Week of Betrayal; Week of Disappointment
Passover is approaching and Jesus is making ready to enter Jerusalem. Jesus has been planning his entry. We see this plan in his orders to his disciples to fetch the donkey. Heís arranged for that donkey ahead of time. He knows exactly what heís planning and what the consequences may be. Jesus enters Jerusalem triumphantly with his disciples raising a shout of joy and triumph along the way. The local authorities are not happy. They feel threatened and they want Jesus to quiet his disciples. He refuses. Whatís the point? If they quiet, everything (and everyone) else will raise the shout instead.
As it happens, if you were hearing this story almost two thousand years ago, when it was written, and you lived somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, you would hear something more. What Jesus was doing would sound familiar to you, very much like the entrance into your city of a military conqueror, escorted by his troops. This procession by the King of Peace into one end of Jerusalem was at the same time that the Roman Empire's representative, Pontius Pilate, full of brute power, enters at the other end. Picture this: Pilate has arrived to "keep the peace" in the city during the dangerous and turbulent time of Passover, when the crowds always get unruly. The people are oppressed and long for deliverance from the Romans as well as their supporters. Passover is their holiday of freedom. If there is going to be an uprising, it will be during Passover.
So Pilate travels with troops and flags and weapons, all the signs of empire to impress the locals. And he rides in on a magnificent warhorse, in case the flags and weapons and troops aren't a sufficiently intimidating display of power.†
On the other hand, Jesus - full of a different kind of power - makes his entrance riding a humble donkey, surrounded by his somewhat ragged group of followers, and we know that he also doesn't keep the same kind of peace Pilate and Rome intend, a business-as-usual kind of peace that benefits the empire and the folks on top. No, Jesus brings instead the peace that surpasses understanding, and much of what is about to unfold in the next few days will be the price he pays to bring it. His disciples, of course, have seen things that have changed their lives forever and have raised their hopes sky-high. Maybe they still aren't sure exactly what to hope for, when their leader rides Ė of all things Ė a donkey, a humble work animal rather than a grand warhorse. What sort of signal does that send, what sort of statement is Jesus making? Of course, this particular donkey, like any animal suited for sacred use, has never been ridden, and that should tell them something. Something sacred is happening, right before their eyes. Yes, a common donkey may not be the sort of animal one rides to war or in conquest, but this is no triumphant warrior or conquering power coming into the holy city or into our hearts. This is the King of Peace.
Itís like to forces of nature colliding. Pilate has been sent to assure that peace and order are kept in whatís become Romeís Vietnam. Judea and the Galilee are swarming with any number of insurgent groups. They take advantage of the Passover each year to try to start an uprising. Now Pilate, a very brutal and severe governor is there to make sure it doesnít happen. Heís to keep the peace, no matter how many people he has to jailed or execute.
And Jesus very well knows this. He wants peace too, but not the brutal peace of coercion and fear. He wants to help bring in a peace founded on mutual support and dignity. Itís a long shot. Itís nigh on irrational. But thatís what heís been preaching these past three years: the Kingdom of God come to the people in the here and now.
And just as he and Pilate entered Jerusalem at opposite ends, so they see the achievement of peace through opposite ends of the power spectrum. For Pilate peace only comes with order maintained by an occupying army of overwhelming strength. For Jesus peace only comes from the people working together and living Godís shalom.
Heís made a leap, an enormous leap in his ministry. He wants to show that there is an alternative to violence and hate and suffering. He knows whatís going to happen in this week of betrayal and disappointment. And heís offering himself as a scapegoat, a lamb to the slaughter.
He knows that of all the people he has encountered, it is his disciples that must come around. Even now, at best they are confused, at worse they simply donít understand.
Peter talks a good story and says he believes. But Jesus knows his flaws, knows for all of his good intentions heís going to run. Judas is too much a pragmatist to buy into Jesus countercultural, radical idea that one can rid humanity of violence Ö after all itís the natural state of humanity to fight and compete. Jesus knows heís pilfering and knows he will betray him. After three years, he faces disappointment and betrayal.
After all the parables, all the preaching, all the miracles, and all the forgiving, they still havenít come around. So now it must take it all to its logical conclusion. They have to face the danger and maybe then, just maybe they will sink low enough that he can pull them up transformed into a new people who also will risk their lives and their livelihoods to live out the Kingdom in the hear and now.
So as the disciples shout for joy thinking soon Pilate and the landowners, and poverty and wickedness will all come to an end this week, Jesus knows that it is just beginning and will continue for generations to come. What the disciples see as a victory of their participation in Jesusí ministry, Jesus knows is really the starting action that will propel generations into the struggle for peace and justice.
Monday would come with Jesusí anger overflowing in the Temple. There the bankers and merchants exploited the poor by sacred ground Ö an insult to God. Jesus chases them out. Then he teaches in the Temple to the multitude Öthe local authorities are getting more and more anxious. Soon Pilate will take note of the grounds and strike.
And Jesus continues through Tuesday and Wednesday preaching some of his most beautiful stories and parables. He knows the authorities are looking for a reason to arrest him. He doesnít hide from them. He confronts them with their own fears and their own complacencies.
They understand and they fear him even more Önot only will Pilate strike, but so will God Ö they must rid the nation and themselves of this troublemaking prophet.
And so Thursday arrives Ö
Where now, after 2000 years, do we stand? Are we like the disciples, hoping this week will bring it all to a close and we will all live happily ever after? Or do we step up to what Jesus did: To confront a world that just doesnít care about anything or anyone other than itself. If you canít cope in this world, then you are surplused and there is no need for you. You are a burden and please, go away.
Do we, like the early Christians, live an alternative lifestyle in the midst of the corrupted lifestyle of society? Do we practice Kingdom morals even though the world dismisses them as antiquated? Do we reach out to the surplused people and take them out of the trash heap, and give them new life? Do we speak up for those who are voiceless?
Jesus was telling us that the Kingdom is yet to come and is always coming into our lives. We are called to live in a world bereft of the Kingdom as if the Kingdom is already among us. We are to risk the Kingdom. We are to embrace it even though it is just a thought, a hope, a utopia.
We are to be a light in the midst of deadly darkness. We are to hope against all hope. We are to dispel despair. We are to allow no weight Ö no matter how heavy Ö to prevent us from living the Kingdom. No crucifixion is to send us away. No emptiness, no hopelessness, no threat is to prevent us living the KingdomÖ
Because thatís how the Kingdom will Come Ö one action at a time, one person living in the Kingdom, then another and another, each acting again and again for love and justiceÖ each willing to die to society, so that a true society can arise.
Think about it.
Godís grace and love be with you Ö