Saturday, 28 March 2015

Jesus rode into Jerusalem for you!

This week I was struck by a deeply troubling and challenging question as I contemplated Jesus entry into Jerusalem. “Did Jesus ride into Jerusalem for the sake of Caiaphas and for Pilate as well?

This question is an important question, a really vital question, because when I consider my place of position, power and prosperity as an Australian and then try to cast myself back into that moment in history I do not naturally find myself standing by the roadside.

On a global scale I would think that I remain among the more privileged people on this planet. So, in Jesus time, on that fateful day, it is more likely I would have found myself among the temple authorities or maybe part of the Roman court officials in Jerusalem.

Growing up as Christians we have been taught to imagine ourselves standing by that roadside as Jesus entered Jerusalem. As children we may have waved our branches and as adults we may have contemplated ourselves as part of the scene.  Yet, what if we were not there, what if we as the prosperous and privileged, as we are now in Australia, did not find ourselves by the roadside.

Does Jesus come for us as well? Did Jesus enter Jerusalem for Caiaphas and Pilate?

When we stop and consider Jesus words to the Greeks who came seeking him, words which we read in church last week that “all people will be drawn into my death”, the answer is ‘yes’!

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

When we stop and consider Paul’s words to the Philippians that there will come a time when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus entry into Jerusalem and into Holy Week is for everyone, from every time, and from every place.

Yet, we have been trained and indoctrinated to think differently about the events of that day so long ago.  Our vision is partly distorted by the reformation and the enlightenment and how that has changed our view of ourselves and of the place of faith.

At the time of the Reformation, 500 years ago, Martin Luther is often cited for encouraging us to separate religion and politics.  It is an interpretation of his teaching and his life which I would seriously question.  But there can be no doubt that many of us in this contemporary world think that religion and politics don’t mix.

In addition, the enlightenment has taught us the concept of liberal democracy and the rights of the individual – the rights summed up in the American Constitution of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  The pinnacle of our culture is our individual right to believe and think and achieve for ourselves and we have made this a critical part of our faith.  For many of us faith is about God, Jesus and me.

Both of these ideas distort our understanding of Palm Sunday and Holy Week.

You see, I have this conviction that it does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

Again and again I read commentaries on this story which remind me that what Jesus was doing in this prophetic action was politically subversive – Jesus was leading a protest.  His actions were deliberate and planned as he enacted the prophecy of Zachariah. 

One of the ways we might understand this is through the understanding that Jesus procession was not the only procession that entered Jerusalem just before the Passover.  The scholars John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg remind us that the Roman prefect Pilate probably entered Jerusalem around the same time – maybe not the exact same day but very close to the same day.

Pilate did not live in Jerusalem but came to the city for the Passover bringing extra troops as the city swelled with pilgrims coming from all over the region.  As Pilate entered the city he was reasserting the Roman dominion over the Israelites.  It was a show of Roman authority and power in this occupied territory.  He was reminding them that Emperor Tiberius was the son of god; he was reminding them they were a conquered people.

Jesus entry into Jerusalem, most likely from the opposite side of the city, was a parody of the Roman parade.  He was making a clear and obvious statement and stance against Rome and its theology, and also against those among the Jewish authorities who had colluded with the Romans. 

Jesus is standing against the systems of division, of oppression, of violence, of manipulation, of dehumanising, of corruption, of idolatry.  He is making a mockery of what we think it means to exercise dominion within the creation and over one another.  Many of these ideas of power, privilege and authority have been handed to us today and are present in politics, religion and business!

The parody that is Jesus entry into Jerusalem is paradoxical. The crowd that surround him later desert and even betray him. They miss the joke that Jesus is making because for most in the crowd they want Jesus to be like Pilate.

Yet standing against something is hollow unless Jesus is also standing for something.  And Jesus is standing for something: he is standing for the coming kingdom of God, the hope of God’s rule in our lives and our hearts.  Jesus is standing for salvation which leads people towards reconciliation, mercy, love, forgiveness, peace, inclusion; he is standing for fullness in life!

As Jesus challenges the politic and religious systems of his time he continues to question the political and religious systems of our time.  He rides into Jerusalem to challenge the way we are all complicit in these systems.  Jesus was challenging everything and Jesus was coming for everyone!

Jesus act was a universal declaration. It was political and it was very personal!

As church members by constantly coming and placing ourselves in the picture, each Palm Sunday, alongside the palm strewn, cloak-filled way we make Jesus entry about a select few: the ones who gather. Ironically, the select few that accompanied Jesus on that we know also turned away from Jesus later in the week.

But, if John’s version of Jesus is right and Jesus is acting as the High Priest for all peoples then his act of reconciliation is not limited to those who are present but he is acting for all humanity as he draws them into himself and as he is raised up.  According to the book Hebrews continues Jesus role as the High Priest recognised by John continues eternally.

Think about the scene and who wasn’t there. 

The woman who kept her children at home that day because raising her children safely in this war torn world was tricky and being involved in protests was dangerous.  Jesus came for her!

Or, The Roman soldier who had been sent out to Jerusalem away from his family to serve his Emperor, not understanding anything about the Jewish people and their strange religion, and certainly not knowing about Jesus. Jesus came for him!

And think about people half way around the world the Turrbal people who were living in this region of the world, Asians, Native Americans, Africans, the Vandals and Visigoths of Europe, the Celts and Scots. Jesus came for them as well!

God’s love for all that God has made!  God chooses not the destruction of the creation but its salvation.
It does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

God’s desire is to save us. To save us from ourselves from our wayward, petulant and even violent political systems.  To save us from our personal insecurities, from our pride, from our anxiety, from our greed, from our sense of hopelessness, from our arrogance. 

This is the good news – for the parent who simple wants to give the best opportunities in life, for the student worried about mid semester exams, for those confronting the drudgery of work as we worship, for the teenager struggling with western culture dreaming of fighting for ISIS, for the elderly still full of life and not wanting death to come, for each one of us here – Jesus comes.

Jesus came to be the salvation of the world – not just of some.  The High Priest stands in the place of all people to reconcile them to God.

We need to be careful with our individualistic notions of faith and our conditioning to think we might have waved the Palm branches and thrown our cloaks onto the ground. Something much bigger than you or I, and our personal decisions for Jesus, is going on here.  God is saving the world!

I have this conviction it does not matter where you were standing on that day Jesus entry into Jerusalem was for you.

I have this conviction that it does not matter where you are standing on this day that Jesus entry into Jerusalem is for you.

On this day as we gather as followers of Jesus in this time and place in history Palm Sunday invites us into the spectacular idea of the good news: that every person will be drawn into that moment when Jesus is raised up.

And our deepest hope: that there will come a time that every knee shall bend and confess Jesus is Lord, not as an act of submission but love. 

We are drawn into the good news that political and religious systems which seem to oppress are more or less an accident of history and that there is a coming kingdom grounded not in violence and hate but in love and resurrection.  We are invited to live sharing the news that God is breaking down the barriers, that we are being built into one humanity filled with love and grace and the Jesus rides for us.

See him coming now he rides for you.

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