How the heck can we follow Jesus into Jerusalem on his suicide mission? It’s not what we signed up for. Sure, he displays a reckless lack of political acumen taking on the top dogs in face to face disputes over Torah. But those risks he took emboldened us.
And his compassion for anyone - anyone willing to open their hearts - melts our fears.
His teachings just make sense. It’s so funny the way he turns our bankrupt religious laws upside down and shows us how God’s love will fall out of our deepest pockets if we only do handstands with him.
And the miracles. He does them reluctantly it seems. He knows that they’ll dazzle and become the sunny sensation that will outshine his simple candlelight message of GOD’s routine everyday redemption. But he also knows that it’s the miracles that will draw in even the most reluctant bystander’s curiosity. Maybe they’ll start asking questions.
But lately he’s been telling us that they’re gonna kill him. At first we thought it was just one of his parables – a metaphor – one of his many jokes that we just weren’t getting.
We get it now though. After the events of this last week, since we entered Jerusalem with that big splash of street theatre, he’s given them no choice. They’ll have to kill him.
Luke tells it this way:
Right at the crest, where Mount of Olives begins its descent, the whole crowd burst into enthusiastic praise over all the mighty works they had witnessed:
Blessed is he who comes,
the king in God’s name!
All’s well in heaven!
Glory in the high places!
Some Pharisees from the crowd told him, “Teacher, get your disciples under control!”
But he said, “If they kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise.”
When the city came into view, he wept over it. “If you had only recognized this day, and everything that was good for you! But now it’s too late.
Going into the Temple he began to throw out everyone who had set up shop, selling everything and anything. He said, “It’s written in Scripture,
My house is a house of prayer;
You have turned it into a religious bazaar.”
From then on he taught each day in the Temple. The high priests, religion scholars, and the leaders of the people were trying their best to find a way to get rid of him.
Luke 19: 37-47
From our vantage point, here at the side of history’s road in the Spring of 2010, it’s easy to follow the story along and get into the rich drama of the passion play. We can stick our toes into the rushing waters of that historical week without getting swept into the icy plunging waters that pulled his disciples towards a sure drowning.
If we take a few steps back from the shore and analyze the situation in the light of today’s sunshine – out from under the reading lamp on the pulpit – we might even wonder about the sanity of this messianic man.
If one of our own friends displayed such behaviours – wouldn’t we try to get him some psychiatric help?
From the adrenaline high of Palm Sunday’s parade – he’s carrying the Olympic torch for us - we see our friend Jesus plunge immediately into a weeping fit over the fate of the city babbling about how it’s too late, too late, too late. Sorrow flips into rage as he rushes into the cathedral like a maniac trashing all the Easter preparations.
If you read through Luke’s account of Jesus’ teachings that week, it’s pretty clear that he was just throwing gasoline on the fire he’d set in the temple that first day. He knew how they’d react – and he did it anyway.
Today, we’d lock him up, pump him full of novocaine, and get him assessed as criminally off his rocker. We wouldn’t kill him. We’d just make sure his message got torn to shreds by scandal and pity over “how sad it is that such a brilliant caring young man’s career got lost in a self-destructive saviour complex.”
Now, I have a deep respect for the science and art of psychology. Going into people’s psyche with a double-edged scalpel is a tricky business. Trying to discern the root of behaviours that on the surface seem crazy is not for amateurs (even though we all can’t help but take a stab at it when our friends and family members go off the rails.)
Working with people homeless on the streets of Toronto I knew quite a few folks who had experienced psychiatry from the inside out. Some swore that their prescriptions offered salvation while others experienced satan in tablet or capsule form.
This past week, I signed myself up for a psychological assessment. I was curious to know, as a follower of Jesus, just how crazy how I really was.
Was my vision of where the Church might go delusional – driven by a dark subconscious ego-hungry neediness? Or, was it merely the high hopes for a Kingdom found among daily miracles practiced by ordinary folks.
Were the decisions I was making about my home life displaying self-destructive tendencies? Or, was I simply experiencing the normal symptoms of pain and loss that cannot be avoided on the path of transformation?
I found the process fascinating, disturbing, challenging, and re-assuring. It was a blessing to receive the care and attention of a professional who treated my trust with high regard.
Indigenous cultures – which of course Jesus was a member of – have long practiced such rituals. At key moments in people’s lives – when the community of elders feels that they are ready – shamans conduct carefully crafted procedures to bring out both the devil and the saviour deep within us all. Mind-bending is a part of the process. Both shaman and disciple enter into a reality – go to a place – where what seems normal and sane matters little – and what the heart sees is always true.
The Holy Week drama - from Palm Sunday’s parade to Easter morning’s promise – offers us an opportunity to enter into the madness that is the human condition. The inescapable, Shakespearean drama of politics and human frailty mixed up with a potent and toxic cure of hope inspired from beyond, below and above the stage. In the wings are both future and past generations sending prayers and angelic guidance.
As with all great theatre, we can watch and critique, or choose to put ourselves into the story. Pick a character to relate to and follow their path to the end. Next Easter we can choose another character that seems more like where we are this time round the sun. What does their story, their pain, confusion and betrayal of high hopes have to say to me as I plunge along in the river of 2010.
Remember, according to Luke’s gospel, Jesus was born of GOD in the virgin’s womb. It means that the insanity that Jesus practiced was the way towards the Christ redemption. To discover the Christ in each of our hearts – is to enter in – in the company and care of accomplished elders – to the heart of today’s age-old madness. Ritual is the way we do this without losing our footing on the path. We enter into the brokenness of the whole loaf Jesus holds out to us. To taste our piece of that broken story is to take our part in the redemption of the whole. Only together will we make the Kingdom come.
Let me leave you with a passage from Annie Dillard’s “Holy the Firm” that speaks hope into our hopeless condition.
“Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD?
Or who shall stand in his Holy place?
There is no one but us.
There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead – as if innocence had ever been – and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak and involved.
But there is no one but us.
There never has been.
There have been generations which remembered, and generations which forgot; there has never been a generation of whole men and women who lived well for even one day.
Yet some have imagined well, with honesty and art, the detail of such a life, and have described it with such grace, that we mistake vision for history, dream for description, and fancy that life has devolved.
You learn this studying any history at all, especially the lives of artists and visionaries; you learn it from Emerson, who noticed that the meanness of our days is itself worth our thought; and you learn it, fitful in your pew, at church.”