Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 21:1-11 and 27:11-54: Palms and Good Friday Passion

How does one get from “Hosanna in the highest” to “crucify him” in less than a week?  The classic answer is people are fickle.  Crowds are easily swayed and turned into mobs by a few loud and angry voices.  This King of the Jews did not give the people what they wanted, so they got angry.  Yes, well I believe while the classic answer points in the right direction, it does not cut nearly deep enough.  Perhaps, though, the reason we tend to only hear this shallow understanding most often is because too many preachers are afraid not to give the people what they want………..

Hail, King.  The people in Jerusalem understood that Jesus was a man of demonstrated power.  He healed the man born blind.  He raised Lazarus from the dead.  They could accept such a man as King, but what did they expect in return? 

They expected this man of power would rise up and cast out the Roman oppressors.  They expected him to establish the Jewish people in a Kingdom of righteousness, which they interpreted as showing the world the righteousness they already had and ruling over all the other people in the world.  The Jews thought they would all be in charge, in control, rich and powerful.  But what did they get?

They got a man who challenged the Temple and the Temple economy, the worship, the traditions and the people themselves rather than the Romans.  They got one who criticized every form and content of their worship – those things that stood at the very core of their lives.  They found in Jesus one who rudely spoke of nothing but politics and religion and said things that did not fit what they wanted to hear, so what they wanted was to make him shut up!

Oh, with the palms, the people recognized that Jesus was the King, but they did not understand when on trial he said plainly that his Kingdom was not of this world.  They just didn’t get it.

I believe the people were not really fickle at all.  I believe they were more than mere sheep made into a mob by a few loud and angry voices.  I believe by Friday morning, the people – all of the people – felt disappointed, insecure, afraid – their cherished lives called no better than rotten sepulchers.   They felt threatened, and had their high hopes and expectations dashed and when the people cried out “Crucify him,” I believe they meant it.

They discovered that Jesus not only blesses, teaches, heals and leads; he also disturbs.

Disappointed:   We are always and continually disappointed when we discover (over and over) that God is not in the wish fulfillment business like some fairy godmother.  God will never give us everything we want.  God only gives what he wants for us, and while we confess that is only the best for us, it is not necessarily what we think is best for us.  So we shake our fist at God and accuse him of not being nice to us, simply because he has not given us what we want.

The Jews wanted a King that would make them rich and powerful rulers over the nations.  That is not what they got.

Insecure:  People need to be in control, to feel secure in how they live and what they do.  Knowing what is expected of a person is the only way life does not feel out of control.  Keep the traditions.  The Jews were especially strict about what was allowed and what was not allowed, and most especially for the Pharisees.  This attitude toward the law, rules and regulations allowed for an orderly, regular and secure life.  The people, for the most part, did what was expected of them, particularly in matters of worship, and they felt good about it.  They went home at night and slept well, believing they had done the right thing.

Now Jesus challenged all of that.  You are doing it wrong.  You are not doing what is right.  He disturbed the status quo.  He turned the world upside-down.  Instead of regular, orderly rules and regulations, he offered freedom.  That frightened people half to death.  Free to follow the Spirit of the Law instead of the letter?  Most people couldn’t imagine what that even means.

Afraid:  The thing that frightened the people the other half to death was the idea that everything needed to change, and not in the way the people wanted.  Not only the social customs and religious traditions, but individuals in their own lives had to change.  It is the idea that Jesus came into the world to liberate us from our own lives, and how like death that can feel. 

We are disappointed when God does not fulfill our wishes in this life, but we are disturbed when God says we must change.  We are, by nature, determined to keep things the way they are.  We are deathly afraid when God says that everything we cherish is rotten to the core.  We want our sins justified, not condemned.  And now we must consider ourselves dead to sin?  How like death it feels.

You see:  God cares about our physical wellbeing, but that is not his focus.  God is focused on our spiritual well being. 

AND God cares about our economic and worldly success, but that is not the most important thing to God.  The important thing is our relational success.  He want us in the right relationship with him and each other whether we receive money or praise or nothing. 

AND God cares about politics and religion.  He cares about all of those who are in authority in this world.  But he cares much more about moral authority.  He is most concerned about the morality of the decisions we make that affect the lives of other and how we morally respond to the decisions of others that affect us. 

AND our external lives in this world matter to God, but what matters more is our internal lives.  God knows if the internal can be made right, the external will follow.  And no, it does not work the other way around.  How threatened do we feel when someone points a gun at us?  They can only kill us.  How much more threatened do we feel when someone tells us our every cherished belief and feeling is WRONG.  They can destroy us. 

Threatened:  What did the people expect?  They expected the King of the Jews would be a rival to Rome.  What they got was a King who was a rival to sin, death and evil, and they did not get it – they did not understand.  Jesus did not threaten Rome.  He threatened the Temple, the worship, the whole way of life of the Jewish people.  Certainly the Pharisees felt threatened.

When the people cried out, “Give us Barabbas,” it is clear what they thought.  At least Barabbas is willing to pick up the sword for us.  At least with Barabbas we have some hope of getting out from under the Roman thumb.  At least with Barabbas we have hope of getting some of what we want.  This Jesus is not only refusing to give us what we want, he is scaring us to death, telling us we need to totally redirect our lives, totally transform our thinking, totally change our desires until they conform to HIS opinion of godliness, righteousness and God’s desires.

Who is this Jesus to threaten us and tell us we need to change?  Crucify him, the jerk!  (I added the jerk part).

No, I can see how easily people turned.  It was not because people are fickle, it is because after close examination they felt disappointed, insecure, afraid, threatened, and in anger lashed out.  And here is the thing.  You and I are no different.   

We get angry and upset at God whenever we realize that our wants and desires are not at the top of God’s to do priority list.  We stress out whenever some change is forced upon us, and refuse to even think about the kind of changes that we know in our hearts God really wants us to make. 

Whenever our cherished ideas – the way we view the world and the way we feel it should be are threatened, we lash out too.  It’s like saying, “Grandma taught me that Bible lesson when I was just a little child”  Or, “I learned this from Doctor So-and-so who faithfully preached the gospel for sixty years.”  Or, “My father told me this.”  How would you feel if someone had the audacity to say grandma was WRONG, Doctor So-and –so was obviously an idiot and clearly your father was not a Christian…… 

In a small way, that was the kind of thing that Jesus said in those few days, or at least it was the kind of thing the people heard.  And you know what?  If we spend time in his word and in prayer, dependant on the Holy Spirit, it is the kind of thing Jesus often says to us to this day.  The only question then for us is how do we respond.  Do we come humbly before the throne and say Hail, King?  Or do we cry out, “Crucify him!” and want only to shut him up?

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