Monday, January 14, 2013

Praise and persecution

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, as a large group of people praised him. Just one week later, in the same town, a large group of people were calling for his crucifixion. Quite possibly, many of the people in the original group were there in the latter group as well. Just one week and everything changed. What happened?

I think what happened is that those people who were praising Jesus as he rode in a donkey were not only praising Jesus, they were praising what they expected him to be. They thought he was going to get rid of the Romans. They thought that he was going to gain Jewish independence. They had plans for the Messiah and thought Jesus was probably a pretty good fit for those plans. They thought that with the Messiah on their side, the Romans didn’t stand a chance.

I imagine quite a few people would have been shocked to hear that Jesus had been arrested. But perhaps they were still kind of okay with it. I mean, Jesus wasn’t following their plan exactly the way they had decided he should, but they could handle a few slight detours along the way. Maybe he was planning to use his arrest to overthrow the Romans and put the Jews in charge again? But he didn’t. Instead, he meekly submitted to their authority.

When Pontius Pilate said he would release one of the prisoners, I’m pretty sure that by then they realised that Jesus wasn’t going to follow the agenda at all. They would have known (or thought they knew) that any real Messiah wasn’t going to gain his release by the Romans agreeing to let him go. That’s not part of the plan. No way. So perhaps right about then they decided that because this Jesus guy wasn’t following the agenda, that he wasn’t really the Messiah at all. I mean the real Messiah would do what they wanted him to do, right? So what to do with Jesus, this guy who ‘pretended’ to be the Messiah, but failed to follow their rules? May as well crucify him. He probably deserves it for giving everyone the wrong idea.

But Jesus was the Messiah. Just because he didn’t do things the way people expected him to didn’t mean he wasn’t the right guy. He just did things his way (and God’s way) rather than their way. He wasn’t out to meet anybody’s agenda. He had his own agenda to take care of.

Sometimes I think we do the same thing now. We have our own ideas about what God should do and when he should do it. We expect God to follow our agenda. But God doesn’t always go along with our plans. He has his own plans. And sometimes perhaps we may wonder whether God’s actually in something at all. I mean if it doesn’t go the way we expect it to, maybe God’s not really in it, right? But just because things don’t go the way we want, doesn’t mean that God’s not there.

There’s a quote from Abraham Lincoln that I absolutely love. It goes like this: “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right” The reason I love that quote so much is because it draws our attention to the fact that we shouldn’t be making our plans and expect God to go along with them. We should instead be making sure we’re following God’s plans. It also reminds us that just because we decide to do something and call on God to help us doesn’t necessary mean that God is on our side.

We can’t decide to go to war and expect God to sign up as a valuable recruit.  Instead, we should be looking to sign up as recruits in his army. We need to fight against the things that he tell us to fight against, like poverty. We need to fight for the people that he tells us to fight for, like the weak and the marginalised. We need to try and work towards God’s plans succeeding, rather than making our own plans and expecting God to help us achieve them.

Palm Sunday is coming up in a couple of days. It’s generally a time for remembering the praise that people gave Jesus as he rode in on his donkey. But perhaps it should also be a time for thinking about whether we’re following Jesus as he really is, or Jesus as we want him to be. Are we making sure we’re on God’s side? Or are we making plans and just expecting God to be on our side?


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