The Turning of the Tide


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.

19 replies

  1. Dan,

    Let me take the thread a different direction – those who deny the hyped rhetoric of the current debate are simply in denial. But I will not argue that.

    I am concerned at the all to easy “sermon point” that assumes that the crowd shouting “hosanna” at the beginning of the week are the same folks shouting “crucify him” days later. For someone like me who fervently tries to read our Holy Week texts from a post-Holocaust perspective, while such an interpretation may preach well, it can easily reinforce anti-Jewish stereotypes suggesting a shallow and fickle people. Dom Crossan, a couple of years ago in the CC, addressed this very issue.

  2. Here’s a congressman and civil rights hero, who just happens to be a United Methodist pastor, getting spit on by what you term a “peaceful, dignified” crowd:

    Here’s a blog where a pastor talks about the death threat her husband, a congressman, received.

    There is a clear and present danger to this country from right-wing terrorism, supported by conservative Christians. If you do not see it, you are either blind or part of the problem.

    As if our health care system isn’t morally equivalent to abortion. In both cases, children die because it is cheaper and more convenient. The only difference is that if an 18 year old unemployed single woman does it, it’s a sin, whereas the free market is sinless, like Jesus I suppose.

    • Jjoe,

      I never saw anyone spit in the video.

      Congressmen on both sides of the isle have received death threats.

      Kenneth Gladney was beaten, kicked and called racist names by Russ Carnahan’s SEIU supporters after a health care town hall meeting in August.

      I agree with John Montgomery on this one, when he says “those who deny the hyped rhetoric of the current debate are simply in denial.”

      • I hope you understand that I condemn the bad behavior of Christians against both sides. This was never a political issue for me. You may note I am as critical of the Olbermanns as I am the Becks. People have the right to their opinions on health care, abortion, human rights, care for the poor, human sexuality, etc. — either for or against. People use their faith as a basis for their opinions. I in no way made any statement that they don’t have a right to do so. One picture aside (and I have since heard that the picture in question comes from a rally that included a rock throwing incident and arrests, but I can’t subtantiate anything beyond one person’s claim that they were there) I made an assumption that people had been watching the news and had seen incidents of, and heard threats of, violence. I assumed people had heard the rhetoric from some television preachers supporting these acts. My point is that NONE of the acts committed by ANYONE, but especially Christians, should be acceptable. You want to call it “hyped rhethoric” and point to Kenneth Gladney and acknowledge what happened in Michigan? I don’t get it. I am against this kind of violent behavior and I don’t believe it is justifiable for anyone, let alone Christians. Is this what you disagree with?

  3. I’m responding to your challenge to:

    “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?”

    I decided to use the picture you provided with the article …. obviously a picture from a recent demonstration against the health care bill, possibly one of the dreaded Tea Party groups?

    So now I challenge you and all of your readers to have a look at the faces and tell me if you see hatred and blood lust as you suggest. I looked at it….closely….(you can check the close-up view at the URL posted below) and I’ve seen them up close and personal….and what I see is a diverse group of American citizens exercising their God given right to express their opinions in a peaceful, dignified manner!

    You are certainly entitled to your opinion(s) as well, but your incendiary rhetoric concerning those Americans who perhaps oppose your views only fans the fires of the hatred you warn against and negates all sincerity of your passionate call for a “course of kindness, civility, compassion, mercy, justice, self-control, and love.”

    Consider me a friend…’re losing control. You aren’t just “shift(ing your) focus to vengeance and anger”…’re shifting others in that direction as well.

    • Uhm, I wasn’t talking about the stock pictures. If you watched the news or looked at online images — or talked to people at the rallies (health care & immigration) you would have seen/heard what I mean. I cannot personally find it in myself to defend the name-calling, violent slogans, or death threats regardless of the source. I’m not picking on a political agenda — I’m picking on any worldview grounded in aggression and violence.

      • I used the picture that you have above titled “Now” Are you suggesting that you didn’t title it that….that it’s a “stock” photo only? If you claim the meetings etc. are violent and blood thirsty….why not put up a picture that would help us all identify what you saw.

        Have you personally attended any of the gatherings you mention? As I said….I have attended several of them and the people I see there look pretty much like the picture you posted and I didn’t see or hear anything like you describe it.

        It’s difficult for me to believe that you aren’t focused on a particular political agenda when the gatherings that you cite are “health care and immigration” and “anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality rallies.”

        I hope you aren’t suggesting that any reasonable Christian would support name-calling, violent slogans or death threats. I’m certainly not calling for that….

        I didn’t support the health care bill, I don’t support an “open border” or “amnesty” approach to immigration and as a Christian I am strongly opposed to abortion except in certain very extreme situations. My worldview may be quite different from yours, but it doesn’t follow that mine is grounded in aggression and violence.

        I have seen the articles etc. by the mainstream media and I have yet to see full footage of any of the violence and aggression that you mention. I’ve heard people “talk” about it….but I haven’t seen any evidence. The real tragedy of that is that I did indeed see audio/video footage on a cable network of a man that was beat half to death at one Tea Party rally by SEIU union thugs…..and it was never even mentioned on network TV.

  4. I think most of the people we label as “entitled” have lives that are anything but easy. The only people I have ever met who feel entitled are those who have comfortable, easy lives.

    Feeling unentitled, i.e. undeserving of what God and capitalism have given you, is not easy at all. Conversely, feeling entitled is a breeze, requiring only a sense of satisfaction with one’s personal condition and an unwillingness to change.

  5. “Easy” seems to be an outcome and difficult to get a handle on. I find substituting “entitled” to be something that can more fruitfully be engaged.

    For instance: “No one said I was going to be entitled. Entitlement is letting your emotions run away with you. Entitlement is being reactive. Entitlement is lashing out. Entitlement is losing control. Being Christian isn’t to be entitled. I think it’s one of the reasons why we need each other – to remind each other we are not entitled by our faith, but engaged by it.”

    • I have to use “easy.” I know folks who would argue that they are not entitled – no wealth, no special position, etc. – but who will look for an easy faith – a faith that doesn’t “cost” something. Just let them sit in the pew and listen to a sermon, put a dollar or two in the plate and go home happy that they’ve attended once of the two times they go to church each year. That’s “easy” faith, and one that is rejected by Jesus…

  6. Our pastor’s message Sunday was that perhaps there were 2 crowds, those who believed Jesus’ message and attempted to live it and those who had opposed it from the beginning. He also went back to Luke 9:23, where Jesus told his followers they must *daily* take up their cross (confront evil) and follow Jesus. In the Wesley Bible footnotes, John Wesley is quoted as saying, “that day is wasted wherein no cross is taken up.” As Dave. W. said above, it is not an easy path to becoming Christian.

  7. I have found that those who practice “easy,” the ones prone to emotional run-away, reactivity, lashing out, losing control, are the ones least involved in congregational life. By “congregational life,” I mean a deep commitment to discovering Christ through the repeated act of being present-whether in the fellowship, the Bible study, the participation in liturgy, etc. My burden during Holy Week is the realization that few people show up to Maundy Thursday or Good Friday and instead opt for Easter egg hunts and Easter ham. As I think about the implications of “easy,” I think it’s often tied to the fact that sometimes *we* (and I include myself in that) want to avoid the cross. It’s easier to look around it, look for another path, block the thought of it, than it is to carry it. Lord, in your mercy…

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