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Reflection April 5, 2020
“Hosanna!” by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Hosanna in the highest! As we again prepare to celebrate another Passion/Palm Sunday, we may recall Matthew’s account of Jesus entering the sacred city of Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1 and following). For Matthew, this is the culmination of Jesus’ journey. Throughout the entire Gospel of Matthew Jesus has been ever relentlessly on his way to Jerusalem.
As Matthew 16:21 states: “From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” In Matthew’s Gospel as well as Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not seen as setting foot in Jerusalem until he finally enters to great acclaim and shouts of “Hosanna.”
And what does Jesus do as soon as he enters Jerusalem according to Matthew? He goes straight to the Temple and overturns the tables of the moneychangers and the stalls of those selling the sacrificial animals. This action, according to Matthew, leads directly to Jesus’ death. Yet Jesus knew what awaited him in Jerusalem. He knew the great sacred city would be the place where he would suffer and die.
Jesus weeps over Jerusalem – this holy city - one of the oldest cities in the world. It is, as we know, considered sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. In a very tiny plot of land, just 1/3 of a square mile – we have the Temple Mount, the Western Wall (of the destroyed Temple), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque.
The history of Jerusalem is telling. The city has been completely destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times. In other words, Jerusalem has been endlessly fought over. It continues to be bitterly fought over to this day.
Only with God’s help will this designated city of peace ever find peace. And it would be well for all of us to pray frequently for peace in Jerusalem and the rest of the Mideast.
But why does Jesus go to Jerusalem knowing what awaits him there? Perhaps we too easily say that Jesus goes to Jerusalem out of humble obedience. This is true, of course, but there is more involved. Jesus goes to Jerusalem because that is where his enemies reside. Jerusalem is the stronghold of those who represent everything Jesus preaches against.
As he teaches the crowds in Matthew 23: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” The scribes and the Pharisees were the ones holding most of the authority and power in Jerusalem and throughout Israel.
Certainly Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to win a popularity contest. He came to tell those in power that God was not pleased with the ways they had abused that power. Let me add something from the South African theologian, Albert Nolan’s book, Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom: “Jesus was not a reformer. He did not propose a number of improvements to the religious beliefs and practices of his time – like patching up an old garment. He turned the world, both Jewish and Gentile, upside down.
“This does not mean that Jesus was a typical revolutionary in the political sense of the word. He did not simply want to replace those presently in power with others who were not yet in power. He was looking at something more radical than that … he was busy with a social revolution, rather than a political one, a social revolution that called for a deep spiritual conversion.
“Jesus was uncompromising in his belief that all human beings were equal in dignity and worth. He treated the blind, the lame and the cripple, the outcasts and the beggars with as much respect as that given to those of high rank and status. He refused to consider women and children unimportant or inferior. This turned a carefully ordered society of status and honor upside down.”
I believe Jesus came to Jerusalem to confront those who held power, those who held religious and political authority, those who had status. And he challenged those in power to lay down their power, to take the lowest place at table, to become like little children.
Then, as now, the message of Jesus, addressed to those in authority, those in power, is nigh unto impossible for those in power, those in authority, to hear. Those in power will usually try to silence anyone speaking this truth. Is this not so?
One of the problems with possessing power is that the person holding it usually fights anyone seeking to take it away. It’s very hard for those with power to lay it down as Jesus suggests. This true for our political leaders and our religious leaders. Always has been true. Always will be true until the Risen Christ returns to change everything.
Now I’m not saying everyone in a position of power, everyone possessing authority, is given to corruption. But what I am saying is that everyone in power, everyone in authority, needs conversion to be able to exercise authority and power without being swallowed up by its insidious nature.
It’s hard to wield power and remain fair, honest and unselfish with respect to others. If power were used as God intends it to be used, there would be no oppressed living anywhere in our world. But we all know that the world is filled to overflowing with oppressed people and oppressed creation.
Let me suggest in this Advance, that one of the worst forms of oppression is the demonic insistence that things cannot change for the better, that one must accept the status quo, that one must acquiesce to the dysfunction rampant everywhere.
If we accept the status quo, if we say things can’t change for the better, then we are non-believers. We’ve stopped believing in a God who will not rest until all the promises given to us through time have been brought to fulfillment.
Many of us have been mislead by those in power into a stagnant fatalism. Fatalism is the misbegotten belief that things cannot change for the better or that change is profoundly slow-paced. Fatalism is when we blindly accept that oppression is inevitable. Fatalism is the opposite of faith. Faith has been fighting fatalism since humans were first given breath. Fatalism happens when we see no way out, when we accept defeat at the hands of those who oppress us.
But this resignation, this acceptance of defeat, is exactly what Jesus Christ came to shatter through the power of his life, death and resurrection. As Albert Nolan states in Jesus Before Christianity: “(Jesus’) only desire was to liberate people from their suffering and their fatalistic resignation to suffering.” In other words, Jesus came to liberate people from accepting defeat as inevitable or as divinely mandated. We can all grasp this truth as we continue our present time of suffering amid the corona- virus pandemic.
Jesus comes to Jerusalem to show and shout out that suffering cannot and will not have the last word. Jesus accepts suffering – Jesus accepts the most extreme form of oppression known at that time, death on a cross, in order to eradicate once and for all the lie that suffering is what God wishes for us. This lie has been told again and again by those in power who want people to accept suffering and oppression as God’s will for them. God does not wish suffering for any of God’s children!
Jesus on the cross suffers brutality in order to defeat brutality. Jesus on the cross endures suffering in order to exterminate suffering. Jesus on the cross is oppressed in order to defeat oppression.
Brutality has been defeated, it just doesn’t know it yet. Selfishness has been overcome, it just doesn’t know it yet. Suffering has been conquered, it just doesn’t know it yet. Oppression has been overthrown, it just doesn’t know it yet. But we know it. And we live in the reality of these victories won through the cross of Christ.
Brutality, selfishness, suffering and oppression were the real enemies Jesus came to Jerusalem to face, not just the oppressive scribes and Pharisees. Jesus goes face-to-face with brutality, selfishness, suffering and oppression at Gethsemane and at Golgotha.
This is our faith. In the power of our crucified Christ, we’re commissioned to never accept defeat by the demonic forces of brutality, selfishness, suffering or oppression. We’re called as disciples of the crucified Christ to stand against brutality, selfishness, suffering and oppression wherever we encounter these enemies of our crucified Christ. This is the drama that Palm Sunday initiates. This is the drama that will unfold within the coming Holy Week.
On Good Friday, we’ll again witness Christ crucified. But let us not forget that it is through the power of his cross that Christ defeated the main enemies of God: brutality, selfishness, suffering, and oppression.
And we share in this victory. We share in this triumph. We live in the power of this victory, the power of this triumph. We do this by never allowing brutality, selfishness, suffering, or oppression to go unquestioned and unchallenged anywhere we see their repulsive presence.
As Karl Mauldin states it in his role as Fr. Barry, the priest on the docks of New York City, in the 1954 Academy Award Movie, On the Waterfront: “Some people think the crucifixion only took place on Calvary - they better wise up.”
Speaking to those who stay silent in the face of mob oppression he declares: “And how does he (Jesus) who spoke up without fear against every evil feel about your silence?” This is a question we all face as we again approach the crucifixion of Christ. Christ/God is with us in all our sufferings, in all our challenges.
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor