03.28.21 Palm Sunday
Have you ever asked someone how they were doing and find their response ‘I’m Fine’ hard to beloved. Whether it is due to the tone of their voice or the look on their face, it is response that is not very convincing. You want more, you want more words to help you navigate the assumptions made from their non verbal signals.
There are some responses, or explanations that only need a word or a handful of words and you know exactly what is meant. Sometimes a very short sentence can communicate much more than a very wordy sentence.
An example, As we see the words ‘Jesus wept’, we are given a powerful moment with God’s experience of our experience of grief, as well as an evidence that Jesus, who sits next to God, understands the impact of our humanness.
As we see Jesus on the cross and hear his voice the three simple words ‘It is finished’ we are hit in the face with his determination to travel his path all the way through the cross.
And then, earlier in Mark, there is the narration ‘He intended to pass them by’
For us to understand the significance of Jesus silence before his accusers we must go back to Jesus voice in the midst of human struggle. Back to the midpoint in the ministry of Jesus. Early in the evening after Jesus fed 5,000 plus people and now he was closing out the day by permitting personal moments with those in attendance. An exhausted Jesus looked over at this disciples. This had to be an exhausted group of men, this journey following Jesus had been challenging especially today. Jesus had told them to feed the crowds, it was an absurd request. The men were tired and as Jesus saw this he insisted they get in the boat and head ahead of him, he assured them he would be fine as he pushed their boat into the deeper waters. Jesus then went back to the crowds and eventually found a quiet spot and began to pray.
When evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and Jesus was alone on the land. When he saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. He intended to pass them by.
But when they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened.
Such an odd statement, ‘he intended to pass by them’ or ‘he wished to walk on by them.’
When Jesus saw that they were straining at the oars against an adverse wind, he came towards them early in the morning, walking on the sea. he wished, to pass them by.
He intended to pass them by? What stopped him?
When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out; for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Then he got into the boat with them and the wind ceased.
Jesus plan, or his preference, had been to walk on past them, not a word or even a wave. He stopped because they were afraid, they were struggling, they didn’t see any hope. They had just seen Jesus perform this miracle yet now, with the winds growing stronger, they quickly forgot God. So Jesus got into the boat with the frightened disciples who had forgotten the power of God.
See Jesus was on a path, his calling, on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to the cross, on the way to saving the world. Saving the world was his mission not calming the disciples, nor had it been the healings or feeding, or any of the other diversions. But, Jesus could not just walk by the hurting people anymore than he could walk on by his struggling disciples. So he stopped, just like he would continue to stop whenever there was a need. That is what he did, that is what God does, he goes off the path to bring us peace, he climbs into the boat with us. Jesus detours off the path for us, he hears our cries.
Salvation of the world was Jesus’ calling, his mission, but, climbing into boats was Jesus’ character it had been carved out of compassion and mercy and powered by love.
I feel confident that I can say that we have all been in the scary boat at least sometime this past year. Many times Jesus has claimed in the boat with us. Sometimes he even sends us to climb in a boat with mercy and compassion.
When stepped off the path, he did not explain, he just helped, he calmed, he brought peace. That was what he does, there was no explanation needed, there were no expectations, no defense, no conditions, no reprimands, he just did what he knew needed to be done, and then, he resumed towards his calling, he returned to his path.
The apostle Paul explains this challenging challenge to us,
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.
A determination that is willing to go through to do what God has called you to do – that was the determination of Jesus. That is the same mind of Christ, the same way of thinking, that we are called to. A determination to follow God’s path all the while keeping our eyes open for essential detours, opportunities to reveal the same compassion and mercy displayed by Jesus. It is only then, that Christians can heed God’s first call – to save the world.
So let’s return to Holy Week.
Instead of focusing on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, on this Palm Sunday, we are going to go right up to the cross. We will travel with the compassionate and merciful Jesus on his determined path, right up to the cross.
The cross was not Jesus’ destination, however, his path led through the cross, though the empty grave, through the seat waiting next to the Father, and to his calling to save the world. The cross was an essential part of his path.
We come to the trials of Jesus following his arrest, the lies, the deceit, the holes in the contradictory statements, and the near silence of Jesus the accused. Mark’s gospel does not detail the scrambling between Pilate and Herod, it just gives us the tone and environment of what took place, and most importantly, we see what determination looks like.
Just before his arrest, Jesus had prayed in agony in the garden of Gethsemane, he had questioned God asking if there was any other way his path could go, did it have to go through the arrest, the trials, the public humiliation, the grief piled on his loved ones, the pain and misery…..was there any other way? Jesus knew the answer, he had been a part of the decision making before the beginning of our history, he knew what had to take place, he knew, but, he was also human, with the human emotions of fear and dread, he also knew, and he knew the victorious outcome, but still, he asked ‘is there any other way to get there?’
In the midst of all of this, there was already isolation, which had already begun, even his disciples were unable to help him navigate this human experience. He knew the isolation would be complete as even God would have to forsake him. The weight of the sin of the world on the shoulder of one man was not a journey that could be shared, isolation and rejection were expected but not looked forward to.
As Jesus walked from the garden, Satan grabbed the opportune moment. Satan attempted to use Jesus’ humaness against him for 30 years – now, Satan had the most opportune opportune moment, if this didn’t work, Satan had no chance of any ultimate victory. Satan manipulated and cajoled humans, the guards appeared at the entrance to the garden. They were there to arrest Jesus in this opportune moment. As Jesus saw the guards he responded,
‘“What is this, coming after me with swords and clubs as if I were a dangerous criminal? Day after day I’ve been sitting in the Temple teaching, and you never so much as lifted a hand against me. What you in fact have done is confirm the prophetic writings.” All the disciples bailed on him.’
Mark 14:48-50 (the Message)
It had begun, Jesus was alone, he had been deserted.
The religious leaders quickly put together a trial of Jesus. They coached witnesses, and brought them before the leaders as they approached their formal judgement. Finally, the chief priest said,
‘The Chief Priest stood up and asked Jesus, “What do you have to say to the accusation?” Jesus was silent. He said nothing. The Chief Priest tried again, this time asking, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed?”’
Mark 14:60-61 (the Message)
The chief priest was foaming at the mouth, Jesus remained calm which made the priest even more incensed. Jesus didn’t look angry, scared or defensive, he had just sat there. The red faced priest glared at Jesus waiting for an answer, the other leaders and priests moved to the edge of their seats, then Jesus look directly into the eyes of the chief priest and began to speak,
“Yes, I am, and you’ll see it yourself: The Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One, Arriving on the clouds of heaven.”
Mark 14:62 (the Message)
In their furor, the religious leaders, now a raging mob, took Jesus to the one who had the power to finish this ‘Jesus Problem’ off. They took him to the ruler Pilot who could send Jesus to his death.
In a room filled with the religious leaders, priests, and witnesses, Pilate asked Jesus,
“So You are the King of the Jews?”
Jesus responded, “It is as you say.”
Mark 15:2 (NASB)
As the hate filled crowded room became even more hostile, Pilate attempted to bring reason and rationale into the inquiry,
“Do You offer nothing in answer? See how many charges they are bringing against You!”
Mark 14: 4 (NASB)
Jesus, from this point forward was silent. He did not need to talk, he did not need to defend himself, it was unnecessary, he had accepted his fate when he walked into the waters of John’s baptism, he had affirmed it in the garden. This was all part of this path, it was all part of the isolation, it was all essential to his purpose. He did not need to take a detour just to prove that they were wrong, it would not advance Jesus on his path, nor would it be an opportunity for compassion and mercy. So, from this point forward, he would offer no defense, he would give no argument, now it was time for love not words.
In this opportune moment, Satan used screaming voices, lies, hatred, and deceit, Jesus, in this same opportune moment, used love, mercy, compassion, grace, and strangely, silence, and even hope.
That is what an opportune moment, a moment of opportunity. We can chose to make that detour a opportunity to add to hate, or we can use that detour to let God shine through us.
Jesus at this moment chose to shine. He chose to sacrifice himself, beginning with what others thought of him, his reputation, his sacrifice was not limited to the cross. HIs sacrifice involved his entirety. At this point, as he chose to remain silent and give not defense, he had stepped fully into sacrifice.
I think that the good and the great are only separated by the willingness to sacrifice.
Jesus was now on the same path he had been since his baptism, he was now just steps from the cross, it was now just steps through the cross.
Shortly before Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the week of Passover, the Holy Week, Mary took not he scandalous act of anointing of Jesus with her most valuable possession, a container of expensive perfume. Those present aghast and critical, they were not silent, they spoke, they criticized, the judged, they condemned. In this instance, Jesus did speak, he did offer a defense, not of himself but of Mary,
“Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”
Later, as Jesus drew his final breath and gave up his spirit, a centurion, who had been a part of the execution, now standing there where had stood all day watching and witnessing the sacrificial act of Jesus.
‘At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing Jesus and witnessed his final moments and the manner in which Jesus breathed his last breath, this centurion said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”’
Mark 15:34, 37-39
Centuries before Isaiah had voiced our call,
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the voice of his servant, who walks in darkness and has no light, yet trusts in the name of the Lord and relies upon his God?”
This is our calling. This is a Holy Week.