Matthew 26:14- 27:66
The Passion Gospel according to Matthew is filled with scene after scene of a human drama of power and betrayal. The narrative begins with Judas’ negotiation of the price of betrayal, and then we move to the Passover meal, the garden scene, the trials, and finally the crucifixion and death of Our Lord. We hear the narrative, and we ask question, how did the people, in such a short space of time, move from the shouts of “Hosanna,” to the cry, “Let him be crucified.” It is difficult to imagine Jesus’ enduring the physical agony and shame of the cross. Imagine though, the emotional agony of the betrayal he experienced from those for whom he came to love and reveal God’s grace.
Then, Jesus faced the ultimate betrayal from those closest to him, the apostles, his friends with whom he had traveled, shared meals, taught, and loved for three years. If anyone would recognize that Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Incarnate One, and God with us, it would have been the twelve. Even so, at the hour of conflict, they abandoned Jesus and left him to suffer alone. Maybe, just maybe, they had different expectations of the Messiah than that of the suffering servant, who came to “give his life as a ransom for many.”
Waving palms and shouting “Hosanna,” the crowd on that fateful day was expecting a revolutionary of sorts. Jesus was coming into Jerusalem and maybe they expected him to liberate the people; maybe he would overpower the occupiers. The keyword here is power. Jesus did not enter the scene of human history in a place of power, he lived as the self-giving servant of God, who fully revealed God’s grace and mercy, and God’s unimaginable love. Jesus was a liberator and his ministry was most certainly about freedom. Jesus miracles stood as witness to the fact that he was God with us. His liberating acts by which he healed the sick, the blind, and the lame shouted clearly that God was bringing freedom to the people. Jesus’ teachings recalled the cries of the prophets for the people to return to God. Jesus lived the teachings of love, “love God with all our being and love our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus lived the teachings of love, “blessed are the meek,” “blessed are the merciful,” and “blessed are the pure in heart.” Jesus was God with us. This is the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer fully revealed in the freedom and liberation of love without bounds, and not of power that destroys the other, but it cost him his life.
The authorities, those with power and prestige were afraid of Jesus. The people were “spellbound by what they heard from Jesus” (19:48), and because of this influence, Jesus was a perceived threat for them that had to be eliminated. Jesus reminded the people that justice, righteousness and self-giving love was the liberating freedom of God’s Kingdom. At times, this came in conflict with their “we’ve always done it that way” traditions of the power wielders of that day. The Messiah for which the influence-wielders had hoped, was not this Jesus fellow. They wanted someone who would not shake things up and not subvert their power, but because he did turn things upside down a bit, it cost him his life.
The trial of Jesus, which preceded his death, was not like the legalistic courtroom affairs we are used to today. This was a culture, in which status was conferred in an “honor-shame society built around a system of mutual benefaction.” [Rebecca Abst Wright, Tuesday Morning (Sewanee: Tuesday Morning Associates, 2011),19] In other words, the kindness and goodwill shown someone by other members of the group, was dependent on their status in the group, and based on their sense of honor. The trial was an attempt to undermine Jesus’ standing among the people. Jesus’ honor was challenged by a direct attack against him that would certainly shift the balance of honor back toward the authorities. Thus, Jesus was ridiculed and shamed before the people, in order to undermine him and to insure that influence and influence remained with them. As the trial proceeded and led to the cross and death of Jesus, it would seem that power and not love, won the day.
We like to be on the winning team, we like to be with those who are in power or have the prestige. Walk around any mall or shopping center and without a doubt, you will see people wearing the T-shirt or cap of their favorite sports team. We are a people of association with winners and we have a tendency to enhance our connectedness to a group by undercutting our opponents. Ask any New York Yankees fan what they think of a Boston Red Sox fan, and you will know exactly what I mean.
We have not learned much in the past 2000 years. Humanity still battles with each other; we still attack and subvert each other to gain dominance. We are not even in the second half of 2011 and the insults and accusations of the political opponents up for election in 2012, are already flying. Those with influence are undercutting their opponents.
The human struggle always seems to be over supremacy, at the expense of the dignity of the other. This struggle though, is not the struggle for the day when the Kingdom of God will emerge. God’s reign is certainly not about power, it is about mutual forbearance, respect, forgiveness, and peace yet, we continue to take the place of the Sovereign. We lord it over our fellow creatures. We dominate.
Human atrocities over the centuries have emerged out of fear and out of a desire for self-preservation. As a result, we have in many cases, chosen power and not love. At all levels of human interaction, this fear and desire plays itself out. The result is the brokenness that leads to not loving neighbor as ourselves and thus, not loving God.
Jesus rejected human power and enfleshed the grace of God through self-giving love. Through his life, ministry, death, and resurrection, Our Lord decisively changed the course of human history. Jesus Christ revealed the depth and profound power and influence which love exudes, because that is the very nature of God. As followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we proclaim that we are a community of love, and not a community of power. Today, through our palm procession and then the dramatic shift to the Passion gospel, we enacted the choice between the power of self-preservation and power of self-giving love. The radical call to embody in our daily lives, the life of self-giving love, is the call to discipleship. As we follow Christ by submitting to the freedom to love one another and release our innate desire to reign as rulers of our own lives, we will witness the coming of the Kingdom of God, and the grace of God will reign will eternal.