The Journey Becomes More Intense
It seems the crowds who gathered from near and far into Jerusalem’s holy place sang for the one who on donkey rode, he who personified their hopes. They sang for Jesus against the power of Rome and rejoiced in this alternate way. Caught up in a vision pure and clear, a way of God for everyone, they sang, danced and listened as Jesus taught, debated and lampooned. In the Temple courts where Collaborators of Compromise attempted to trick him into death, they watched, they listened and they cheered when he turned them around, twisted their words and left them hanging. What a sight for these lowly people when this one from God identified with them and took on power and upturned conceited knowledge.
For those who held the keys to the Temple they walked a very fine line – to keep the people sedated and malleable, manipulated into line and to hold the Roman leaders satisfied that they were loyal. How to hold opposites apart and keep all happy and maintain a life of ease – and wealth and power?! It wasn’t an easy balancing act but one that they had perfected – until… Until this interloper from the hillside town in Galilee came breathing his naïve ramblings of anti-Roman sentiment – aren’t there too many naïve people who speak out about the way things are? They comment, these days, on the evils of capitalism or corporate abuses or an environmental crisis that is always there. They don’t know about these things – only the real experts do, so leave it well alone to economists and the like. This Jesus comes riding into town, an ass on a donkey, to the acclaim of masses of ordinary, very ordinary, ignorant people and assumes he knows the way of God???!!
It’s hard to be important and powerful and wealthy and to keep it all together. These men worked hard and often with good intent but they were in too deep and had little wriggle room before it all came down – on their heads! Surely it would be better to sacrifice one man and maintain a peace in the city than for this one out-of-control individual to bring everything down, but how? They couldn’t just walk into the Temple courts and take him out or even arrest him – the crowds would revolt (how revolting they were!). Where he went after hours and in what hamlet he sheltered, well they didn’t know and it wasn’t easy to follow. Much to their frustration they decided to leave it be and contend with him later, when the Passover was finished and the crowds went home and he was all alone.
Meanwhile reclining at table, Jesus was embraced into a beautiful space. A woman with expensive ointment massaged and anointed his head in preparation for the imminent death, the obvious death, the death that could not be avoided now, whether human, Divine or both – his future was written in the blood on the Roman hands. Didn’t these numb brain disciples get it – surely they must? But she did and lovingly anointed his head and offered her belief while she could – before he died because he said he would rise and live beyond this death and she believed beyond her lack of coherent understanding. She believed and they didn’t understand.
This expensive perfume could have saved many a poor person if sold and the money given. You fools, said Jesus because you don’t, you really don’t understand. This woman knows and acts and believes and her generous love is a unique expression of faith and love! This unnamed woman is remembered wherever the story is read and told but we don’t know who she is – a nobody who believed and went to the top of the class. Whilst the ones whose names ring out prove they know nothing – the first will be last and the last first. How profound and strange and confusing and wonderful!
Down the road amidst the Temple worriers, a knock on the door and a silent entry, in the shadows a face and an unknown voice – but wasn’t this ‘one of them’. Surely his bearing, his features were of Galilean stock, although there seemed a bit more up top than the simple fishermen who rode defensive block. Judas, he told them and I’ll hand him to you. It’s out of control, out of hand! At the beginning we called him a man – no talk of God then! Can you lot do something with him? Stop this mess escalating into something we can’t stop? What was Judas on about and didn’t he get it? It has to go this way and nothing he can do will stop it.
The Collaborators of Temple power breathed a sigh of relief – this was their answer. A betrayal was what they needed and this one would fill the gaps. They could get him at night before the festivities began and usher him to Pilate and well, the rest would go from there (Did Judas know that death was what they had in mind? After all he handed Jesus to High Priests – hardly murderous swine?). Money changed hands and set Judas’ eyes alight, whatever else they said paled before the glow of silver in his hands.
The plot was set and the day ended and there were no more public events for Jesus, all was done and he could only await what would be. He’s been to the mountain top and looked down into the Promised Land, the one Martin Luther King Jr and Moses before him saw. It was the same vision of Ghandi, or Wesley or Francis or one of the multitude of saints who got to this point and looked through seeing eyes into a future-present kaleidoscope of God – what wonderful, awe-inspired visions!
The Passover time had gathered fast and the disciples received instruction about where and how. They prepared the meal and sat together, sharing in heaviness, feeling the weight of night close in – the night time darkness and the darkness of the world co-mingling into the what-would-be of Jesus’ life and death. This sacrifice for the Kingdom of God in the way of God, into which he invited the naïve and yearning, to walk, was before him. What does it feel like to know death is ever-present? I may not get to the Promised Land with you, but you need to know that we as a people will get there – it is from God! (Martin Luther King) If they kill me I will rise up in the lives of the people! (Oscar Romero – Archbishop of El Salvador and martyr). What does it feel to be embraced by God into a place so real, so sacred and so final? What does one do? Well Jesus shared a meal with friends (and an enemy?). The first meal of the future is infused with metaphor and meaning and grace. We eat it still as it radiates grace and connection, an invitation into something deeper that claims one’s life into the dying-rising new way of God. We are joined into the justice-seeking community that transcends culture and climate, language and learning into a family of people under the broad reach of God. It is a meal that brings us together around a table, sharing simple food and speaking things of the heart in a safe and caring place – a community enacted around bread and wine. All are welcome to share a meal and feed their bellies and their souls. Rich and poor gather as one, sharing food and life – together, equal, one.
It echoes the breaking and dividing-expanding ministry of generous feeding that Jesus engaged in. Feeding the multitudes on bread and fish – a world seeking hope, with rumbling stomachs. It is a meal that takes us back into the stories of God’s engaging love with people through history and culture diverse. People wrestling with life and its pain, lost or alone in a world of power and wealth in hands of a few, lording it over the many, the poor. God’s generous liberating, hope-filled love emerges in history and story and life and Jesus enters this world with his friends. They eat of the story and share in the hope, praising the God who is present in this space and the world beyond. Prayers, desperate and unknowing uttered and washed down with blessed bread and wine. This is the generous provision of a God who owns all things and shares it around – Divine justice flows through the shared bread, wine and love as it must through we who eat of it. This Passover meal, supper last, communion amongst friends around a table shared is about bread for the world and God’s justice over human injustice, a liberation from oppression to freedom for all and an all-participatory path through death into new life.
The meal over, the night began and the last stage of journey before them. Into the garden, alone he stumbles and shakes in nervous, fearful realisation that time is here and life is short. His being pours out before God – ‘Take this cup from me, but not my will – yours be done!’ What is the will of God in this one? Is it punishment and death or for justice, love and life? Why has his life been so cheapened in our accounts of his self-emptying, God-filled way? Did God require violence and death to appease a rage in the heart Divine?
An hour of self-emptying prayer, too much for food-filled disciples who reclined in the cool night air and dozed in the peace. They awoke with a start for the third time and it was enough, for the time had come. With strength in his heart and God-filled spirit, he marched onward towards the arresting mob. Judas, a kiss on the cheek, betrayed the one who portrayed the way of God and the soldiers did the rest. A moment of courageous violence erupts from Jesus’ own men – a sword, an ear and a rebuke from Jesus. Violence is not God’s way and it is not the way of those who follow me! They fail in this late hour to understand his words of love, justice and non-violence. It is this non-violent Kingdom of God that has flowed through God’s history and prophetic word that underlies this story’s pain. God’s Reign counters and threatens that of every ‘Caesar’, present, past or those to come, and those who would throw their hand in with Empire – whether through fear or glimpse of gain, a status quo of self-benefit.
The High Priests try him before the mob of collaborative would-be’s who offer testimony conflicting and worthless. The High Priest takes order and asks him directly about his Messianic pretensions – are you he. The Blessed One? ‘I am,’ or is that ‘Am I?’ The Greek is obscure – hear what you will as the High Priest did and secured a conviction over a pretender to God proclaiming the Reign of Love. This is the heart of the trial and death – Jesus stood for another realm that continually and ever threatens the way of powerful pretenders who dominate earth. In language from Daniel’s vision of God, Jesus stands opposed to the violence of injustice, greed, abused power and all that opposes the way of God. They condemn him to die – the way of all threatened power!
What dark songs emerge from your reflections on life?
Use the questions from previous weeks to help you ponder and reflect more deeply…