Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Triumphal Entry - Facing Death

Post by Ian
The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”
The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
~ Matthew 21, 6-11

The passion narrative is depicted in all four gospels, consisting of the entry in to Jerusalem at the end of Jesus' ministry and his subsequent death by crucifixion. In the synoptic accounts (Mark, Matthew and Luke) the accounts in the two later books reflect the early writing of Mark, adding detail and embellishment to the story. Matthew highlights earlier scriptural backing for the actions attributed to Jesus. Luke makes Jesus in to a stoic accepter of his destiny and fate. The earlier account of Mark, to me, shows a man who knew what may happen if he challenged the powers of the day. The power of the Sanhedrin in the temple and of the Roman governors. He knew what he may face, and yet he did it anyway.

Jesus approaches Jerusalem and sends two of his disciples to fetch a colt from a nearby village. On the back of this colt, he enters the city. In this simple act, he is challenging the status quo. He is entering Jerusalem as the messiah, the chosen of God (Zechariah 9:9). The people recognise this and greet Jesus, Matthew has them ask: "Who is this?", to which the reply is: "This is the prophet Jesus, the man from Nazareth in Galilee." (Matthew 21:10-11).

Jesus not only enters Jerusalem in this way, he then proceeds to overturn the tables in the temple, where money-changers traded in sacrificial beasts and redemption money. He challenges the priests when he is questioned on where he gets his authority. The same place as John (the baptist) being his answer. Jesus proceeds to teach to the priests in parables, his preferred method of teaching. They attempt to trap Jesus in talk of sedition, asking him whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. To this he gives the well known reply of: "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and to God that which is God's" (Mark 12:17). In doing this, Jesus separates spiritual authority from temporal.

After challenging the authority of Jerusalem in this manner, Jesus shares the passover feast with his disciples. After the meal they go to the Mount of Olives and the garden of Gethsemane. Here Jesus prays for the cup to be taken from him, he is aware of what is likely to come. He has already stated during the meal that one of his disciples will betray him. Sure enough, a crowd arrives to arrest Jesus - sent from the priests and scribes of the temple. They try him and pass him to the Roman authorities for execution. The governor, Pontius Pilate, is accounted as being reluctant. Understandably so, here is a man who is counted as a prophet by the common people and who is popular. To condemn him could cause a riot. Yet, on the other side, the local power of the temple is asking him to fulfil a duty of Rome - to execute a prisoner they have tried. Jesus is also on the borderline of preaching sedition against Rome in his claim to be the King of the Jews, a post that Rome had abolished by this time in the province (Augustus dismissing Herod Archelaus, the son of Herod the Great in 6AD). Judea was now a province of Rome, directly ruled by Rome's governor.

And so, Jesus was crucified - the death of a criminal. Above him, it is written, was the sign IESVS·NAZARENVS·REX·IVDÆORVM - Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. On the cross, Jesus finally despairs as the spirit of God leaves him in death. Yet, in his death, the veil of the temple is rent in two - giving the hope of direct contact with God for the people. No more would the priests of the temple be required as an intermediary.

The story of the passion, I think, is among the most moving in Christianity - even without the usual interpretation of Jesus sacrificing himself to rid humans of original sin. Most Unitarians would agree with me that one's sin is one's own, not inherited. No, Jesus did sacrifice but not in that way. He showed a path to God that we can follow, if we have the courage to set aside everything and follow him (Matthew 19:16-30).

It is especially relevant today. Looking at events in the Middle East - Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Yemen. People all over the Middle East have been stepping in to danger, to challenge the status quo. They have protested against their rulers, knowing that they might be killed or be made to disappear. Here are examples of people, who have decided to make a stand - no matter the cost. Like the Chinese student who was filmed standing up to the approaching tank in Tiananmen Square, the people in the demonstrations throughout the Middle East risk their lives to speak out. To speak out against oppressive authority, to protest, to accept the slings and arrows of others without retaliating in kind ... this is courage. I can only hope that, if faced with a similar situation, I would have the courage to follow the same course of action and to make a stand for what is right.

At three o'clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, "Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani?", which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of the people standing there heard this, they said, "Listen! He's calling for Elijah!" So someone ran and soaked a sponge in some sour wine. Then he put it on a stick and offered Jesus a drink, saying, "Wait! Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down!" Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. The curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion who stood facing Jesus saw how he had cried out and breathed his last, he said, "This man certainly was the Son of God!"
~ Mark 15:34-39

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul and spirit, joints and marrow, as it judges the thoughts and purposes of the heart. No creature can hide from him, but everyone is exposed and helpless before the eyes of the one to whom we must give a word of explanation. Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone to heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us live our lives consistent with our confession of faith. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. Instead, we have one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet he never sinned. So let us keep on coming boldly to the throne of grace, so that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
~ Hebrews 4:12-16

1 comment:

  1. A very relevant and moving account of the Easter story, Ian. Thoughtful and beautifully articulated.