Psalm 118:22-29; Mark 11:1-10
The Rev. Tom Herbek
April 14, 2019
He came to Jerusalem at Passover, a huge festival that swelled the population of that city from 40,000 to 250,000 people. Over 200,000 visitors came to Jerusalem to celebrate their liberation from slavery under the Egyptians. Since the Jewish people were once again under oppression-this time, by the Romans- the message of liberation from earlier oppression raised hopes that the hated Romans would be overthrown, as well.
The collaborators, people made wealthy by their collaboration with the Roman oppressors, ran the Temple, a huge 40-acre building and grounds that was the center of the Jewish faith, something like Mecca for Muslims. The little people saw Jesus as the one who would rescue them from the Romans and their wealthy Jewish collaborators. They were ready for a popular hero like Moses or David.
But Jesus did not seek power or wealth. Jesus was passionate about what God is passionate about: transforming the world and creating a world where everyone is treated compassionately, where even the marginalized people of society don’t need to be afraid, where the world is transformed into a world of justice and nonviolence, where even the poor have a fair chance and are treated compassionately.
Jesus believed in this vision of society so much (he called it the Kingdom of God), that he was willing to give up his life for it. He deliberately entered Jerusalem in a way that made sure everyone noticed him– and they did– and then he went to the Temple and wreaked havoc there, turning over tables and challenging the legitimacy of the collaborators.
Jesus made choices about this trip to Jerusalem, what he would do, how he would respond to the threat of the Romans, and how he would respond to the crowds who wanted a certain kind of hero. Sometimes choices define us in unexpected ways. Jesus could have allowed the crowd to define him. It is always a tempting possibility when the crowd wants us to be someone different.
There is an old movie called “The Candidate” starring Robert Redford. The movie is important because it shows us what can happen when we become what the crowds would want us to be.
Redford plays Bill McKay, an idealistic young man who has had no interest in politics until he is asked to run for the U.S. Senate from California. Throughout the campaign, McKay is urged to downplay his ideals and is given blank clichés to say instead, and as he does so, his standing in the polls steadily increases. As he continues to do as he is told, rather than say what is in his heart, he continues to gain in the polls.
Election day arrives and volunteers get out the vote. McKay, meanwhile, has strayed so far from his original values that he’s in a hotel room, numb and confused. The votes are counted and the unthinkable has happened: McKay wins!
In one of the movies most famous scenes, McKay leaves the victory party and pulls his campaign manager into a room while journalists clamor outside for a statement. McKay then asks his campaign chief, “Marvin… what do we do now?” Before he can respond, the media throng arrives to burst in on McKay at that moment, and McKay never receives an answer.
The loss of himself has been so gradual that McKay does not even realize, until that moment, that he no longer knows who he is. He has no idea what to do or say because he has lost Bill McKay somewhere in the race to win.
Jesus never lost who he was. Jesus would not allow the crowd to determine who he would be. Jesus was a hero, but not the hero that they wanted. He made different choices.
His time as their hero was short-lived because the crows did not understand what kind of hero Jesus was. We still need heroes that are different, people that Jesus would recognize: those who create a society of compassion and justice for all the people who feel like giving up, or who have already given up.
The heroes Jesus would recognize would be people who have made a difference with their lives, people who quietly stand up for the poor, the sick, those who need a second chance, those who need someone who would make a difference in their lives.
True heroes make choices in the midst of stress and turmoil that define them as unique, as heroes of compassion. Most heroes are not famous. They are ordinary people who are all around us. For instance, the parents of Jenna Greer:
Five years ago, my mom was one of the roughly two million women in the United States to be diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom was also one of the many to experience, firsthand, the effects of chemotherapy and radiation. She went through the expected symptoms: hair loss, fatigue, and general discomfort. The chemo was fighting the cancer, with my mom’s body being the unfortunate bystander in the war.
My mom couldn’t get comfortable anywhere. She would sleep on one couch, get uncomfortable, go sleep in her bed, get uncomfortable once again, and move to a different couch. My dad couldn’t sleep in the bed with her because the extra heat he would generate kept her awake.
This presented a problem: my dad loves my mother very much and didn’t like the idea of her being where he couldn’t watch over her. So he came up with a plan: he bought himself a mattress.
As my mom changed sleeping locations throughout the night, my dad picked up that little twin mattress and slept on it right beside her, just so he could be near her as she struggled through the war. Because of this, I think they both slept more soundly through the nights.
The idea behind a war is that sacrifices will be made to solve a greater problem. But a war without support is guaranteed defeat. Nobody can win on his or her own. Therefore, it is important to be thankful for those who stand by us, through thick and thin. When the battle is over, as my dad once said, the value of your life is not measured by dollar signs, but rather by those who loved you.
Due to the treatments she endured and the efforts of her doctors, my mother’s cancer has been in remission for over four years. She and my dad are back in their regular bed, though I’m sure my father is ready to resume the battle if duty calls again.
– This I Believe: On Love
When we have a chance to make a difference, we may each be surprised that we have within us what it takes. We have an opportunity to remember who we were created to be. But, as Richard Rohr once wrote: “We all seem to suffer from a tragic case of mistaken identity. Life is a matter of becoming fully and consciously who we already are, but it is a self that we largely do not know. It is as though we are all suffering from a giant case of amnesia.” (Falling Upward)
As he entered Jerusalem at a time when the crowds were hungry for a certain kind of hero, Jesus remembered who he was, and he, instead, became their hero in an entirely different way. In her new book, The Time is Now: A Call to Uncommon Courage, Joan Chittister writes that we each are called, in these days, to an uncommon courage:
The call to discern the difference between what is holy and what is simply popular, between what is and what should be, is the essence of the good life. The work of God is in our hands. To ignore that is to ignore the very fullness of life. Every prophet contemplated the price of the risk and went on regardless- calling to the world to become its best self- and so must we.
And then she quotes T.S. Eliot: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”
She also says:
As the poet Charles Peguy warns us, “We must always tell what we see. Above all, and this is more difficult, we must always see what we see.” When we fail to recognize the injustices of society- to smell them and bind them, to carry the lame and shelter the homeless, we will never bend our hearts to hear them and shout out their cries for all to hear. And to change.
Chittister says this all takes courage:
It is finding the courage to utter the first word of truth in public that takes all the strength we can muster. It is learning to say, quietly, unequivocally, “I think differently about that,” and then explain why. It is stepping up to the issue and claiming the right to think differently about it that turns heads and opens hearts. It is not an attack on anyone; it is simply a declaration that there is something missing in the God-life we claim to live. It is the call to consciousness and conscience.
After all, God did not finish creation. God created us to do that. To abandon and discard the very people, ideals, creation, and commitment we are meant to care about, what kind of spirituality is that? Right. Almost none.
“Lying is done with words and also with silence.” (Adrienne Rich)
We are called to speak up.
We see what overwhelming power others have, and the fact that so many around us refuse to see what we see is overwhelming, and so we are tempted to give up. But Chittister tells a story:
Once upon a time an old woman ran through the streets shouting, “Power, greed, and corruption. Power, greed, and corruption.” For a while, people stopped to hear, to think, to discuss the problem. As time went by and nothing happened, they finally went back about their business. Finally, one day, a child stepped in front of the prophet to say as she ran by, “Old woman, no one is listening to you.” So, the woman stopped to say, “Oh, I know that.” The boy was puzzled. “Then if you know you have failed, why do you go on shouting?” And the old woman answered, “Oh, child, you do not understand. I do not shout in order to change them. I shout so that they cannot change me.”
Jesus did not allow the crowds to change him. And after the crowds were gone, after the tables were overturned, Jesus might have been tempted to just stop. But as long as there were those who were victimized by the systems of power, those who were left out and left behind, Jesus knew he could not stop. As Chittister says:
The prophetic word is a word that must be tended forever. As Walter Brueggemann teaches, “The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined.” For those who realize the need for change in society if justice, peace, and the Will of God for the world are ever to be achieved, the new vision that must be molded requires immersion in the mind of Jesus and time, time, time.
The problem is that the gift of tomorrow does not come complete. Tomorrow is the gift we are given to create for ourselves. In that awareness, in the depths of that kind of faith, lies the energy- the reason- for prophecy. Because we know the will of God for us, the prophet must demand it. If something is to be done, we will have to be the people who do it.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus came into town. They saw a hero. He was a celebrity that day. On that day, God gambled on humanity, that somehow we would understand what life is really about, what is really important.
The hero Jesus showed us. God gambled on us, and God won- even when it seemed that all was lost.
And we won, too.
May we each find within us the person that we have been created to be, the person of vision and hope, the person who continues to stand up for those who have been left out and left behind.
May the choices we make in our lives enable us also to be quiet heroes who make a difference in at least one life, at every opportunity, for the rest of our lives.
May we remember that we are children of God, and so is each person we will meet today, and every day of our lives.