Today is Palm Sunday. We began with a Gospel reading describing Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem right before Passover. Then we read a section from Isaiah about the Suffering Servant—an apt description of Jesus for the early church. Then we read Paul’s vivid description of Jesus who humbled himself unto death as a prelude for the reading of the passion and death.
This week we focus on the death by crucifixion of Jesus. If I were to ask you, “Why did Jesus die?” how would you answer me? . . . You readily told me that Jesus died for our sins. This was not the thinking of the early church. This view of Jesus’ death only came about with Anselm of Canterbury in the 11th century. It made sense then but no longer makes sense. What God, but a vengeful medieval God, would require the death of God’s beloved son to make up for our sins?
Jesus died because Jesus did the will of His Abba God rather than doing the will of others. Early on sitting on the banks of the Jordan River Jesus came to a profound realization that he was the beloved son of God. Jesus got who he was and what God expected of him. He expressed it in his first sermon in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth—bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, give sight to the blind, and let the oppressed go free.
Jesus understood that God called him to give us life and life in abundance. Jesus set about his mission. Compassion and justice drove him to proclaim the Good News. He hung out with the wrong people, did the wrong things like healing on the Sabbath, and said the wrong things to the religious authorities. In the end he overturned the tables in the Temple. He was a threat to the law and order imposed by the Roman occupiers and their Jewish collaborators. Jesus died because he realized that he was to proclaim the rule of God, not the rule of human authority.
The entry into Jerusalem was street theater for the early church. They understood the Old Testament verse that the Messiah would come riding on a humble donkey. Picture this—Jesus riding through one of the gates of Jerusalem while his followers chanted, “Hosanna.” At the other end of Jerusalem, the Roman leader, Pilate, in full military battle gear was leading the Roman reinforcements into the city. They were to make sure that no uprisings occurred during the Passover. You see, the Romans thought that Caesar was God. Here the early church tells us that Jesus, not Caesar, is God.
Jesus died because he proclaimed the rule of God and denounced the rule of empire. As his followers we are to proclaim the peace and justice of the rule of God, not the values of any empire. In Mt 25, Jesus tells us the specific values we are to cherish and fight for.
When I was thirsty, you gave me food.
When I was thirsty, you gave me something.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me.
I was naked and you clothed me.
I was sick and you came to see me.
I was in prison and you came to see me.
Proclaiming these Gospel values is not very popular these day; however, it is what w, making sure people have what they need is what we are called to do. One of my mentors is fond of saying, Don’t preach the Gospel, if you do not look good on wood!” We are being challenged this week to see how we can bring about the rule of God on earth.