Sunday, March 25, 2018

Palm Sunday: The Triumphal Entry and the Betrayal

Today is Palm Sunday, when we commemorate the anniversary of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey -- on a colt, the foal of a donkey -- to welcoming crowds who did not miss the fact that the old prophecy of the Messiah expected him to ride into Jerusalem just that way. Many Palm Sunday sermons claim that, by the end of the week, these same crowds would be shouting "Crucify him!" That's not quite true; the authorities arrested him in secret at night, and held the trial at night, because the crowds were so solidly on Jesus' side that the authorities didn't dare move against Jesus in the daytime when he taught openly on the Temple grounds. Their unwillingness to move against Jesus openly is why they needed to recruit a traitor, and the backstory of the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. It wasn't the people who turned against Jesus; it was one of the disciples. More than that, it was one of the original twelve apostles. And if they could turn, anyone could.

What would make a disciple turn against Jesus? What would make an apostle turn against Jesus? We don't know what happened, and are left trying to reconstruct it from scant information. But in the end, even not knowing the details, there is only one kind of thing makes people turn against another: something else has become more important to them. With Judas, some people speculate that it was money. Some speculate that it was self-love (could he have wanted recognition?), or wanting to see a political victory over the Romans, or a military victory over the Romans. At the end of the day I'm not sure it matters which thing became more important to Judas, only that something became more important to Judas. I wonder: Would Judas have followed Jesus if Jesus had done things his way? (Who would have been following who?)

It is probably a common temptation to wish Jesus were doing things differently. Peter knew that temptation: he scolded Jesus for accepting his upcoming death. The apostles wanted Jesus to restore the kingdom to Israel. All of us have something that we want put right, and it may even be something that God will put right when the moment arrives -- like the Messiah living forever. The moment the cause becomes more important to us than our Lord, I wonder if we are at risk of becoming the traitor.

We'll wish our fellow-Christians saw eye-to-eye with us on what was most important. But our unity will not be exactly Christian unity if it's built on something besides trusting Jesus and putting him first. We may achieve some kind of unity around other causes, we may find a group that agrees with us on priorities, we may build a group that pursues a specific goal. But we have to watch ourselves that this is not done at the cost of building on other ground besides Christ. What if some other cause should become more important to us than Christ? I do not say "we hurt Christ's cause" because even Judas Iscariot did not, in the end, harm Christ's cause -- he harmed his own. For all that something else was more important to Judas, it's ironic that we don't even know what it was. It's not even a footnote.

Unity in Christ means trusting that he is, after all, doing the right thing at the right time with the right priorities. It means considering that we may, after all, need to have enough humility to follow him, and all that implies about letting him take the lead.


Martin LaBar said...

A good sermon. Thanks!

Weekend Fisher said...

Hm, wonder if I'm pontificating ... ha

Take care & God bless