Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, Healing, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

Hosanna! Save us from Self-Interest! Palm Sunday-B

Mark 11:1-11
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

For many years, as a preacher, I have been captive to the insight that the fickle crowd who cried Hosanna at the Triumphal entry would have largely made up the crowd who cried for Jesus Crucifixion only days later. I have harped on their fickleness.
Whilst I still hold to that insight as valid, I have had my captivating lockup sprung open by considering the etymology of that interjection “Hosanna“. Reflecting on that one word, I am beginning to realise that the culturally captive crowds of Jerusalem would have almost no other way of seeing the man on the hiterto unridden colt than as the expected Saviour come to rescue them from their perceived enemies and according to their preconceived expectations.

The key lies, as I have said, in the word Hosanna which originally comes from Psalm 118:25 “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!”.
By the time of Jesus this Psalm verse had found its way into common parlance as a greeting and blessing. When one looks into the Greek version of the Old Testament the Septuagint, the word for Hosanna in Ps 118:25 is translated σῶσον δή (soson dei) which, if you don’t have Greek, means “save us”. I suppose it would be close to the Irish common usage, “God help us“, said willy nilly in conversation.
There is an interesting sidelight here. In Lent 5b last week we read of Jesus asking in John 12:27, “And what should I say—‘Father, save (SOSON) me from this hour’?”
Isn’t that strange the one thing Jesus said he wouldn’t ask of God, “Save me from this hour” is the very thing that the crowd requires of Jesus in their Hosanna-“Save us now!”?

Staying with the John passage of last week, Jesus declines to ask God to save him, he rather requests the Father to glorify his name. At face value it would seem that the Jerusalem fan parade is glorifying God’s name but they are not really. They are simply demanding their own liberation. “Save us now!

The paradox of Jesus’ life is that the glorification of God’s name is found  in the ignonimity and humiliation of the accursed one who is nailed up on a tree. It is from there that the salvation called for in the Hosanna arises.  However, this salvation is now completely redefined by the poured out life on the cross.

Which brings me to that Jerusalem flash mob and their, “God help us! God save us!”

Isn’t that the most primal prayer ever prayed?

As I write and muse, I realise that the only thing that would change in my prayer in 2012 from the prayer of the crowd is that I usually pray, “God save ME!” My Western consciousness doesn’t care much for the tribe or clan. That aside, the prayer is the same. It is the most basic form of prayer. It is an expression of self interest.

We who know this story so well, know that when the expected terms and conditions of that salvation did not materialize , the crowd turned viciously on the colt rider and had him done away with. I am not convinced we would have done any different. Except that we would probably sue Jesus first, and expose him in the tabloids as a fraud for good measure!

The question that remains for me though, is whether the crowd could have done any differently? It seems that as enculturated self interested human beings (are there any other kind?), they were only doing what it is our nature to do, they wanted to survive.
The horror of Holy Week for me is that I realise again and again that were I in that time, as I am now in mine, nothing would change. Self interest always wins.

Yet the real miracle we see in this whole Holy-Horrific week that lies before us from Palm Sunday to Easter, is how the Divine parent uses the most destructive forces of human nature, namely scapegoating and violence; as the very process of redemption.

My “Hosanna”,and my “Crucify him” screamed from the visceral core of my being, and screamed with absolutely no real understanding of what I am asking for, becomes the miraculous vocabulary with which God teaches me the meaning of unconditional love, mercy and salvation.
The cross becomes the confrontation with my self interest.
So into the horrors we go…

When I have gaped and groaned long enough at the feet of the Crucified one this Easter, I pray I will arise with a transposed cry in my heart.
Perhaps this year God will change me enough to cry out “God save them“, and “Crucify me!”

Do you suppose  those words will glorify God’s name?

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Posted in Conflict resolution, Deconstructing Power, New Interpretation of Scripture, Reflection, Sermon, Spiritual Therapy

“Wave your flag, but DON’T touch the treasury!” Palm Sunday

 

Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Crowds are fickle.  Watch the supporters of any professional sports franchise and you will see. When the team is winning the stadiums are full, when the team hits a losing streak, the gate monies diminish.

Be they political supporters, pop idol followers, or sports fans; crowds are at their best when they are cheering on a winner.

Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was a public relations winner.  The messiah hungry crowd witnessed and interpreted the arrival as it was cast in the all the old testament trappings and nuances of a royal arrival to the capital.  This was a hero’s welcome.  This was the Jerusalem equivalent of a ticker tape parade, or a coronation cavalcade.

The mystery that confronts me every time I reflect on this passage however, is how quickly this crowd in Jerusalem changes their mind and their allegiance.  If we follow the liturgical sequence and timing, which may not be quite the lost historical schedule, we have Jesus the victor on Palm Sunday and Jesus the villain by Thursday night!  That is a serious drop in the ratings! I doubt Charlie Sheen nor Tiger Woods could top that!

What could Jesus possibly have done in one week that so disillusioned his supporters that they turned on him, called for a criminal in his place, and were happy to see him killed?

Perhaps the key to understanding this falling away lies in what Jesus does when he gets inside Jerusalem.  He goes and overthrows the tables of the money lenders in the temple.

I remember reading somewhere that at the time of Jesus, almost the whole economy of the temple was based upon the temple and its sacrificial system.  The buying and selling of sacrificial animals, and the forex generated by changing money into the exclusive temple currency.  The religious industry was what made Jerusalem work economically.

If you ask me as a white South African, who has lived long enough to be immersed in Apartheid for 37 years of my life and the New South Africa for the balance (since 1994),  “What ended Apartheid?” I would tell you what brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiation table was primarily economics. The sanction blockade enforced by the global community made the old ways unworkable.  What is important not to forget is that at the heart of that sanctions campaign was a diminutive, ever smiling Archbishop named Desmond Tutu.  If the Apartheid rulers could have crucified him they would have!  You challenge my treasury at your peril.  Hadn’t the Nazareth Rabbi said it, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also”?

The arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, turned out to be, not the arrival of a club member who would endorse the status quo and conform to the messianic agenda formulated by the stakeholders; but rather emerged to be the arrival of a table turning radical, who had justice at his core. Once that realization dawned, assassination and not worship was on the agenda.

A Jesus who “refuses to be an insider but who always sides with the outsider”, as Richard Rohr puts it, will always upset our carefully laid economic tables and status quo scenarios.

I have some understanding for the fickle crowd.  I have felt their vacillation in my own heart.  The real, radical Jesus, from time to time, evokes deep visceral anger in my carefully crafted concepts. At these moments of challenge I could gladly do away with him.

It is at times like those, with Jesus upturning my values and attitudes, that I fight hard to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The truth will set you free, as Jesus said.  But first it will make you very angry!”

Angry enough to kill?

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Palming off the Donkey King

Luke 19:28-40

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.'” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

And so the climax of the incarnate life of God draws close.

Jesus has just told the parable of the nobleman who goes off to win power in a foreign land and leaves his servants with varied levels of resourcing and on his return exacts an account from them of their use of those resources.

Those who have been entrepreneurial are rewarded with power and authority over regions of the kingdom,but those who have been cautious and cowardly are stripped of even the little they have . The parable ends with Jesus saying I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence.'”

Luke moves the action directly from that enigmatic saying to the arrival of Jesus at the Mount of Olives and his requisitioning of a colt.

There can be no doubt that Jesus is casting his actions with direct reference to the prophet Zechariah who was one of those killed in the temple. “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah 9:9

My laziness and thoughts of a whole week of Holy Week preaching that lies ahead, tempts me to go with the conventional themes of Palms Hosannas, the irony of a crowd that a few days later will replace adulation with the mob’s anger that cries for crucifixion.

But there is a question that keeps tapping at the window of my mind and it will not let me duck it by a flight into conventionalism. So as I open the window my mind whispers, Why does he accept the appellation as king now when Jesus has spent his public ministry avoiding it?”

So, on this Public Holiday celebrating Human Rights in South Africa, I have begun to dig around for some possible insights that may answer my tapping question.

This is what I have found and share as speculative explanations.

Jesus could not accept the association with Kingship and rule until he had opportunity to correct the popular experience and understanding of what that meant. Lord knows, the current exemplars of kingship and rule were far from Jesus’ concept. The two Herods in his lifetime, Quirinius, Procurator Pilate and of course the Caesars of Rome, modelled their leadership from the same Macchiavellian mud. (Yes I know Machiavelli doesn’t time synch, but what a fun alliteration?) Power, control and brutal consequences for those who dissented.

This was not what Jesus wanted to be associated with and so he avoids being proclaimed king until he had had a time to reorient his disciples understanding of kingship.

In three and a half years he has modelled what kings are intended to do for their people:

  • He has healed the broken and restored them to full participation in community
  • He has forgiven those who missed the mark of required ethical and religious standards and included them in his new community.
  • He has raised the dead so as to offer social security to those women who would be destitute by the deaths of the men (Lazarus, Widow of Nain)
  • He has raised and healed children to break the bondage of bad theology that blamed bad things on parental conditions and culture (Children of Jairus and the Canaanite woman)
  • He has been inclusive, unconditionally accepting, and restorative in his words and actions.

This is who kings and rulers are meant to be and now it is time for him to own the archetype and to associate with the kingship that the stoned prophets were trying to bring to the palaces of Palestine.(yes probably both meanings of “stoned”, they were high on God remember?)

There is another dimension to this parade that is a hard sell in a church that has invested so heavily in the “lamb to the slaughter” image of Christ.

It is that late in life convert to Christianity Rene’ Girard who reminded me, in a interview recorded in The Girard Reader , edited by James G Williams

R.G.: The Gospels speak of “sacrifices” only in order to reject them and deny them any validity. Jesus counters the ritualism of the Pharisees with an anti-sacrificial quotation from Hosea: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice'” (Matt. 9:13). The following text amounts to a great deal more than ethical advice; it at once sets the cult of sacrifice at a distance and reveals its true function, which has now come full circle: So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matt. 5:23—24)

Interviewer: Surely the crucifixion is still the sacrifice of Christ?

R.G.: There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest that the death of Jesus is a sacrifice, whatever definition (expiation, substitution, etc.) we may give for that sacrifice. At no point in the Gospels is the death of Jesus defined as a sacrifice. The passages that are invoked to justify a sacrificial conception of the Passion both can and should be interpreted with no reference to sacrifice in any of the accepted meanings. Certainly the Passion is presented to us in the Gospels as an act that brings salvation to humanity. But it is in no way presented as a sacrifice, If you have really followed my argument up to this point, you will already realize that from our particular perspective the sacrificial interpretation of the Passion must be criticized and exposed as a most enormous and paradoxical misunderstanding — and at the same time as something necessary — and as the most revealing indication of mankind’s radical incapacity to understand its own violence, even when that violence is conveyed in the most explicit fashion.

If you are not familiar with Girardian thinking you may want to click through to The Girardian Lectionary

The crux of Girard’s insight for my thinking this week is simply that in the Palm Procession we do not have a Lamb to the Slaughter, pre-programmed robotic Jesus, we have a living, choosing, inviting Jesus making one of his final offers to the people and powers of Jerusalem. An offer they reject not because they are scripted to do so, but because the cost of compassion and inclusive community is far greater than the system of scapegoating shame and blame religion and power that is in place.

Jesus the Zecharian, “King on a Colt” comes with an offer of alternative living. An inclusive community of compassion and companionship. Where servants not swordsman have power,… the power of love. A kingdom of healing and restoration where humans blossom into fruitful beings. A kingdom which all the democrats and despots of this world even two millennia after the Palms waved, have yet to be able to bring to reality.

The offer still stands, and notfor a limited time only” as the End Time Enthusiasts would have it.

No it is an eternal offer, always available for any who can sing Hosanna and hold back on hatred.

Look! here comes the Donkey King again!