Blogging Towards Palm Sunday, April 1st
What is power? We live in a season in which several people in our country are scrambling to become the President – the most powerful man (or woman) in the world. What makes power? A super PAC? An Ivy League degree?; Money?; a particular zip code?; military power?; connections?; luck? We are in a confused age in which greatness, power, authority, fame, are aspired to – and yet often times responsibility to those over whom power is given, is shrugged off. Look at our schools. Look at what is happening in Syria. Look at the major themes of the box-office smash movie of the past week “The Hunger Games.” In an age and culture in which the squeaky wheel gets the oil, the loudest complainer gets ahead; the message of Jesus is counter-cultural, pointing to a parallel way of being in, but not of, this world.
The greatly influential German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) best frames the way that our world today envisions and defines power. He wrote of the will to power, believing to be the main driving force in man (and he meant man as he was an open misogynist). Achievement, ambition, the striving to reach the highest possible position in life; these are all manifestations of the will to power.
Nietzsche both loved and despised Jesus. He despised the Jesus of Christianity, rejecting the creedal affirmation of Jesus in the parable of the cross: power in weakness, new life from death. Nietzsche did love the historical Jesus, as he called him, as a worthy opponent, an überman who redefined culture and human history through his ambitious preaching and powerful presence in an age of Roman occupation and imperialism. Nietzsche believed that it was the ruling class of the Jews that killed Jesus, for he threatened the status quo, the way in which the world worked according to class, family lines, education and wealth.
What’s curious about the parable of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, what we commonly call Palm Sunday, is that it embodies and articulates this very un-nietzschian nature of Jesus, who doesn’t will to power over, but rather comes to proclaim something else.
We picture the events of Palm Sunday one way – maybe with millions of palm branch waving pilgrims throwing themselves at the feet of Jesus mounted on a donkey. In my mind it’s a mix of the crowds of women throwing themselves at the Beatles [video link], along with the mass of people listening to a great political speech – like MLK Jr.’s Dream Speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. It probably wasn’t that massive. Historically we have to wonder if it was so important why didn’t more peole come out to cheer him on?; And how could so many change their mind about him in only 5 days?
The text of Mark 11 (and Matthew 21, Luke 19, and John 12) all lift up Jesus as the MESSIAH – “the anointed one”, the long awaited King, issued of David’s ancient royal line to return according to God’s promise to deliver Israel from it’s enemies and oppressors. We reread the words of Psalm 118, interpreting Jesus’ choice of entry into Jerusalem upon a humble beast of burden as the realization of God’s goodness and faithfulness that extends to all generations. Jesus is the One who comes in the name of the Lord to declare something new, to restore the kingdom, to install a new reign in which the God of Israel is known, worshipped, acclaimed and God’s divine teaching is applied. It’s a new cultural-political paradigm best summed up in the image that punctuates the psalms, that the God of Israel is the God who sides particularly with the Orphan, the Widow and the Foreigner who sojourns among us : the weak, forgotten, and despised ones.
Did the disciples get what was happening that day? I don’t know. I’m not sure I get it even today. Jesus comes to create a new way of being together. His strategic plan for nationhood, or a constitution for his kingdom is best summarized in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-16)…blessed are … the ones that our world doesn’t called blessed, enviable or even desirable. Many leaders have come throughout the ages, acclaimed as the One to bring peace, prosperity and purpose. But most often they have come on the back of a war horse, on the top of a tank, or in the belly of a B-1 Bomber.
Those that followed Jesus realized that they were called to live in a parallel culture. Paul in the Bible calls it “living in the world, but not of it.” Henry David Thoreau called it “marching to the beat of a different drummer”. The early Jesus people called it CHURCH – ecclesia (in Greek). It was a political term which meant an assembly of people called out of the current political paradigm (that’s the “ec-“ preposition at the beginning) in order to be something different, to follow another One.
· Who does are society/culture lift up as the blessed ones?
· Why do you consider Jesus to be an überman, the King who comes in the name of the Lord? How can you explain it? How does it impact your daily life?
· How do we get lost, claiming to follow a different leader, yet forgetting that we aren’t called to follow just in words, but to live in a parallel culture?
· How is the Spirit of God inviting you to hope or act through this text today?