March 25, 2018 – Palm Sunday B
Isaiah 50:4-9a; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1-15:47
Excitement. Anticipation. Joy. Celebration.
Confusion. Anger. Sadness. Grief.
If I had to pick one word to describe Palm Sunday, it would be paradox. In a short span of time, we have gone from a people praising our King to a blood thirsty mob calling for his death. Such a radical shift can take our breath away and leave us unsettled, as the emotions and thoughts continue to swirl within us.
What just happened? How do we make sense of this? How does the non-violent and loving Jesus end up suffering an excruciating and violent death?
That’s what paradox can do. It can draw us past two seemingly contradictory things to a larger truth that contains them both. And it is fitting that we begin this Holy Week with a paradox, because that is the nature of our faith.
There is a paradox at the very heart of Christianity. On one hand, Jesus Christ is everything we have ever needed and ever wanted. And on the other hand, Jesus Christ is the one we seek to eliminate. We acknowledge him as our King and the source of our lives. But we also seek to eliminate him because he isn’t the King we expect.
Today we have relived the Passion, the suffering of Jesus, according to Mark. And one of the main thrusts of Mark’s Gospel is to tell us what it means when we say that Jesus is our King. In the very first sentence of his Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus is the Christ, and the Son of God. Christ and Messiah are interchangeable and mean anointed one. When people were anointed in the Bible, it meant they were chosen by God and had oil poured over them to designate them as prophets, priests, or kings. In the development of salvation history, God’s people began to see that God would designate an anointed one, a ruler or king, to deliver God’s people out of their bondage. And in the Gospel of Mark, we see that the people were expecting Jesus to be the anointed one, the one who would overthrow the Roman empire who ruled them. But Mark takes great pains to show us that Jesus is the anointed one, but not in the way they or we would expect. Instead of Jesus being a ruler who violently opposes others, Jesus is a King who gives himself away in self-giving love for everyone.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus continually tells the disciples that he will be rejected, killed, and rise after three days, but they can’t hear it. Jesus tells them three times that this is what his mission as King is. The first time, Peter rebukes Jesus because this isn’t how the Messiah should talk. The second time, the disciples aren’t exactly sure what he’s talking about and then start arguing about which one of them is the greatest. Jesus tells them a third time that he will be condemned, mocked, killed, and then rise again, and James and John ask for the highest positions in Jesus cabinet when he comes into power.
And the disciples aren’t the only ones who can’t see Jesus for who he is. The only characters in Mark’s Gospel who know who Jesus is are the demons he encounters. And it’s not until the climax of Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus breathes his last and dies on the cross, that a human being actually sees him for who he is. It’s the Centurion, a Roman soldier outside of the Jewish people of God, who assisted and oversaw Jesus’ tortuous death on the cross. It’s at the moment of Jesus’ death that the one who helped kill him sees Jesus for who he really is. And it’s at this moment that Mark is showing us what it means for Jesus to be God’s anointed ruler – our King and the kingdom he makes available to us, aren’t about violence and force, they’re about self-giving love. This is a kingdom whose King comes not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.
I heard the following story on a podcast. During Christmas, a man’s four-year-old- daughter asked what the holiday was about. The father explained that it was a celebration of Jesus’ birth. The little girl wanted to know everything about him so they started reading stories and talking about his message: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
One day they were driving by a church with a large crucifix and the little girl asked, “Who is that?” The father was hesitant because he hadn’t told her that part of Jesus’ story yet. But he went on to say that the secular and religious authorities killed him because his message of love was too troublesome.
Later in January on MLK day, the daughter asked her dad who Martin Luther King, Jr. was.
“Well,” the father said, “he was a preacher.”
“For Jesus?” the daughter asked.
“Yeah, actually, he was. But there was another thing that he was really famous for. He had a message.”
“What was his message?”
“Well, he said that you should treat everybody the same no matter what they look like.”
“Well,” the daughter replied, “that’s what Jesus said.”
“Yeah, I guess it is. I never thought of it that way, but yeah.”
She thought for a moment and then asked, “Did they kill him, too?”
This is why we seek to eliminate Jesus Christ, because we know that he calls us to self-giving love. It means that we can no longer decide who is worthy of love. We can’t limit it to those who align with us politically, culturally, or religiously. Or those whose behavior we approve of. And this is why we turn from a people praising our King to a bloodthirsty mob calling for his death—because the King we want to kill our enemies is the one who call us to love our enemies. To love without regard or condition. This is how the non-violent and loving Jesus ends up suffering an excruciating and violent death. He challenges our right to determine who is worthy of love.
At the heart of the gospel is the paradox that Jesus Christ is everything we have ever needed and ever wanted, and that Jesus Christ is the one we seek to eliminate. And as we continue to live into Jesus’ passion throughout this Holy Week, we will enter more deeply into this paradox. We will be unsettled and will have questions. What is the larger truth that we are being invited into?
It’s the truth that God’s love continues to pursue us, even when we turn on our King and crucify him.
And one day we will be able to hear him that self-giving love is the way to truly find our lives. Maybe not today, maybe not this Holy Week, but one day we will be able to let go of our desire for position, power, and the right to determine who is worthy of love.
And we will find that he is the only King we’ve ever truly wanted.
Hosanna. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.