“Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” John 12:31-32
So here are three Lenten ponderings for us, as we stand positioned between the ruler of this age in his seduction and the man of Nazareth who is the alternative: 1. The new truth of Jesus, honoured by God, is that self-giving love is the wave of the future, and we are called to follow. 2. The Lord of the cosmos has signed on to this alternative we see in Jesus, because that is the very character of God. 3. The new way of suffering love in the world is a magnet that will draw us to new life.
Try this as a Lenten plot. Lent is the time we stand, each of us – liberal and conservative – just between the Lord of suffering love and the ruler of this world. We stand there pulled in both directions and sense the enormous ambiguity of our life, wishing to care and be generous but wanting also to be selfish and have it our own way. Lent is being drawn:
- to Jesus’ way in the world, to Jesus’ news, to Jesus’ people who practice generosity and forgiveness and hospitality; - away from the ruler of this world, away from greed, away from fear, away from anxiety, away from brutality.
We are all in this process. We are being drawn toward. We are being drawn away. The pivot point, the extreme case, is that Friday of forgiveness and thirst. But he said about himself and us, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies… it will not grow.” The new growth from self-giving is Easter. Easter joy! Easter freedom! Easter goodness! But only via Friday. So we expect, in these thoughtful days, to be drawn to Jesus. Friday is his embodiment of self-giving love as a magnet. The heavenly God intends us to be attracted to it and therefore given a new start in neighbourly community. Do not linger over the rulers of this world. They are being driven out. The text gives us the secret clue to newness. The world little suspects. But we know! Draw us, Lord, toward you, toward your way of self-giving love. Draw us away from all that is not love – from the forces of greed, fear, anxiety, and brutality. In this Lenten experience of so being drawn toward you and away from the powers of the world,
may we come to find that new life that is the meaning of Easter. Amen (Walter Brueggemann, “A way other than our own” pp 86-7)
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13
As Paul spoke of the truthful reliability of God’s promise, he knew about a world of fickle deception and betrayal, as do we. The world of advertising, of ideology, of euphemism offers us endless phoniness that coerces and manipulates and invites into a virtual world that has no staying power. Well, here is the news. Out beyond that fickle world there is the world of God’s reliable fidelity, a God who makes and keeps promises, and you can dwell there. As Paul speaks of the God of hope who gives new futures out of love, he knows about a world of despair that traffics in brutality. And so do we. The world of despair believes that there are no new gifts, no fresh generosity, no possibility of newness or forgiveness, and so life becomes a zero-sum game to see who can stay the longest on top of the heap, all the while knowing that there will be no good outcome to the futile rat race. But here is the news. Out beyond that despair that sanctions road rage and violence against the poor and war and ruthless exploitation that leaves one exhausted if not half dead, there is an alternative world bodied in Jesus. It is a world of new gifts and fresh starts grounded in divine forgiveness and sustained by generosity. That world is on offer in this one who is about to be born among us. As Paul envisioned welcome of one another, he knew about a world of exclusion that is grounded in fear and anxiety. And so do we. All around now are barriers and gated and fences that draw lines around gifts and possibilities and resources and access. The lines are drawn closer and closer until all are excluded except the blessed, cunning ones, and even they are left nervous about when the next wall will be built and who will then be excluded. Here is the news. Out beyond the world of exclusion and rejection and hostility, there is on offer a world of welcome that sees the other not as threat or competitor but as cohort on the pilgrimage of humanity. That alternative world of welcome is signed by bread and by wine; but it is known by lives that reach out and touch in order to heal and transform.
God of all hope, we know all too well a world of betrayal despair, exclusion, and conflict. May we live into your alternative world of truth, hope, welcome, and harmony as we trust and follow you. Amen. (Walter Brueggemann, “A way other than our own” pp 84-5)
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-- even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:4-8 Jesus made himself vulnerable in human form and became obedient. He became an obedient human person, and because of his passion for God’s will for him, he collided with the will and purpose of the Roman Empire and with the Jews who colluded with the empire. He is not crucified because of some theory of atonement. He is crucified because the empire cannot tolerate such a transformative, subversive force set loose in the world. Jesus’ uncompromising commitment to the purpose of God contradicted the empire that lives against the grain of God’s intention. And Paul summons the church and its members to exhibit in their common life the self-emptying that is congruent with Jesus. Paul knew about churches and about church people and the way we tend to act, concerned for self and our pet ideas and our intentions and our vested interests that bruise other people. And he said, do not look to your own interests. So here is my bid to you for Holy Week. As we walk the walk from Palm Sunday to Easter through the Thursday arrest and the Friday execution and the long Saturday wait in the void, imagine all of us, in the wake of Jesus, changing our minds, renewing our minds, altering our opinions concerning self and neighbour and world. The clue to the new mind of Christ is emptying of our need to control and our anxious passion for security. And as our minds change, we come to new freedom. It is Easter freedom, unburdened and fearless, freed for the interest of the neighbour. So we worship this Jesus who was dead and is alive, who was humbled and is exalted. But we also replicate his life in our own lives. We find ourselves with Easter liberty to be our true selves as he himself was his true self. We know this very well: ‘tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to come down where we ought to be. And where we ought to be is right next to him in self-emptying obedience. We are eager for Easter joy and new life, and yet we are haunted by the space between where we are and where you are. Grant us a new mind, a new readiness, a new heart, that we might stand with you in self-emptying obedience. Amen
(Walter Brueggemann, “A Way Other Than Our Own” pp 82-3)
As we begin to turn our focus towards the last few weeks of Lent and draw closer to Easter, this week's reading is taken from Mark's Gospel chapter 11:1-11. It is full of echoes from the Old Testament, perhaps some of which may be lost on us today. However, as you read the passage try to imagine being present: what do you notice? Is there a phrase or word that strikes you as important? What is God saying to you as you hear this fascinating moment that we celebrate on Palm Sunday?
Responding to the Passage During Mark's Gospel account we hear a whole range of responses to Jesus. There are those who opposed Jesus, often the religious elite of the day. There were the constantly bemused and bewlidered disciples. There were the broken and outcasts in society who saw in Jesus hope and liberation from the life they were living. We also see the inquisative crowds who were often gathered around Jesus: some looking for the miraculous, some hoping Jesus was the new military leader they had longed for, some who just liked to join with the rest of the crowd...
As you read the passage again, what do you hear now? What might this be saying to you about those you know and love, some who passionately follow Jesus, others who oppose him, others who are longing for hope...
Take a moment to be still... If God lays someone on your heart pray for them... give thanks for them... and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to them the one the crowds celebrated on that first 'Palm Sunday.'
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
Questions you might want to ponder...
Why is there such a focus, in this passage, on finding 'a colt on which no one has ever sat'? Are there any Old Testament passages that might explain this?
We often call this the 'Triumphal Entry,' but as you read it, do you get the sense of a triumphal entry?
'Many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.' John's Gospel talks about branches of palm trees in 12:13, whilst Mark makes a specific mention of leafy branches cut from the fields... Why might this be important? What might it tell us about the people in the crowd who have gathered?
What does the word Hosanna mean? Why were they shouting that, and calling out about the coming kingdom of David?
Prayer to pray Lord, this week we remember how you entered Jerusalem in triumph, and were proclaimed as King by those who spread their cloaks and waved their branches as you rode in humility. May we also praise you as our King, as our Saviour, and follow you in the way that leads to life in all its fullness. Amen.
The reading for this week comes from Mark 13. This is a rather unusual text which has a distinct end-time flavour. I have copied out a helpful introduction from a commentary (Say to this Mountain, Mark's Story of Discipleship). The Text in Context Background: The Judean Revolt Jesus’ second great sermon (13:5ff) alludes to events in Mark’s own historical moment: the Judean Revolt of 66-70 C.E. In June of 66, an insurrection against Roman rule began in Jerusalem, the culmination to decades of widespread social unrest and percolating armed insurgency. Temple sacrifices on behalf of the emperor were halted, both the Judean clerical aristocracy and Roman cohorts were driven out of the city, and the public archives (including records of debt) were burned. The rebellion spread to the surrounding provinces. In November, the Roman counterattack began under Gallus, the Roman Legate of Syria. But the imperil forces were successfully repelled by the nationalist fighters, and for a few short years many parts of Palestine were liberated from Roman rule. A provisional government was set up, despite fierce internal power struggles, and the rebels began preparing for the next siege on Jerusalem that would surely come. A massive Roman counterinsurgency commenced the following summer, immediately retaking most of Galilee and moving south in a vicious scorched-earth campaign. Because of civil war in Rome, however, the military effort stalled, so that the final assault on Jerusalem was not begun until the spring of 70 under Titus. In the meantime there were internal coups and counter-coups between the radical anti-clerical and moderate rebel factions. To those Palestinian Jews loyal to the Temple-state, the terrible social and political upheaval of the war with Rome no doubt portended “signs of the end” (see 13:4). But from Mark’s perspective, the rebellion merely represented the “beginning” of yet another cycle of violence (Mark 13:7f). With the Roman siege of Jerusalem imminent (13:14a), rebel recruiters were going throughout Palestine summoning patriotic Jews to Jerusalem’s defences (13:6,21f). For Mark, only once voice could compete with their persuasive call to arms – that of Jesus. His apocalyptic sermon, with its cautionary refrain to “Watch out!” (13:5, 9, 23, 33) suggests that Mark’s community was critical of both imperial collaborators and nationalists. Its nonviolent stance, refusing to cooperate with either the Jewish guerrillas or the Roman counterinsurgency, earned it persecution from both sides of the war (13:9-13). The disciples, representing the anxious concern of a community caught in the war, pose a double question to Jesus (13:4) When will this be and what will be the sign that these things are to be accomplished? The sermon’s two parts provide Jesus’ response accordingly: The first half (13:5-22) addresses the “time” the second the “signs” (13:23-37). Both parts reiterate the counsel of the prophet Daniel, who two centuries earlier during the Maccabean revolt had urged the faithful to resist both the imperial beast and the delusions of militant nationalism (Daniel 7-11). At the heart of the sermon is Jesus’ call to abandon Jerusalem (Mark 13:14b-20) because of the apocalyptic conviction that a truly just social order cannot be established by the sword. The disciples are instructed to “wait and watch” for the fall of the powers (13:23-27) and a genuine transformation of the world (13:28ff).