The Dark Side of Palm Sunday … Why We (Always) Kill Him

It is a matter of fairly firm historical record that Jesus…

  • Was born in the 1st century to a rather inconspicuous family in Nazareth of Galilee
  • Launched a public ministry some time in his late 20’s or early 30’s which immediately generated controversy
  • Was crucified around Passover as something of an insurrectionist or revolutionary by a strange collaboration of Jewish and Roman ruling authorities

And if the Gospels are to be believed in any real historical sense, then it would seem that not only was this rejection/crucifixion part of the POINT of Jesus’ ministry; he actually was rather acutely aware of it – so much so that he often went out of his way to PROVOKE it.  To bring down upon his own head the “casting out” that the prophet Isaiah spoke of as being part of the divine vocation of God’s righteous “servant” (Is 53).

Some examples include…

  • His provocation of the crowds that swooned over his first sermon in Luke 4 – the famous “Nazareth Manifesto” in which Jesus claims that the great day of cosmic restoration was at hand in his ministry
  • His scandalous suggestion that Samaritans might be closer to the purposes of God than Jews (Luke 10 – the parable of the Good Samaritan)
  • And his in-your-face parable in Luke 20 in which he claims that the Jewish people had in fact launched a coup de etat against Yahweh to wrest his possessions from Him, and that Yahweh’s response would be to give the divine purposes away to others

No wonder the crowds that welcomed him enthusiastically on Palm Sunday killed him on Good Friday!  Jesus was in their face.  Always.  Always pushing them, prodding them, exposing the lies, hatred, nationalistic idolatry and God-hating that dwelt deep in the heart of those who (rightly) felt that they were the heirs to the divine promises.  But what was he doing?  And why would he do it that way?  Why not a “nicer”, more “user friendly” ministry?  Whence comes the desire to stir up animosity Jesus?  Can’t you be more like Tony Robbins?

But then all of a sudden we’re reminded … that Jesus doesn’t come to rubber stamp our self-sufficient, self-aggrandizing, self-justifying, self-made world.

Rather, he comes to expose it…

To lay it bare…

To unveil it’s dark roots…

Because only by so judging it (and us) does he have any hope of saving us.  Or as Barth says, “[It is] in his NO God that God utters his YES over us.”  To put it another way, God’s affirmation of us in Resurrection is NOT INTELLIGIBLE apart from his negation of us in the Cross.  Easter Sunday is meaningless tripe unless we’ve encountered the personal and communal horror of Good Friday.  That WE DID THIS.  WE’RE responsible for his demise.

It’s an interesting thought-experiment every so often to put modern spins on some of the provocative parables Jesus told.  Like the Good Samaritan.  A classic tale about how a hated enemy – a true “beyond the pale outsider” to the purposes of God was actually closer than some of Israel’s religious leaders.  We read the story of course through our religious goggles (“What a nice story about ‘compassion’!”), and so are not scandalized by it.  But what if…

“One day, a conservative evangelical was on the way to the Republican National Convention.  He was waylaid by robbers, who beat him, stripped him, robbed him, and left him half dead.  A little later, Bill O’Reilly drove up, and when he saw him, kept on going.  Next, Sarah Palin drove up, and when she saw him, she too passed by on the other side.  The man was in dire straights and on the brink of death, when all of a sudden, out of the blue, The Reverend Jeremiah Wright came up, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, bandaging his wounds, and pouring on oil and wine.  He took him to a hospital, promising to foot the bill.”

“Now which of the three” Jesus asked, “Do you think was a neighbor to the one who fell into the hands of robbers?”

(That was the last time Jesus ever preached at a Southern Baptist Church … they killed him shortly thereafter)

Or this:

“One day, a social progressive was on the way to do DC to do a bit of lobbying.  He was waylaid by robbers, who beat him, stripped him, robbed him, and left him half dead.  A little later, Barack Obama drove up (it’s not clear why he was cruising along the highway without his motorcade, but that’s beside the point), and when he saw him, kept on going.  Next, Keith Olbermann drove up, and when he saw him, he too passed by on the other side.  The man was in dire straights and on the brink of death, when all of a sudden, out of the blue, Glenn Beck came up, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, bandaging his wounds, and pouring on oil and wine.  He took him to a hospital, promising to foot the bill.”

“Now which of the three” Jesus asked, “Do you think was a neighbor to the one who fell into the hands of robbers?”

(And that was the last time Jesus ever preached at an Episcopalian church … they killed him shortly thereafter.)

Is this saying too much?  I think not.  Most of us use Jesus as a “symbol of provocation” and apply it to our enemies.  “Boy,” we think, “if only Jesus were here now, he’d have something to say to all of those gay people out there.”  Or “Boy,” we think, “if only Jesus were here now, can you imagine what he would say to all those war-mongering right-wingers?”  Jesus, we seem to think, would be on our team.

Such thinking only betrays how like the people of Israel in Jesus’ day we actually are.  God was their tribal deity.  Jesus should somehow validate their sense of being “in the right”.  He should “fit” within their world somehow.

But he doesn’t

Because he’s “other”

And his kingdom is “not of this world”

It doesn’t fit within conservative politics or religion

It doesn’t fit within liberal politics or religion

In fact, it lays everyone, on every side of the aisle, bare, and calls them all to account for their complicity in putting Him on the cross.

We can’t tolerate Jesus

And the extent to which we think we can only goes to show how idolatrous our view of Jesus is.  For the moment Jesus stops being a provocateur to US and our agenda, our sense of being in the “right”, is the moment that we depart from the real Jesus.  He is the “rock of stumbling.”  Not just for “those people” “out there” who we think ought to come under divine judgment, but for us, who are satiated and comfortable.  Jesus is our “rock of stumbling” too – for those of us that think we have our politics and theology “just right”.  That’s why we kill him.  Because he relativizes all of us to the Great Good that is God, before Whom every last one of us falls down embarrassed.

The great Danish philosopher/theologian Soren Kierkegaard famously wrote:

“Remove from the Christian religion, as Christendom has done, its ability to shock, and Christianity, by becoming a direct communication, is altogether destroyed.  It then becomes a tiny superficial thing, capable neither of inflicting deep wounds NOR OF HEALING THEM; by discovering an unreal and merely human compassion, it forgets the qualitative distinction between man and God.”

Or perhaps we could just go to Paul:

21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

The salvation that God brings us will not be accessible to us if we treat it merely as an “ornament” to decorate an already-right, already-put-together life.  It is an “other” that calls our self-made universe of values into question.  Only by inflicting his “deep wounds” in us can God “save” us.  And the biggest “wound” of all is realizing our complicity in the demise of Jesus.  That WE – the intelligent, urbane, enlightened, spiritual, sophisticated, “religious” folk, were ultimately the ones that drove Him to the cross.  (Isn’t it curious that we didn’t have to look to the atheists or the communists to kill Jesus; we were perfectly capable of it ourselves.  We evangelical, charismatic, catholic, protestant, liberal, missional, emergent types.)  To that extent, we’re self-condemned.  The cross is both our judgment and our salvation, if we’ll be honest.

I’m sorry if this offends.  And some of course will be offended.  But that is the nature of the gospel, the kingdom, and the Messiah that God sends us.  It, and He, is a scandal, an “offense”.  Our unwillingness to see him as an offense TO US PERSONALLY is, I think, an EXACT INDEX of the actual distance that exists between us and God.

“He who falls on this Stone will be broken to pieces; but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” (Lk 20:18)

I want to be broken all over again…

Come Lord Jesus.

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