Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday 2013: Come in ... now get out!

Luke 19:29-40

Approaching the end of the Lenten season should always be a challenge (rather than a relief) for those disciples who have engaged and embraced the Lenten Journey for what it is intended to accomplish - discovery.  We might discover for ourselves what Jesus really endured in His last days on this earth - if we actually shared His journey - and learn exactly why He was betrayed, arrested, and executed.  We might actually discover (if we look closely) that His Crucifixion may not have been as clean as being strictly "God's will" as we watch the "world" which would welcome Him this day into Jerusalem with high hopes and great expectations; and only days later not only turn their collective back on Him but demand His death.

Would we find it different today?  I doubt it.  And I doubt it not because I think the world is inherently evil; I doubt it because the "world" is inherently stubborn and entitled (a stiff-necked people!); by its actions clearly indicating a preference for darkness even as the "world" tries to fool itself into believing there is "light", as those who consider themselves so "intellectually enlightened".  I doubt it would be different because even some "Christians" disavow the journey of discipleship, the Church, its fellowship, and its disciple (by this I mean structured order, worship, Bible study, and other means of grace - NOT punishment!).  I doubt it would be different because we have convinced ourselves that "darkness" is the real comfort in our lives; for it is in "darkness" where we can really let our hair down, so to speak, and not be discovered for what we really are rather than what we claim to be.

I have watched the life of the newly appointed pope Francis unfold; and I have read the many articles written by abortionists, gay marriage proponents, and homosexual advocates hoping for a "new era" in the life of the Roman Church.  There is indeed a "new era" unfolding; but it is not going to be what so many seem to be hoping for.  For instance, rather than observe a clean ritual service in St. Peter's Basilica with all the pomp and glitter, the world is about to watch a pope celebrate Holy Thursday in a prison outside of Rome where he will wash and kiss the feet of convicted criminals.  Oh, the outcry!  Oh, the outrage!  Oh, the wailing and gnashing of teeth!  Already there are those demanding to know if the pope intends to do likewise for the victims of these criminals.  Before the event has even taken place, the "world" has already missed the point.

Darkness.  It is what keeps us safe from exposure.  It is what conceals our truest identity.  It is what protects us from being discovered for what and who we truly are even as we feign a sense of "false righteousness" in denying what we see in the light.  How dare this priest show humility to criminals?!?  How dare this "prince of the Church" show any level of grace to these "enemies of society"?  How dare this pope not get on the social bandwagon and pay attention to the things which really matter - like birth control, "reproductive justice" (whatever that means), homosexual marriage, and female priests?  Why worry about the "last, least, and lost" when there are so many much greater problems that require our attention?

Darkness.  It is the frame of mind in which we would invite someone like Jesus into our homes with the understanding that He will give to us all our little hearts' desire, and then curse Him for a fool for failing to give us what we demanded in the first place!  Darkness is that frame of mind and spirit that offers a false sense of entitlement by which any sense of "justice" is turned completely upside down and redefined as "JUST ME". 

Can you just imagine, judging by what we observe today, what we would have sounded like on that grand day in Jerusalem?  Here comes Jesus and His reputation ("all the deeds of power they had seen") riding into town on a colt - not quite like a "conquering hero" on a noble steed, but then this guy Jesus had not been known for doing things in customary ways. 

"Blessed is the KING who comes in the name of the Lord!", shouts the crowd and which also begs the question: who - or what - were they really greeting and welcoming - with extreme enthusiasm, I might add?  A King?  A Savior?  In what sense did they understand "king"?  In what sense might they have received a "savior"?  What expectations did they really have? 

What expectations might you or I have?  To be saved from SIN?  What sin?  Sin is not the problem because sin is relative, right?  The problem is the Romans!  The problem is the Congress!  The problem is the Muslims!  The problem is the atheists!  The problem is the liberals!  The problem is the conservatives!  The problem is the bishops!  The problem is the president.  

The problem is never "us" - it's always "them".  And if Jesus does not make "them" go away, what possible use could we have for Him??

The greatest thing missing in this grand entrance among those greeting Jesus with such enthusiasm is ... FAITH.  They have "seen all the deeds of power" with their eyes.  There are references scattered throughout the Gospel accounts of people who were "amazed" at the authority with which Jesus spoke, but it is what they have SEEN that has them so worked up.  When they could no longer "see" what they wanted to see, the enthusiasm diminished.  When they began to discover that their own, private "wish lists" would not be fulfilled, they discovered no real need for this prophet.  And now feeling quite foolish for their earlier enthusiasm, there is little left but to make the "problem" go away.  In a matter of days, Jesus Himself became the "problem".

Jesus does give much credit to the crowds when He is confronted by the Pharisees, but I doubt Jesus does not know how soon they will go away; how soon they will turn; how soon the "Rock" of St. Peter will deny having ever even known Him.  But this moment is not about human behavior or human nature.  This moment in Jesus' life is much bigger than the parade.  This single moment in human history is about our Holy Father.

When we get caught up in the reality of human behavior and can see with our 20/20 hindsight what is going on, we overlook a crucial element of this story.  It is actually the primary component of the story, but we fail to see it ... or we just don't want to.  In John 14:9, Jesus tells Philip: "Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.  How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?"

In Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, we are seeing our Holy Father in all His glory - AND - in all His humility.  He is making Himself available to us, but He is NOT going to force Himself upon us or our "enemies".  THAT is how much He truly and deeply loves, and it is how we get what we truly need even when we cannot see it.  The Holy Week will unfold and we will observe the gradual degradation of our enthusiasm when we grow tired of fasting and reading and praying especially when we see no tangible, personally pleasing results of our efforts.  We may even deny His Presence simply because our lives are not going the way we want or demand.

Whether we deny our own part in this unfolding drama or not will not diminish the reality of the Divine Presence and His desire to make Himself known and available to us.  We may receive Him based on His Promise, but it seems more likely we will reject Him based on our reality

We cannot deny human nature - but we must never deny the nature of our Holy Father who sent Messiah to us to announce the reign of the Kingdom of Heaven!  Let history teach us lessons so that we do not make the same mistake twice.  Let Him in!  

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