בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.

Bārūch atāh Adonai Elohênū melekh ha`ôlām šeheḥeyānû veqîmānû vehigî`ānû lazman hazeh

Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, king of the universe, who hast given us life and sustained us and brought us to this season

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Prelude to the Passion 1: The Road to Jerusalem

Christian tradition produced customs and observances that helped believers prepare for the Passion in a similar way. One of the better known of these observances is Lent, a liturgical period common throughout much of traditional Christendom that is a time of fasting and spiritual preparation based on Jesus’s own forty-day preparation in the wilderness. While Latter-day Saints do not, as a rule, observe Lent, there are scriptural passages in the New Testament Gospels that they can read, alone with their families, in preparation for a more intensive study during Holy Week, the days leading up to and including Gethsemane, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. The first of these is a series of episodes that took place on Jesus' road to Jerusalem

A dirt trail in the Wadi Hamam, or "Valley of the Doves," follows a path often taken by Jesus
On this journey to Jerusalem, Jesus gave some powerful teachings that help us better understand his atoning sacrifice. The earliest account of these teachings can be found in Mark, which most scholars feel was the first Gospel to have been written. Mark can be seen as a three-act drama with the first, longer act consisting of Jesus’s authoritative ministry in Galilee (1:14‒8:21); the second, a shorter act covering his journey to Jerusalem (8:22‒10:52); and the third, culminating act portraying his momentous final week in Jerusalem (11:1‒16:8).[1] These divisions are geographic and thematic, not chronological—ignoring any previous visits by Jesus to Jerusalem, Mark’s structure makes Jerusalem the culmination and focus of Jesus’s entire mortal ministry. 

While the third act provides the basic framework for our discussion of Holy Week, the relatively short second act prepares us for what Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem even as Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for what was coming. It begins with the story of Jesus’s healing of a blind man in stages, in which the healed man can represent the disciples’ imperfect understanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do. After Peter’s powerful but incomplete confession, the rest of the act is built around three important “passion predictions,” where Jesus prophesies of his coming betrayal, suffering, and death before concluding with another healing story, this time of a man whose sight is completely restored, representing coming to a fuller knowledge of Jesus and his salvific work.

Christian tradition produced customs and observances that helped believers prepare for the Passion in a similar way. One of the better known of these observances is Lent, a liturgical period common throughout much of traditional Christendom that is a time of fasting and spiritual preparation based on Jesus’s own forty-day preparation in the wilderness.  




Between Christmas and two weeks before Easter, consider reading one of the accounts of Jesus’s ministry (Mark 1‒8; Matthew 3‒20; Luke 3‒18; John 1‒10). In the weeks before Palm Sunday, start decorating your home with spring flowers and prints of art depicting the ministry of Jesus, and renew your dedication to your personal prayer life, scripture study, and service to others.

Consider decorating the home further for the week before Easter, filling it with fresh flowers and potted plants and putting up Christ-centered art that matches the events of each day in Jesus’s last week.

Some families may even want to borrow from the model provided by the Christmas-season Advent wreath, which is an evergreen wreath with four candles. Each Sunday in the four weeks before Christmas a new candle is lit and a family Christmas devotional is held by its light. Perhaps starting with Lazarus Saturday, the day before Palm Sunday, the family can set up an “Easter wreath,” a flowery wreath with three large candles: a purple one representing that Christ is our king, which can be lit starting on Palm Sunday; a red one representing that he is our priest, added starting on Spy Wednesday; and a white candle, lit Easter morning, which proclaims that Christ came forth alive from the tomb with healing in his wings.

Although this book suggests devotionals starting with Palm Sunday, some families might want to start a week before, using the ideas discussed in chapter 1. Readings for this week could be as follows:

  • Sunday: read Mark 8:22‒26 and discuss the symbolism of the blind man healed in stages.
  • Monday: read Mark 8:27‒30 and its parallels in Matt 16:13‒20 and Luke 9:18‒21; read “Pure Testimony” by M. Russell Ballard (Ensign, November 2004, 40‒43) and discuss the elements of a testimony, especially what we need to know about who Jesus is and what he did for us; sing “Testimony” (Hymns, no. 137) or “Search, Ponder, and Pray” (Children’s Songbook, 109).
  • Tuesday: read Mark 8:31‒38; discuss what it means to follow Jesus Christ.Wednesday: read Mark 9:30‒37; discuss what it means to be a servant and be like a little child.
  • Thursday: read Mark 10:32‒45.
  • Friday: read Mark 10:46‒52; compare and contrast Bartimaeus and the blind man healed in stages.
  • Lazarus Saturday: See Preludes to the Passion 2

These passages can be read in the familiar KJV version or from my own fresh translation of these texts, excerpts of which I have included below.

Some inspiring art includes Carl Bloch, Healing the Blind Man and The Raising of Lazarus; vignettes from James Tissot’s The Life of Christ such as The First Shall Be Last, Jesus and the Little Child, Get Thee Behind Me, Satan, The Two Blind Men at Jericho, The Resurrection of Lazarus; Harry Anderson, Christ and the Children; Michael Coleman, Road to Jerusalem; and J. Kirk Richards, Sight Restored. 




Texts: Mark 8:22–38; 9:30–37; 10:32–52

The “second act” of Mark begins with Jesus healing an unnamed blind man near Bethsaida in the northern part of the Holy Land (Mark 8:22‒26). It concludes with the healing of a second blind man, a beggar named Bartimaeus, as Jesus and his disciples leave Jericho on the last stage of their journey up to Jerusalem (10:46‒52; parallels Matt 20:29‒34; Luke 18:35‒43). This type of literary framing is called an inclusio, by which an author begins and ends a discrete portion of his or her text with the same term, motif, image, or theme. Prominent between these two healings are Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ (8:27‒30) and the three passion predictions (8:31‒38; 9:30‒37; 10:32‒45) that prepared his disciples—and by extension us—for the events of Passion Week.

 

8

22Next they came to Bethsaida. Then they brought a blind man to Jesus and implored him to touch him. 23After he had taken the blind man’s hand, he brought him out of the village. When he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24When the man looked up, he said, “I see people who look like trees walking around.” 25Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and the man looked intently, was restored, and saw everything clearly. 26Jesus sent him to his house, saying, “Don’t even go into the village!”

 

27Then Jesus and his disciples left for the villages of Caesarea Philippi. Along the way he began to question his disciples, asking them, “Whom do people say that I am?” 28Some replied, saying to him, “John the Baptist,” others, “Elijah,” and still others, “One of the prophets.” 29So he kept questioning them, “But whom do you say that I am?” Peter, answering, said to him, “You are the Christ!” 30Then Jesus insisted that they should not speak about him to anyone.

 

31Next he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo much suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the experts on the law, be put to death, and after three days rise again. 32He was saying this openly, so Peter, taking him aside, began to rebuke him. 33After Jesus had turned around and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan, for you do not have the things of God in mind but rather human concerns.”

 

34When he had called the crowd to him together with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone wants to follow behind me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for me and the good news will save it. 36For how will it profit someone to gain the whole world but forfeit his life? 37What can someone offer in return for his life? 38Indeed, whoever is ashamed of me and my word in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

 

9

30When they had left that place, they passed through Galilee, but Jesus did not want anyone to know, 31for he kept teaching his disciples and saying to them, “The Son of Man is being handed over into the hands of men—they will put him to death, and three days after he has been put to death, he will rise again.” 32They did not understand the saying but were afraid to ask him.

 

33Then they came to Capernaum, and while Jesus was in the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about along the way?” 34They kept quiet, for along the way they had argued with each other over who was greater. 35So when he had sat down, he called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he will be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then taking a child, Jesus placed him in the middle of them and, taking him into his arms, said to them, 37“Whoever receives one of these children in my name receives me, and whoever receives me does not receive me but rather the one who sent me.”

 

10

32They were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was leading them. They began to be astonished, and those who were following started to feel afraid. So when he had taken the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them what things were going to happen to him: 33“Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the experts on the law, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. 34And they will mock him, spit on him, scourge him, and kill him, and after three days he will rise again.”

 

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him, asking him, “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask you.” 36So he asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37They said to him, “Grant to us that we may sit, one at your right hand and one at the left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39They said to him, “We are able!” But Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup that I drink and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized, 40but to sit at my right hand or on my left is not mine to grant; this is for those for whom it is prepared.” 41When the other ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So when he had called them to him, he said to them, “You know that those who appear to rule the Gentiles domineer over them, and their great ones tyrannize them. 43Yet it is not so among you. Rather, whoever wants to become great among you, he will be your servant. 44And whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all. 45For indeed the Son of Man did not come to be served, rather to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

 

46Then they came to Jericho, and as he was leaving Jericho with the disciples and a considerable crowd, Bartimaeus (or “son of Timaeus”), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 47When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to cry out and say, “O Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48Many started to rebuke him, telling him to be quiet, but he cried out even more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49When Jesus stopped, he said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man, saying, “Take heart, get up! He is calling you.” 50When Bartimaeus had thrown off his cloak and jumped up, he came to Jesus. 51Jesus said to him in response, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My master, I want to see again!” 52So Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed him in the way.



[1] France, Gospel of Mark, 11‒15. See also Smith, Gospel according to Mark, 20‒23.

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