We Call it “Passion Week”
Palm Sunday is a happy occasion. Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He’s riding on a donkey—may not sound like much of a ride, but as far as we know it’s the only time in his adult life that he isn’t walking or sailing. People are shouting for him. They’re paving his way with their cloaks and with branches cut from trees, so that even the feet of his mount won’t touch the ground. Jesus is the center of attention. He’s a rock star. He’s the latest greatest thing. His status can’t get much higher with the people. So what if the leaders reject him! Right now he could ask his followers to do just about anything.
How quickly situations change. We know fame is fleeting. When I open the browser on my computer, along with the news stories there’s a list titled “Trending.” From day to day this list changes completely. Sometimes even within the same day different people are “trending.” Fifteen minutes of fame? Perhaps not even that. For Jesus it takes five days to go from the top to the bottom. The week that starts off so well ends so badly. How could this happen?
The simple answer of course is that Jesus angered the establishment. His preaching and teaching went against everything the religious leaders had been saying and doing for ages. His popularity with the people threatened their position and their way of life. Worse yet, if the people revolted it would mean bloodshed. The Roman authorities wouldn’t tolerate insurrection. Not only would they kill the insurgents, but the nation’s leaders would also be held accountable. At the very least they would lose their positions. At the worst they could lose their lives.
That’s the political reality—and there is no doubt that politics trumped religion on this occasion as on so many others. Even today it is not unusual for political interests to hold sway over those of religion. We don’t have to look any further than our own leaders—national, state and local—to see how easy it is for spiritual concerns to be pushed aside so that political concerns (should we say realities?) can be addressed. We are as worldly minded in our approach to our spiritual lives as were the Pharisees. I have no doubt that, if Jesus were to come today, many of our leaders—religious as well as political—would hear him begin his remarks to them with the words, “You hypocrites!” How would he speak to us?
That’s the simple answer—but not the whole answer. If we read carefully through these five chapters of Mark’s gospel we’ll find Jesus saying things that turned people away. Instead of playing it safe and satisfying the Roman and Jewish leaders, Jesus chooses to make statements that put him in direct opposition to them. Instead of saying what the people want to hear he makes his teaching more and more difficult to accept. Jesus never takes the easy way out. He says what needs to be said. He doesn’t try to gather support for his agenda. Instead he points his listeners to God. It is clear from the events of holy week that he knows what is going to happen to him, and he does nothing to prevent it.
I find it interesting that no healing miracles are mentioned in any of the gospel accounts of Holy Week. Jesus tells parable after parable about the Jewish leaders’ hypocrisy, and their infidelity to God’s teaching. He continues to chastise the Jewish leadership for being what he calls in Matthew’s account “whited sepulchers full of dead men’s bones.” He predicts the destruction of the temple, an event which will change the entire focus of Judaism. But we don’t read of him healing anyone. Jesus abandons the activity that brought him the most attention and gathered people to him. Everything he does seems to be aimed at challenging his followers to accept his teaching or leave off following him.
Which would we have done?