One of the things that always struck me about Palm Sunday is how quickly things turned for Jesus. First we hear about His triumphant entry into Jerusalem as a king; we wave palms as the people did 2000 years ago, a symbol of victorious peace, and then less than ten minutes later, we’re hearing about His betrayal, suffering, and death. Those same reeds of palm which were laid at Jesus’ feet become the whips we use to beat Him. There’s an ancient tradition, long out of practice, of stripping the altar, one of our many symbols of Jesus in the church, and whipping it with the palms as a symbol of Jesus’ passion. How quickly things turned for our Lord.
That turn didn’t come without reason. Of course, the Jewish authorities already had it out for Jesus, and the Romans, while not paying too much attention, never liked a trouble-maker in their midst. But then a few things happened on that first Holy Week that ramped up the drama.
Depending on whose timeline you follow (John places the clearing of the Temple at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry instead of at the end), Jesus did two big things that eventually got Him into the deep waters. First was the aforementioned clearing of the Temple, which we heard about in the Gospel a couple weeks ago, and the second was that Jesus had recently raised Lazarus from the dead. The raising of Lazarus was just too much for the Pharisees to take – it was proof positive that Jesus was a powerful threat to the status quo, and so also a threat to their position of power. So in the wrecking the market in the Temple and in having the proof of His power walking around Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus essentially signed His own death warrant.
To anyone else, this would have been a staggering fall from grace. As we’ve seen with so many powerful men lately, you can be on top, seemingly untouchable, one minute, and a total pariah the next.
But Jesus was not a corrupt CEO or politician. In so many ways, it would have been easier for the authorities to deal with Him if He was. But how do you deal with a Man who is beyond reproach, who is quite literally without sin, who may well be the Son of the living God? How do you get rid of a meddlesome God?
Well, if you are a corrupt leader, as was the case with the Pharisees, you get somebody else to do it for you. As we heard from Mark, the chief priests, with the elders and scribes, and the whole council held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate. They accused Jesus of many things, things like claiming to be God, like being a false king, like setting Himself up against Caesar. It was enough to get the job done.
The question then becomes, How do we get rid of a meddlesome God? We (certainly I) don’t like to compare ourselves with the Pharisees or with Pilate, but don’t most of us do what they did all the time? None of us like those moments when we are confronted by God in a way that makes us look deeply at ourselves, those times when our conscience nags us or when God sends us a clear message via a caring friend or passage in Scripture or a paragraph in a devotional, those times when we know we must examine ourselves, our behavior, our motives.
And so we attempt to get rid of our meddlesome God. We abandon prayer, we avoid church, we self-medicate, all so that we don’t have to look any more at this Jesus, who just by being who He is, can cause us discomfort. We turn on Him in no less of a way than they did.
This is called being human, by the way, and while not beneficial, it’s okay. Expected. Normal. Forgivable. But again, not beneficial – it separates us from one another and from God; we attempt to push Jesus from view even though we know that life is so much better when we keep our eyes on Him.
We’re in it now, we’re in Holy Week, and while it’s sometimes hard to look at Jesus – because of our own guilt, and because of the turn, because of the ugliness that came upon Him in His passion – keep your eyes on Him, don’t turn away – He’s going to do something pretty phenomenal next Sunday.