The shift from Palm Sunday to Good Friday has always fascinated me. Cheering masses turning to ugly mobs. Crowds assembling to catch a glimpse of the possible Messiah reconvene to scream for his blood. One might think Jesus supported healthcare reform and immigration, the way people turned nasty, threatening his very life. Oh, wait, that was part of the problem. He told the rich young ruler to give away all he had to the poor. He overturned the money-changers tables in the temple. He offended the scribes and Pharisees. He offended the self-righteous by dining with Zaccheus. He offended the pious by declaring the destruction of the temple. He offended the rich by telling them they were responsible for the poor. He offended the poor by being fair and kind to tax collectors and the rich. He offended everyone by accepting everyone AND chastising everyone. I am sure that the caustic fringe (of both his day and ours) would refer to him as Jesus Hussein Christ (finally… the answer to “Jesus H. Christ”) in a petty attempt to turn others against him. It really isn’t about Jesus, (And, no, I am not comparing Obama to Jesus, so don’t drive off that cliff…) but about how people react to those they want to harm or discredit. Holy Week points out in graphic detail the bizarre mixed-bag of love, hate, adoration, contempt, praise, curse, kindness and cruelty that is the basic state of being what is known as “human.”
Part of my problem is that I know the whole story. Sitting in year 2010, I know who this Jesus guy was. But what if I were a simple, uneducated villager in the year 30. I have heard rumors. I have heard stories. I have heard of miracles and healings. Now, this rural celebrity is coming to the big city, and I have a chance to see him for myself. I gather with dozens, maybe hundreds, of other people all abuzz. Using palms to shoo flies (I am speculating here…) we begin to sweep the sky in a mounting rhythm. People lay cloaks across the roadway and soon Jesus makes his appearance, not riding in on a majestic horse, but on a simple donkey. The party spirit still prevails, but already I am wondering in the back of my mind what all the hubbub is about. He doesn’t do anything much impressive, so I go home. Over the next few days I keep hearing the stories — how he caused trouble in the temple courtyard, insulted the ruling classes, ditched the poor to feast with the rich, threatened to destroy the temple, and there are rumors that some leaders want him out of the way. Next comes the news of the arrest, and all kinds of evidence that this man Jesus is a threat, a lunatic, a liar, or an insurrectionist. What was I thinking? In the vagaries of human fickletood, I am doing what normal people do — I change my mind. I’m no longer a fan, but an opponent — and in the shifting mood of the mob, I am justified in crying out for blood. No punishment is too extreme.
And have we changed? Just watch video from this past week of people protesting health care and immigration. Look at recent footage of anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality rallies. Look at the faces. Look at the unmasked hatred. Look at the blood lust. This is what Christ saw when he looked at the crowds on Thursday and Friday. Death threats? Abuse? Violence? Certainly in our more “civilized” day, we wouldn’t lower ourselves to such behaviors. There is no way in the world we would act like “those” people did in the gospel stories. We don’t treat people like that.
When will we learn? When will we change? When will we stop living in denial? The love of God that led to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross calls us to something better. The fruits of the Spirit — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control — where is the evidence? Do these qualities truly distinguish us from “the rest of the world?” No longer must we be like children (Paul teaches) tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. Yet, tossing to and fro seems to be what we are best at. Staying the course of kindness, civility, compassion, mercy, justice, self-control, and love — this is too foreign, too strange. We just can’t manage it on a regular basis. It’s abnormal. But this is the point. No one said it was easy. Easy is letting your emotions run away with you. Easy is being reactive. Easy is lashing out. Easy is losing control. Being Christian isn’t easy. I think it’s one of the reasons why we need each other. I need friends around me who can help me when I feel like losing control. I need friends who keep their heads when I lose mine. I need people who can stay focused on God’s grace when I shift focus to vengeance and anger. My prayer is that we might become communities of grace and light, able to be one body, unified and dignified, instead of becoming a mob, masses of disgrace and darkness, doing violence not just to each other, but to the good name of our Lord and Savior.