Sunday, April 5, 2015

Not Getting What You Expected

In a remote area of England following the end of the First World War, a small country school  was given great news:  the King of England himself would be making a stop at the train station of their little town during his tour.  The children were excited like it was Christmas but unlike Santa Claus, they would actually be able to see their king in the flesh.  For the next few days, the children were busy making signs and greeting cards and decorating other knickknacks to present to the king.  At last the great day arrived and the king's train pulled into their little train station.  The children could barely contain their excitement when at last the door to the last passenger car. which had the Royal Seal on it, opened.  The King of England himself stood before the schoolchildren who were clapping, shouting and smiling like it was the best day of their life.  Several kids were able to give the cards they had made to the king and it was clear that he was very grateful for such an enthusiastic response.  After a few minutes, he waved again from his passenger car, got back in and the train left.  The schoolchildren were still left in a state of shock and awe after having witnessed such a spectacle.  The teachers rounded up the kids and were taking them back to school when one of the teachers noticed one child in tears and clearly upset.  She approached the little boy and asked him what was wrong.  He responded, "I didn't see a king today.  All I saw was a man in a suit."

Today, the Orthodox Church celebrates Palm Sunday, the triumphant entry of Jesus into the Holy City Jerusalem.  In front of him, cheering throngs received Him as He was carried in by an ass' foal.  The crowd laid down palms to mark his way.  Children shouted and sang "Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He Who comes in the name of the Lord!"  The joy and excitement which overtook this crowd so suddenly about this prophet from Nazareth did not look like it would dissipate soon.  But, it did. For we know the rest of the story:  Betrayal, Trial, Agony, Suffering, Crucifixion, Death, Burial.

The throng that had greeted Jesus as He entered was awaiting the Messiah who would bring about a new golden age for the Jews and would start by ending the tyranny of Rome which had ruled over their country now for nearly a century.  Before the Romans, it was the Seleucids.  Before them, the Persians. Before them, the Babylonians. Before them, the Assyrians.  Before them, Philistines. Before them, Amalekites, Canaanites, etc. Before them, Egyptians.  The Jews knew suffering and oppression.  Maybe now, just now, with this prophet coming into the Holy City to celebrate the Passover, a time of deliverance from one of Israel's enemies,  the people were gazing upon the very man who would deliver them from any more suffering. Unfortunately, what they expected they did not receive.

I'm sure Christ Himself was confused as to just how wrong these people were, but He didn't stop to tell them that their reason for celebration and expectations were wrong.  For, as the Scripture says, which serves as the Orthros Prokeimenon for this day, "Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, Thou hast perfected praise."  They were rejoicing, which was right, but for the wrong reasons.  They all had an image of a conquering King, which was right, but wrong in what He was going to conquer.  And how quickly that joy and exultation turned to disbelief, anger and even hatred.  How quickly those cries of "Hosanna" changed to "Crucify Him!"

Such is the problem when people believe in an idea.  The idea may well be fine but not manifest in itself in the way you have hoped and prayed for.  I'm sure that was the issue for the Jews who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday.  The problem with believing in ideas is that the idea itself doesn't care if you believe it or not.  That is why it is so dangerous, even in our postmodern culture, to reduce God with whom we can communicate personally to a mere idea.  Many people will say that they don't believe in God, but like the idea of God.  They like the idea of a God who is love, is compassion, is mercy is whatever good noun you can think of.  But, ideas cannot love you back.  Ideas cannot be compassionate or merciful with you.  Ideas don't work that way.  The Jewish people who had been suffering for so long were looking for an idea to save them.  God saves; ideas about Him do not. God loves; love as an idea does not love you back.

When that idea does not turn out as you would expect, it's very easy to immediately give in to anger, hatred, indifference, hardness of heart, etc.  Such a phenomenon doesn't just occur to Jesus on Palm Sunday, but happens all the time.  We have an idea of how the heroes of our culture are supposed to act and behave, but then react incredulously when we realize that they are just as sick and twisted as the rest of us.

Fortunately, for us, God does not and did not carry a grudge at those who had a false idea about what His Son would do.  Jesus still enters the city. He still is crucified and buried.  And He still rises on the third day.  A lesser God or a better man may well have reacted to the cheers and the laying of palms on the ground with "You have got it all wrong. And because you have it all wrong, you're not getting anything now!  I'm going home!"  But He didn't do that. His crucifixion and death and burial and resurrection were still for all.  Remember that even His Apostles still did not know what was going on.  The myrrhbearing women had to tell them and remind them of what Jesus had preached for all this time leading up to His Passion.   

As we enter into Holy Week, we know that we will receive what we expect:  The Lord, Resurrected, Triumphant over Death for us. For us.  FOR US and our salvation.

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