Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Glad I'm not preaching Palm Sunday

Good thing that I’m not preaching this week…
It’s Palm Sunday.
It happens every year and I've run out of things to say other than, “Hosanna!”

Fascinating discussion evolved in my Tuesday 8am Bible Study.  Now, to be clear, this isn't Bible Study, like you see on TV… it’s not a gathering of dour people who listen to some scripture and then look to the leader who points on an a map where all of these things took place; there are no “flannel boards” and not once have we hugged and sung “Kumbaya”.
The six to 10 people who gather on a given Tuesday have varying political views, differing theological perspectives and life experiences.  Some rush off to jobs, others are retired… (oddly, it’s the currently employed folk who hang around the longest in the morning).  The first 20 minutes are usually reserved for political discussion, world events or things that amuse us…  Pope Francis, Rob Ford, Justin Timberlake share time with Alice in Wonderland and the many creations of Charles Dickens.  We have coffee.  We often get around to talking about the scripture that will be read for the upcoming Sunday.   (note, I didn't say “always”)
This week we started to talk about Palm Sunday and whether or not Jesus staged the whole thing and if he did, was it a political statement or was it a conscious decision to “fulfill” the written prophecies.  Of course, it was agreed that no one believed in pre-destination… the idea that everything is already decided, set in motion inevitably by God.   Pre-destination seems to be come from a need or desire to see God so completely in charge; so powerful, that nothing happens that God has already ordained will happen.   If you’ve read my earlier blog on the Omni-God, you know that I have a problem with such an understanding.  It was stated with some confidence that if you went out into the streets, work places and educational institutions in and around Toronto and asked people if they believed in pre-destination, the vast, vast, almost beyond vast, majority would say “No”.  (except for a few extreme Calvinists, who knew that you were going to ask that question….).    This was a rare moment when we all seemed to be in agreement….. UNTIL
“What if you asked the question another way… what if you asked people if they really had much choice in life… or any choice…  I’ll bet a lot of people would tell you that they/we don’t really have much choice… most of what happens to us in life is inevitable”
So, we may not believe in Pre-Destiny, but many of us live our lives as if we are co-opted by fate, routine or the powers that be.   I’m not making a case here for pre-destination, but I wonder if maybe Jesus was when he arrived in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and made his way to the cross.  
Personally, I do think that Jesus made choices that lead him inevitably to the cross: He could have avoided Jerusalem at Passover, stayed in the country and stayed off the radar (perhaps those who go away for Easter Weekend do so as a religious observance, ritually saying “if only Jesus had done this); he could have slipped into town unobtrusively, he could have avoided Judas’ kiss (PDAs will get you every time), he could have engaged Pilate in a conversation, he could have pointed out that Barabbas was not such a great guy… but he went to the cross.  So that he could be resurrected? Possibly… although again, I think that he was as surprised as anyone at his resurrection that weekend.  So why go so obediently to the cross?
This is where I think that our classic depiction of the three crosses on the hill can be misleading.   Contemplating this image we can sometimes think that what happened to Jesus was remarkable or “special”.  The record suggests that it was anything but….whether the suggestions that the roads outside Jerusalem were lined with the crucified are accurate or not, it is agreed that Pilate was not reluctant to put down civil unrest by crucifixion.   Is it possible that Jesus’ foray into Jerusalem, confrontation with  and execution by the State, is meant to reveal and “unspoken” truth that if we are to be governed by an Empire based on war and the threat of war, then the death of innocents is inevitable or pre-determined?   Jesus goes obediently to the cross to be in solidarity with the tens, hundreds, even thousands put to death on crosses, to reveal the truth about such a state and our choice…
Let’s remember that Rome was not particularly bad for Judaism.  Rome allowed the Temple to stand and function, Pax Judea was a decent deal… and the economy was good under Rome… the roads were good, sanitation was good… I don’t want to sound like a scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Brought Peace?
Oh, peace... shut up!! 

But it all comes at a cost… If you want peace the comes from the threat  of force; of war and/or death – the cost is that political dissenters will be executed.  Innocents will inevitably be killed…. There’s nothing you can do about it.
Or you might decide that instead of that kind of state being in charge of your destiny… God is in charge.  Jesus presents the choice quite powerfully: Rome’s way… God’s way.  God’s way is revealed in his way of Jesus’ life, his parables that invite radical hospitality; question the hoarding of resources; invite us to trust and rely on one another – all very scary prospects.  And the cost?  Your life… but your life poured out willingly by you, not a life taken by the state.
I don’t know… maybe Jesus is not so political.
And I’m not preaching this Sunday, so maybe I’m going to let it go for now… but I do wonder sometimes.
The horrific rape case is Stuebenville and coverage that seems to focus on the lament the damage done to rapists’ futures as young athletes and scholars over the “actual” victim’s pain and loss.   Dare we say that in a culture that objectifies women, celebrates power and commodifies sex, it is inevitable that woman are going to be raped and rapists protected?
In a culture that demands “lower prices”  and puts the consumer’s rights above all others, could we say that it is inevitable that workers will be exploited somewhere… even if it’s our of our view?
As I consider the plight of miners and those who live near mines in South America, I am moved. But when I consider what part of my pension might be invested in those mining stocks and the economic impact my family might experience if we divest… I focus my gaze on the three crosses on the hill on Good Friday and try not to look at the hundreds of crosses lining the roads.   Could we say that in a culture that focuses on profit and economic security for some without regard for the rest; in a system that says more is better than less and that it is the responsibility of financial institutions to make the most money for their clients… it is inevitable that innocent people will suffer and die, as the fund managers say “I was just following orders… I had no choice”?
Today, I think that Jesus goes to the cross to be in solidarity with all those who die needlessly and unfairly… all those who are made to pay the price for the security and luxury of others… and I think that he does so trusting us to look around and realize that we can choose our destinies… we can follow the ways that lead to death, or the ways that lead to life… but whatever we choose, there will always be a cost.  So, spend your life… or spend somebody else’s… your choice is not pre-determined, it’s up to you.

Then again, I’m not preaching this week… 
   (God must have planned it that way)

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