Testament Reading: 2 Samuel 6:1-19
Testament Reading: Luke 19:29-46.
Have you ever tried to
picture the expression, the demeanor of Jesus as he sat astride that
donkey during the triumphal ride into Jerusalem? Is it likely, do you
think, that he smiled and waved to the crowd, blew kisses to his fans,
maybe even signed an autograph or two?
I cannot believe that he
did. It would make of Jesus too comical, too trivial a character in my
book. I can't imagine that he didn't see what kind of current he was
riding, where the stream was taking him, despite appearances.
I contrast Jesus with
petty public officials I have occasionally seen waving to the throng in
small town parades. Once I saw the annual Mount Olive North Carolina
Pickle Festival parade pass through the tiny center of our microscopic
town. There were a couple of guys dressed up as pickles. Here came the
college girl crowned as this year's Pickle Queen. And here came various
nameless public officials, sitting in the backs of convertibles or pick-up
trucks, feeling fully as important, no doubt, as Jesus on donkey-back on
Only I can't imagine that
Jesus felt as self-important as they did. This reminds me: the other day
Carol and I were watching a report about Mr. Koresh, the self-styled
Branch of David down in Waco, Texas. He thinks he's Jesus. I turned to
Carol and mused aloud, "I wonder if Jesus thought he was Jesus?"
Because if anyone thinks he is Jesus, it means he is crazy, a
megalomaniac. And I don't think Jesus was one of those.
I can't imagine he didn't
see his Warholian fifteen minutes of fame for what it was. After all, in
Matthew, the townspeople of Jerusalem do not even know who he is! They
have to be told, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth."
If you want to see a good
example of the probable demeanor of Jesus in the face of a crowd's
acclaim, take a look at the gravity of another Messiah, one of the current
candidates for the job, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. He sits in the
midst of a room crowded with Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews, whose waving arms
fan him with a steady hot breeze, whose voices of adoration must come near
deafening the old man in such close confines.
His reaction? He sits and
takes it in, unmoved and unresponsive save for a vaguely benign silence,
as if grateful for the extravagant praises of children who show their love
by what they say but whose extravagances cannot be taken seriously.
But let me speculate
further. I think Jesus, on that fine morning, saw not only a crowd of
fickle and naive well-wishers. I think what he saw was a crowd of
tempters, a forest of Satans, each beckoning and urging, "Forsake the
cross!" "Abandon the cross!" "Shun the cross!"
What else did their cries
mean, but that they were welcoming him either to an assumption of royal
power, or at least to the royal treatment, the red carpet rolled out for a
visiting dignitary. They didn't picture him enthroned on a cross, that's
But that was, we are
told, his purpose for going there, and thus he must have heard their cries
as so many bum steers, so many attempts to make him veer off course. He
had faced the same moment with Peter some weeks before, when he had
elicited from him the confession that Jesus was God's Anointed. The Jesus
had informed him, "the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of men,
and they will condemn him and spit upon him, and end in crucifying him."
What was the reaction of Peter? "God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen
It just wasn't the kind
of thing God could possibly let happen to his Anointed King! And Jesus
turned from him with scorching words: "Out of my sight, Satan! For you
mind not the things of God, but rather those of men!" And now here was a
whole crowd of Peters, chanting, in effect, "God forbid, Lord! This must
not happen to you!"
You know the outcome:
Jesus did not veer from the path: he stayed the course to Golgotha.
Because if Peter didn't understand that he had to die, and if the crowd of
supporters lining the road to Jerusalem didn't understand it, there was
one disciple who understood quite well, or well enough, at any rate.
It was Judas, Judas who
had made all the arrangements and who even came to meet him at the
departure point to kiss him good-bye. Thanks to him, Jesus completed his
assigned course. He was faithful unto death and so received the crown of
I have been considering
the fabric of the Passion story as we see it finally woven into a
tapestry. But now let me step back and look closer at a few of the colored
threads that make it up.
First, the very notion
that Jesus entered Jerusalem for the express purpose of dying, and that he
had even predicted it and wouldn't get out of his fate when he had the
chance. Are these historical facts? I do not know. I don't think there is
a way to know.
But one thing I am pretty
confident of is that the way leading to the cross cannot have seemed so
clearly to be the way to the cross. Perhaps Jesus and his entourage
were simply headed to Jerusalem for the same reason everyone around them
were: to attend the Passover festival.
And then, having been out
of the city for some years, he was shocked to see the way things were in
the temple and spontaneously wreaked havoc there. Or maybe Brandon was
right, that Jesus was actually trying to seize control of the Temple in an
attempted coup. I don't know.
In any case he wound up
paying the price a few days later. He died, and once he had died, his
followers couldn't believe it had been mere bad luck. Worse yet, it simply
wasn't possible that their master had made a stupid mistake.
You know how they feel.
You can't chalk up a tragedy to blind chance, either. Even less can you
stand admitting that you brought it on yourself. So you look for the hand
and the plan of God. "There must be a reason for it."
That's what the early
Christians concluded, too, and in retrospect they inferred that if this
were truly the plan of God, then God's son must have been apprised of it,
and must have been dedicated to seeing it through.
Do you see what is
happening here? The past, in this case, the events leading up to the
cross, is being given new meaning in light of the present. In light of the
final outcome. And had things broken differently, the past would
have retroactively turned out to mean something else. God's plan
would then retroactively have come to be something quite different. Here
is another example.
Look at the roles of
Peter, Judas, and Satan. Have you ever noticed that the four gospels
differ over whether Satan wanted Jesus to be crucified or not? In Luke and
John, Judas betrays Jesus because "Satan entered into him" and impelled
him to do the deed. Satan must have wanted Jesus dead. But in Mark and
Matthew, Judas is simply said to be greedy. Satan is not behind his
actions at all. He is busy elsewhere: he speaks through Peter's mouth when
Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from being crucified, as we saw a moment
ago; "God forbid, Lord! This shall not happen to you!" "Get behind me,
Satan!" Satan wants him to avoid the cross at all costs, presumably
because he knows it will pry all those souls out of his reptilian grasp.
Interestingly, in Luke
and John, where Judas is said to be possessed by Satan, Peter is not
called Satan. What we have here is two different versions of the events
leading up to the cross. The past was repainted in different colors
depending on whether you viewed the death of Jesus as a good thing (the
plan of salvation) or a bad one (an attempt to eliminate him), though a
bad one turned around.
What possible relevance
can these deliberations have for you? Much in every way!, as Paul would
say. For what is true in the writing and rewriting of the gospel story is
equally true in your own life. You are in a constant process of rewriting
the story of your life, of your past, every time current events cast a new
light on your past. Isn't it true? Depending on what happens today, you
may look back on the same decision as either a fatal misstep or the
smartest thing you ever did! "That's where I went wrong!" Or "That was
where it all began for me!"
And as clearly as it
seems one way now, new events may turn the same point in the past into the
very opposite tomorrow!
Was God smiling on you
when you met that friend or that mate, or when you took that job? Or was
it a day of ill-omen that you wish now you'd spent safely under the bed
covers? You see, it wasn't "really" one or the other! You will see your
past different every time the present puts you at a new vantage point to
view it from!
We are every one of us
like Winston Smith in his cubbyhole, constantly rewriting history from the
standpoint of party dogma today. The past is malleable. Your past is a
constantly reedited and heavily censored story of what happened. The past
varies with the present. And the future varies with the past! Here
is a great danger. What you believe to be your past, your past life as
re-edited from your present standpoint, controls your future! We all seem
to let what we have and have not done before set the limits for
what we can do in the future.
We consider a new task, a
challenge or a hope, and we look back at the past (as we now see it
anyway) and we shake our head and say, "I don't see any evidence, based on
past performance, that I would be up to the job! I just can't see myself
improving, making the grade, achieving my dream. Why? Because I don't see
myself having done anything of the kind before."
We just don't believe in
the old adage, "There's always a first time." We don't think there can be.
But we have forgotten two things. There was a first time when we failed.
There was a first time when things went wrong. Why can't there be a first
time for success? For things to go right?
The other thing we have
forgotten is that there probably was also a first time, and maybe
several others when things did go pretty well! How can we be blind
Because we are possibly
still feeling the ache of a recent disappointment. And this pain has
caused a quick rewrite of our past as a downward slide into failure, a
unidirectional nose-dive. To make it look that way we had to ignore and
forget a lot of things.
Our dark present made our
past look dark, our failure as inevitable, a tragic fate decreed by God.
The present has deformed the past, and the vengeful past threatens to
strangle the future in its womb.
You won't have any
trouble seeing this once the clouds break and things start turning out
well again. Then those good memories of a brighter past will begin to
cautiously emerge like the hibernating animals returning after the spring
But from where you are
now, in the dark, in the shadow of your own cross, it is not so easy to
see. You must look for those suppressed facts, you must believe against
the pessimistic propaganda of the present moment that deep within you is
the evidence that you can again succeed, deep inside are the resources by
which you will again prevail.
This is what faith is. It
is seeing what is hidden, remembering what you once knew even when your
despair has done its best to suppress, to censor, and to destroy it. Faith
is holding fast to the hope of change for the better even when there is as
yet no sign of it on the horizon.
Look at it this way: if
you are a worrier, you have no doubt started fearing the worst even when
nothing, no circumstance in your life warranted it! Even when things
looked good, you didn't have any trouble imagining that the bad was on its
way, against all appearances, and sure enough: you were right! Maybe your
pessimism even helped it come true!
Well, why can't it work
in reverse? In precisely the same way, though things look grim right now,
I am asking you to insist on believing that things will turn again and get
And I am suggesting that
doing this is the first and the most important step in seeing that they do
turn around. Your stubborn faith will take the future in hand and bring
life out of death.
Jesus smelled death in
the air even when a cheering crowd surrounded him, and just as surely he
knew the Easter lilies must be coming to bloom outside his tomb, in Joseph
of Arimathea's garden, even though all he could smell inside was his own
charnel stench. He chose to disregard what then surrounded him and
determined to win through to the life unseen on the other side.
That's what I'm asking
you to do.
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