The Divine Reversal

Palm SundayMy dad is an interesting character.  He likes to tell fish stories with the big fish getting exponentially bigger each time he tells them.  He would tell me stories of guys at work who would comment on his strength and hard work and how men half his age couldn’t do a tenth of the work that he does.  One form these stories usually take is of young men trying to move a pallet or perform some function that requires strength (interestingly enough they never require wit) such as a young guy in his 20s couldn’t lift up a pallet to get the forks under it, but he was able to do so.  The more he tells the story, the more guys there were trying to lift the pallet together where he was able to do so by himself.

I have often enjoyed writing short stories and one such story that I wrote a number of years ago was called Death of a King.  I got the idea to write this because of a story my dad often tells about how our family has inheritance rights to a lot of property in England because it has gone unclaimed by our other family members.  In this first-person oriented story my father has recently died.  He claimed many times that our family was descended from royalty and was in fact heirs to the throne of some country or another.  As the story progresses and the funeral begins, there is imagery of two funerals happening simultaneously.  In one funeral, a king’s coffin draped with purple cloth is being processed very slowly through masses of people up a rainy road and into a large cathedral.  The king’s wife and young son fight to keep their composure as the casket slowly approaches and the royal orchestra plays Kyrie Eleison  from Mozart’s Requiem.  This is the funeral that would have been if my father were telling the truth.  In reality, another funeral took place with an old feeble minister whose shaky hands took frequent sips from a glass of water as he delivered a eulogy to the eight or nine people sitting in the sultry country chapel on hard wooden pews.

This is the kind of irony and juxtaposition that we find Jesus in as he approaches Jerusalem on a young donkey on Palm Sunday.  He approaches the gates to Jerusalem from the east while a rag tag bunch waves palm branches and throws their cloaks on the ground as he processes.  They hail him as a king and as the son of God, but he looked like anything but with his modest crowd and pathetic animal.  From the west, another king approached the gates of Jerusalem.  Pontius Pilate, appointed governor of Jerusalem rode in to the city on a large magnificent war horse led by royal banners and followed by well-armed soldiers.  Pilate would enter the city to ensure his brand of peace as the Jews celebrated their annual events.  This one was particularly important to watch over because it was the day they celebrated being freed from another oppressor almost 1500 years before.  Pilate had to make sure that nobody got any foolish ideas of revolt if the celebration got out of hand. This man also represented the son of God as the Emperor Tiberius was believed to be.  One man represented peace as a matter of submission and love, the other represented peace because it was enforced militarily.  Pax Christi vs Pax Romana.  Son of YHWH vs Son of Apollo.

Jesus is fully aware of the procession that is taking place on the other side of the city as he enters the East gate.  I get a kick out of the way he sends the two disciples to get a donkey for him and to tell them “The Lord needs it” if they ask any questions.  The disciples get the donkey and say as they were told when asked what they are doing.  The funny thing is that we read this and think how amazing it is that the owner of the donkey knew who Jesus was and perhaps the disciples were thinking the same thing.  This is funny because (Jesus wasn’t stealing because he was only borrowing) he knew that when the owners were told the Lord needs it, they were thinking about Pilate, not Jesus.  There is no way that they would argue when the Roman government says it needs something.  This was a great example of Jesus’s great wisdom.  Jesus knew that he would ride in like a “king” while the real king was coming in the other side who would crucify him like a criminal.

Jesus embodied the wisdom of God while Pilate embodied common wisdom.  Jesus carried within himself a wisdom that pointed to peace and to God in a way that the common culture could not comprehend.  Pilate made a lot more sense.  If you want peace and order, show your might and kill anyone who threatens that order.  Jesus’s brand of wisdom made no sense.  It was an image of God that was not judgmental or coercive, but rather loving and compassionate.  It is a wisdom that is so ingrained in and at the core of all of creation and even within our selves that Jesus said if we do not proclaim it, if we do not live it, “even the rocks will cry out.”

The amazing and somewhat frightening thing is that we embody both.  We carry around with us every day the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God.  Because the wisdom of the world makes more sense to us, we often submit to it.  We just tell ourselves that “that’s just the way things are done.”  But we also suffer because something at the very core of our being tells us that it doesn’t have to be that way.  We make choices and carry on in a way that makes sense to us because its what we see all around us, all the while something gnaws at us from the inside as even the rocks cry out as if to say “there is another way!”  Jesus spoke of that way.  Jesus pointed to that way.  Jesus sat on a lowly donkey and followed that way himself.

When we embrace the wisdom of God, we make the decision to follow the road less traveled by.  This is the road of Godly wisdom instead of conventional wisdom knowing that it leads to a kind of death – a death of our old selves.  But we also rejoice knowing that after death comes resurrection in some mysterious way that we cannot quite comprehend.  As Easter and the celebration of our own resurrections approaches, let us come to the point when we can say proudly like the old poem that ends, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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One Response to “The Divine Reversal”

  1. John Lovestrand Says:

    Reading the Bible (The Message version) straight through for the first time, I am only now into the Gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke. And now John, as of earlier this evening Chapter 8.

    I rejoice at the many examples of Jesus’ compassionate teachings.

    But I was troubled by, in I think each Gospel, of how he advocated disciples leaving behind their families to follow him.

    That his real mothers, brothers, sisters, etc., were his followers.

    I cannot help but reflexively resist that particular teaching — as in my heart I feel my first obligation is to my family… by whom I mean my wife and kids.

    My apologies if this is sacrilegious, but Jones-Town comes to mind when I think of recent examples of those who would leave their families and follow “God” behind the purported Messianic leadership of Jim Jones, or those of his ilk.

    Conventional wisdom? Presumably.

    But I cannot judge too harshly those in Jesus’ time who presumably found his “God wisdom” teachings difficult to comprehend.

    Were he to have appeared among us today, my guess is conventional thinkers like me would similarly resist, and question the authenticity (if not the sanity) of a man proclaiming himself to be the Son of God, the Messiah, the fulfillment of Scripture, the embodiment of all that the Prophets foretold.

    Latter day Pharisees, then as now — guilty as charged.

    But I hold on to the core message of compassion, and love. That strikes me as being timeless, and a continuation (elevation) of the Golden Rule to “do unto others… .”

    That resonates in both heart and soul.

    “Proof” of faith? Like “proof” of love: you know when you feel it, deep in your heart, straight from your soul.

    God wisdom? In a word … Love? If so, I feel it in heart and soul. If more than that, I remain in search, to find faith, but glad to be on the journey.

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