Christ was sent to challenge, not endorse, our understanding of God’s will
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday, a familiar date in the Church’s calendar but one which probably doesn’t even register with those who don’t know or care to know the Christian narrative as recorded in the New Testament gospels.
Worship services will reflect upon Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a colt or donkey, praised by his disciples and the cheering crowds who regarded him as the long-awaited Messiah finally arrived to liberate Israel from foreign oppression.
But as the days unfold, what we now call ‘Holy Week’ slowly but surely reveals the different understandings that surround Jesus and his mission.
Just as Jesus overturns the tables in the temple, so he upsets the false notions people attach to the commotion that his public ministry provokes.
In his new lyrics to an old hymn, John Bell catches the dynamics of Palm Sunday with this verse:
Ride on, ride on, while well aware
That those who shout and wave and stare
Are mortals who, with common breath,
Can crave for life and lust for death.
The nub of the issue is people’s expectations and the fact that those differ from the reality of God’s intentions embodied in the words and actions of Jesus.
The popular misconception of what the Messiah would do is a large part of the pathos of the Christian message for then, as now, the human understanding of divine truth is inadequate at best and grotesquely twisted at worst.
In the passion story, next to none of the key participants emerge with any credit, bar, perhaps, the women who watch him die and tend his tomb.
Jesus’ resurrection casts a light back on his previous ministry and especially his passion. It reveals that the great expectations that many had of Jesus turned out to be both false and failed, yet ultimately replaced with a cluster of new and unexpected expectations.
The gist of those is that God doesn’t so much come to meet us in Christ to endorse the way things are but to disrupt, challenge and radically change the entire network of relationships, interactions and powers that distort or thwart God’s will.
The gospel is neither good nor news without the ever expectant edge that the hope of such glory is drawing near.