A Palm/Passion Sunday Homily

Mark 11:1-10; Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Mark 14:1-15:47

What a waste.
An entire alabaster jar of expensive perfumed oil
broken and poured upon the head
of an obscure rabbi
from one of the more distant and impoverished districts.
It could have been sold
and the money spent for some practical purpose.
What a waste.
In a few days he would be dead anyway.

What a waste.
Jesus arrived in Jerusalem to the joyous cries of the crowds,
ready to accept him as their king, as David’s heir.
Now could have been the moment
when he leveraged his political capital
and brought change that we could believe in.
What a waste.
He squandered that political capital
by claiming to be more than a king,
by claiming to be the Christ, the son of the Blessed One,
by claiming that God is his Abba, his father.
And now he is publicly tormented in a shameful death.

What a waste.
“Though he was in the form of God,”
the eternal Son, fully sharing in divinity,
“Jesus did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,”
pouring himself out like the perfumed oil
from the woman’s alabaster jar,
“taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness,
humbling himself. . .
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.”
What a foolish, senseless waste.

But the foolishness of God is wiser than worldly wisdom.
“The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

Because he willingly poured out his life
for love of God
and for love of each and every one of us,
“God greatly exalted him,”
raising him up and revealing him
to be the Lord of creation;
raising him up so that the lives of all those
who have poured themselves out
in the cause of love,
like precious ointment from an alabaster jar,
might rise also with him,
their lives not wasted
but truly found, saved even unto eternity.



  1. I do not criticize homilies I hear in the liturgy because “the foolishness of God is wiser than worldly wisdom” and God can use the poorest efforts of the ordained to touch people’s hearts.

    But this text is not yet a homily. It has not yet been proclaimed in a liturgical assembly. And it leaves me unmoved in its present form. It appears to be little more than a juxtaposition of several quotations from the texts to be proclaimed in the liturgy of the word. It’s too clinical and antiseptic. Some grit needs to be added to the mix.

    I’d rather hear one example of a person who has “poured him/herself out in the cause of love” in imitation of Jesus Christ and how that relates to my life as a follower of Christ. That would show that the passion narrative still has meaning for believers today.

    Perhaps Passion/Palm Sunday is not a good day for a homily, certainly not one of any length. Perhaps it would be a good day to sing the hymn of the day as a “gospel hymn” right after the passion. Perhaps Fr. Joncas’ recent creation would be the way to go. I would rather experience that than to hear a homily of which my principal remembrance would be, “What a waste.”

    1. In the local parish with the best Holy Week liturgies, the pastor, who is a scripture scholar, simply sits in the front pew with the rest of the congregation for several minutes of silence after the readings of the Passion.

      We all know he knows his scripture and can apply it to contemporary problems; but sometimes silence speaks more eloquently.

      This silence fits very well between the Solemn Reading of the Passion and the Solemn Prayers of the Faithful on Good Friday. Palm Sunday in this parish is structured so that it looks forward very much to the Good Friday Service,

      All the services in this parish during Holy Week are very simple but very noble, and vary little from year to year. A really successful modern example of the noble simplicity of the Roman Rite at its best.

  2. Deacon Fritz – first impression is that I like it for a number of reasons:
    – the passion is long
    – attention can easily waver
    – the story is known (in a way) and folks can go on auto-pilot; thus, missing things
    – this takes the passion and grabs attention through the use of a phrase – “what a waste” and then expands by using the Kenosis Hymn (okay, one of my favorite so I have a bias)
    – it provides a context and meaning to the passion via the words of Paul and an early hymn of the church
    – unlike Fr. Krisman, the use of the repeated phrase grabs my attention; keeps me focused; and provides a way to interpret and challenge my hearing of the passion
    – again, have a bias and like these types of “homilies” that make you work to understand; that don’t just spell out everything but get you to ask yourself questions, etc.
    – actually like that you walk away remembering, “what a waste”

    FYI – my favorite homily during college was at the Easter Vigil (same type of homily challenge as Passion Sunday). The homilist got up – paused for a couple of minutes and then proclaimed – “The joke is on Death!” He paused again and repeated – “The joke is on Death!” and he then sat down.


  3. I thought it terribly moving, perceptive, inspiring, pungent, and appropriate. It’s a pity that it was wasted on Fr Krisman.

    This, by the way, is one of the texts I like to quote when people are miserly in the treasure they ‘waste’ on the liturgy, in which the Lord of lords becomes very present.

  4. MJO, if the only reason for Deacon Fritz to post a proposed homily or Fr. Joncas to post a new hymn text is to receive our words of adulation, what’s the point?

    I simply stated that I was unmoved by Fritz’s text as it stands. Personally, when I prepare a homily I attempt to find some concrete anecdote or story that will engage the specific assembly to which I am preaching. I also implied that, were I to hear the text preached tomorrow at Fritz’s parish in the archdiocese of Baltimore in a liturgical context, I could and probably would have a different reaction, but I certainly would not write a critical review of the homily.

    From what I have seen of his contributions here at PTB, I am sure that Deacon Fritz does not need your help in fighting his battles. His efforts were not wasted on me, nor is that what I said in my previous post.

    1. My own experience is that stories in homilies work best when used sparingly. I usually preach about once a month and I would estimate that maybe one homily in four has an anecdote of some sort. So that’s. . . (does math). . . about three stories a year.

  5. Homilies have many contexts other than liturgy, as is evidenced in the vast body of spiritual literature to which we are heirs. We are blessed that this purely scriptural, concise but potent homily was shared with us in this manner. Compliments may have been in order had I heard Augustine give a homily. In the same spirit, those who think they are in order offer them here, just as those who think it needs to be shored up with ‘relevant’ anecdotes let that be known. There is no adulation.

  6. I am delighted to read this. The parallels between the anointing stories and Phillippians have been on my mind for a few years. Maybe it was inspired by Cantalamessa’s wonderful comparison of the broken alabaster and the body of Christ on the cross.

    Years ago I read Levi-Strauss’ The Raw and the Cooked with its rollicking journey through mythology, showing the structures constantly transforming and I wonder about the relation of these two. Phillippians is so early, is the other as early?

    At very least, I am grateful for remembering this story. It is supposed to be told wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, but this is the only time that prophecy is heard in the current lectionaries.

  7. A bit off the topic, but many of the homilists I hear are tall on biblical exegesis and short on application to “real life.” Weeks go by with hardly a mention of current events in the country or community, or the concrete lives of people gathered for worship. Homilies I hear in cathedrals are virtually guaranteed to leave the average churchgoer saying, “OK, so what?”

    1. Or “what w waste”?

      Isn’t this a problem we are constantly discussing? “My kids think Church is a waste of time” “Homilies are uninspired” etc.

      That us probably all true, just as it is true that the nard could have been monetized and given to the faceless poor. The whole point of these stories is that there sometimes are things that are worth differently. Maybe not more, but just on a different scale and the questions “so what?” or “what a waste” miss the point.

      The answer is not “this applies to your life because…” but “see the sun shining through the blue and purple glass.” Jesus loved Lazarus, Martha and their sister Mary. God so loved the world he gave his only son. The homily should reveal that message, and almost has to if the priest is honest.

      Love is a hard thing to convey. I think Fritz has done a good job of expressing it in this homily. “What a waste.” We all know that feeling. How do we learn to look past our own evaluations and assessments and see what drives the priest. How do we let his heart touch our own if we can only bemoan his insensitivity?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *