Who Is He?Posted: April 13, 2014
Who Is He?
SLIDE 3: PALM SUNDAY PARADE
The Palm Sunday Parade begins the drama of Holy Week. We wave palms, sing, “Hosanna,” as a way of remembering that important event at the beginning of Holy Week – the last week of the life of Jesus. Palm Sunday set in motion the confrontation between Jesus and the Temple authorities and the Roman Empire that would inevitably lead to his execution on Good Friday. Jesus guessed as much, and so he carefully orchestrated the events of that Palm Sunday morning.
He had arranged in advance for a colt, the foal of an ass to be available for him to ride into the City in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass.”
The close followers of Jesus began a public demonstration as they descended the slope toward the Holy City. Pilgrims from all over Israel were camped out on the Mt. of Olives, and they joined the parade like a swelling river of people pouring down into the Kidron Valley and then flooding up through the Golden Gate. The whole mass demonstration followed Jesus up into the Temple itself, where Jesus, surrounded by the crowd shouting, “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” over turned the tables of the money changers and drove out the sellers of sacrificial animals. The money changers and the buyers and sellers in the temple were part of the corruption of the priesthood and the common people cheered Jesus as he proclaimed: “God’s house is supposed to be a sanctuary of prayer, and you have made it a den of robbers.”
With a cheering crowd around him, the Temple authorities didn’t dare lay a hand upon Jesus. Shocked, people in the crowd, the Temple authorities, and later the Romans would ask, “Who is this?” And if we are honest, it is still the question we ask today, “Who is this Jesus?” Was he a mad man, a revolutionary, a teacher, a prophet, the Messiah?”
Every film, every book written about Jesus paints a slightly different portrait. I ran across this picture of Jesus on the internet whose claim to fame is that it is the whitest portrayal of Jesus ever. But then every culture every people want to make Jesus look like themselves.
SLIDE 7: ZEALOT
One of the most recent biographies of Jesus, Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth, written by a Muslim, Reza Aslan, tries to paint a picture of Jesus as a radical Jew who wanted to violently overthrow the Romans and their Jewish collaborators – the Temple authorities and the Herodians. I think this politicization of Jesus is a particularly Muslim point of view. Islam has not only been a religion, it has also been a form of governing that has not eschewed the use of violence.
SLIDE 8: JESUS DISCIPLES WANTED TOP GOVERNMENT JOBS
Certainly Jesus’ disciples were looking for him to proclaim an earthly kingdom where he would be the monarch and his faithful followers would jockey with one another for key government jobs. Note James and John asking Jesus when he became king, if they could sit at his right hand and his left hand the principle positions of power. Also note how the disciples argued with each other at the Last Supper over who would be the Prime Minister and who would become the Secretary of State, when Jesus became king. But the truth is that before the crucifixion and resurrection the disciples didn’t get it. Jesus wasn’t seeking to replace the Romans with a Jewish administration, Jesus was inviting everyone to the Sharing Table.
In the portrait I like to paint of Jesus he was not plotting a violent overthrow of the Romans. According to the Gospels Jesus was firmly committed to the principle of non-violence – non-violent resistance. Do not resist those who are evil, but if someone strikes you on the right cheek turn to him the other also. From the cross Jesus forgave those who had crucified him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These are not the words of a person who was seeking the violent overthrow of a political system.
Instead, Jesus was seeking to set in motion an evolutionary change in human consciousness we are still working on today. Jesus was telling his followers the kingdom of God is here and now, “the Common Wealth of God is within you, for those who come to the Sharing Table in peace, and not just the absence of violence but the true peace, shalom, of the heart.
SLIDE 11: SHARE WHAT YOU HAVE DO NOT UTTER A VIOLENT WORD
Matthew 5:21 – 24 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who hates a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.
“This is how I want you to conduct yourselves in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.
Jesus understood that until we are transformed by embracing God consciousness, we will not be able to change the political systems of oppression and violence. In the 1960’s we passed Civil Rights laws intended to end discrimination in America. At the Sharing Table a week ago Thursday Claire Woener in commenting on the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act that passed recently countenancing all forms of discrimination based on religious belief, said, “Hey I thought we decided that fifty years ago?” We may have passed a law fifty years ago, but we still have not changed the consciousness of many of our fellow citizens.
And that is why it is terribly important for churches like the United Church of Huntsville to boldly witness to the way of Jesus that discrimination, especially discrimination in the name of religion in all forms is opposed to the way of love. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome at the Sharing Table of God. We joyfully embrace diversity of age, ethnicity, family structure, gender identity and expression, mental and physical ability, nationality, political ideology, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and spiritual belief.
SLIDE 14: MIRACLE OF COMMUNITY EATING TOGETHER
Jesus pointed the way by eating with tax collectors and sinners, by welcoming and even touching the outcastes. When he performed healings, he even laid his hands on lepers, he healed the poor for free. In the feeding of the multitudes he was demonstrating the miracle of community, when his followers finally acted on his command, “You give the multitude something to eat.” Sometimes our congregations encourage some people to become church members but not others. Like a humorous story I read.
There was a little old cleaning woman who attended a local church. When the invitation was given at the end of the service, she went forward wanting to become a member. The pastor listened as she told him how she had accepted Jesus and wanted to be baptized and become a member of the church.
So he told her she needed to go home and pray about her request and then decide.
The following week, she came forward again. She told the pastor that she had prayed about it, and she still wanted to be baptized. “I have passed this church for so long. It is so beautiful, and I truly want to become a member.”
Again the pastor told her to go home and pray some more. A few weeks later while out eating at the restaurant, the pastor saw the little old lady. He did not want her to think that he was ignoring her so he approached her and said, “I have not seen you for a while. Is everything all right?”
“Oh, yes,” she said. “I talked with Jesus, and he told me not to worry about becoming a member of your church.”
“He did?” asked the pastor.
“Oh, yes” she replied. “He said even He hasn’t been able to get into your church yet, and He’s been trying for years.”
I know sometimes we may appear to be a motley crew here at United Church, but we are diverse and we are authentic. We seek to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. We seek to embrace the way of Jesus, joining together in the Palm Sunday parade proclaiming Jesus God’s messiah. We follow him to the Sharing Table where we welcome everyone to embrace Christ consciousness in one full circle of love and we become the earthly manifestation of the peaceable Kingdom of God.