and all of human hearts and behaviour. Then soon we will sing yet again Holy, Holy, Holy Lord…Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. We will celebrate the Communion that heals our blemishes and restores our original beauty. For though His state was divine, Jesus assumed the condition of a man, a slave, a criminal, a corpse. He accepted death, even on the cross, that God might raise Him on high (Phil 2:6-11)—and raise us all with Him.

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