When I turned 50 a few years back I reckon it came with permission to enter that witty, disgruntled and cynical mob, the ‘Grumpy Old Men’. So I’m one of them and wear the title with pride as I look around me this sunny morn. A ‘grumpy’ who is tired and disinterested, especially in the mediocre ramblings of public figures who believe they have something to say but leave me trembling with rage or disbelieving their audacity and arrogance. Can I bear another full-of-himself CEO telling me how hard it is to make a buck and how prices must rise and wages drop? Can I bear another financial institution defend its line of high interest on anything I look at, let alone touch and how fortunate we are to have these beacons of virtue watching over our financial interests? I am tired of us dropping bombs and ‘sending troops onto the ground’ in war torn parts. Our creative imagination has dropped off the radar such that we only think of blowing the stuffing out of people – what happened to sitting down and talking? We’re led to believe that ‘they’ won’t talk, when we have often been the first to drop a bomb, scare them to death and hope ‘peace’ will follow – what sort of peace do we think comes at the end of a gun???
The political commentary is also astoundingly stupid. Those with vested interests froth over their chosen leader like some fawning puppy blind to the ignorance, naiveté and injustice. They believe that economics, science or anything deriving from human wisdom alone will help us and make a difference, despite it is our glorious wisdom that got us here in the first place. Then the ignorant comments of leaders who promote racial ignorance and religious bigotry through their sheer stupidity or desperation to make political mileage out of unfortunate and needy people like refugees and indigenous people, is galling.
Do I sound like a grumpy? What I find most annoying is that we all buy this nonsense. We all whinge but accept it anyway because there seems to be no choice. Perhaps the constant strain of ignorance wears us down until we submit to it – anything to make them go away. Or else we tune out and watch TV, surf the net, describe our lives in meticulous tedium for all and sundry on Facebook or engage in one of the many addictive habits at our disposal. But is there a choice? Are we obliged to live under the tyranny of tedium, the insistence of ignorance, the danger of deranged dogma or the acute asphyxia of addled arrogance? Is there a real alternative, another way?
Well, this week we come to the well worn anecdote that surfaces every year to the preacher’s chagrin as they have to concoct another way into its rather simple meaning – or is it so simple? We have arrived at ‘Palm Sunday’, the story of Jesus riding innocuously into the Holy City of Jerusalem on a humble donkey to the shouts and singing of the people who waved palm branches (at least in one of the versions). It’s a nice story and we get the kids up to wave branches and they make things in Sunday school and we sing ‘Hosanna’ songs about Jesus, donkeys and people singing. It’s nice and then we go home to transform back into ‘grumpys’ or distracted people subservient to the mass stupidity we are indoctrinated with and feel oppressed by. Even this lovely story fails to change us – can anything give us hope?
Perhaps we haven’t really heard the story or looked behind it to understand the profound implications or understood Jesus’ threatening words that imply indeed an alternative, another way in the world that holds great hope and life, a significant way of another world – the one to come that is already here but not quite fully realised. You know the one, the mysterious Kingdom or Reign of God in our midst. So Jesus took a donkey and rode it with low brow pomp and heart-felt yearning amongst common people lost in a world of oppressive powers who feared them being free.
They saw and they knew and they began to sing! Have you ever recognised how singing can bring people together around a common theme or hope? It unites one and all behind the team we stand for, behind this one riding a donkey through the power zones of life challenging the status quo and the powers that be. Jesus was taking the mickey out of Caesar. On the other side of town before the other gate, Pilot, the Governor of the region and Caesar’s agent-in-place to ensure Imperial control and stability rode in on a war horse grand. He was led in by platoons of soldiers dressed to the nines with swords and shields and spears. Pilot paraded in pomp and power threatening all and sundry with Caesar’s wrath and might. All were expected to bow before this spineless wimp who hid behind Caesar’s ‘Divine’ presence, all-powerful and abusive in arrogant display.
Jesus laughed his way through the parade and revved up the crowd who were suddenly fearless and bold, reaching out in new hope to this peasant-rabbi from the sticks up in Galilee. The powers-that-be in his own land, the priests and religious leaders were aghast and afraid for what Pilate might do and if Caesar heard… They had it well in this oppressed land and they didn’t want to risk losing their place, their power and their control over people, small and dumb. Jesus was risking everything because he was obsessed with this vision of God, this vision of justice and love and all that icky, feel-good stuff that obsessive, do-gooder people seem to care about.
As a grumpy I laugh at this – the rabbi from the sticks sticking it to the most powerful figure in his world. Jesus sent him up and laughed in the face of violent, oppressive power. He gave the simple, ordinary people something to believe in, to feel good about, to hope in. He revealed the lunacy and evil of a corrupt, abusive system that only worked for the elites – and the people loved it!!!
I confess that my heart soars in the face of this, a good piece of ironic mockery that rubbishes the accepted norm and invites the world to turn upside down and enjoy a party together. Just think about it: the religious leaders can lay down their fearful, obsequious, sycophantic ways and relax into the way of God. Caesar and his minions could use their power in truly impressive ways that build up the Empire for everyone. The common people can be liberated and live together to build communities that support, nurture and inspire the best in each person. A pipe dream? Perhaps, but then Jesus believed it sufficiently to die for the vision, the belief, the way of God. His followers through the centuries have discovered that he offers an alternative worth living and dying for, a Kingdom that surpasses the pale imitations we encounter daily in the world around. What song will you sing? Who will you song for? Who will you follow?