March 24, Palm Sunday

As we begin Holy Week, and recall Jesus’ suffering and death, it’s worth remembering that Jesus did not suffer to please an angry God. He chose to endure his sufferings because he believed how he was teaching his followers to live was worth giving his life for. He loved all of us so much that he really wanted to show us how to live in the manner in which we are being created — in God’s image. And while we like the idea of a God who is all-powerful, Jesus, in suffering the worst we can inflict on him, shows us Abba who is also kind, caring, loving, and compassionate — which some folks might have a problem accepting. He believed he lived his Father’s will in a way that caused the Temple and Roman systems to feel threatened. When he saw people who were suffering for any reason because of either of these systems he took the side of the suffering person, often healing, always welcoming and encouraging them. He had no purity code for people. He never told them to sin no more or don’t come back to him.

Jesus wanted to help people in his day get back to the Covenant Israel had with Yahweh. He recognized that  how people were living was not what the Covenant was calling them to. The Covenant was based on mutual love and respect: “You will be my people and I will be your God”(Gen17:7). He knew how they lived, how different it was from what the Covenant proposed, and acted accordingly, reaching out to people who were suffering and being hurt by the Temple. Over the years the Temple had put itself between Yahweh and the people, setting up a system of rules and requirements, eg who could go into the Temple and who couldn’t, various purity and cleanliness standards, requirements for animal sacrifice while itself selling the animals in the Temple and making money, etc. In other words, if you want to get to God you have to go through us because our way is the only true way. Both the Temple and the Roman Empire wanted to control the people, keep them in line, and run a neat and orderly operation, no matter how many people were hurt. Jesus felt he was living his Father’s will in taking care of the people. They realized his goodness, and Jesus was popular with them, but he Temple system could not tolerate Jesus and how he lived, as the Passion Narratives show. Jesus believed he was acting in the name of His Father as he reached out to the people who, for whatever reason, the Temple called outcasts. He lived his Father’s love for all. He believed this so strongly that he was wlling to give his life to show us how important his way of living is, and how expensive it might become for any who try to follow him. This shows us his, and Abba’s, love for us. 

This week I can look at my own life and how open I am, or not, to letting God’s grace give insights in how I live as Jesus’ disciple in my own time and place, which I’m not doing too well. It’s about how Jesus calls me to live, not how I should expect others to live. The Gospel happens as I live it every day — in my choices, my moods, feelings, action, how I deal with the folks in my life. This past week, due to maintenance work, I got rid of a lot of junk in my apartment, and it feels great, like relief and freedom. This leads me to wonder if there’s junk in my daily living that I can get rid of because it no longer works, or is causing me, or others, pain.

What I really need to watch is how I treat every person who is in my life in any way — the people I like, the people I don’t like, the people whom the system sees as sinners and outcasts, the people I would just take for granted and maybe not even notice. In the Passion Story I hear about Jesus’ closest friends deserting him and leaving him to fend for himself, even denying him, except for a few strong women. While I have a good idea of how Jesus does this, how do I treat outcasts, people who have offended or embarrassed the system, or whom the system sees as undesirables because of how they live or who they love, or for any reason? Or am I just talk, deserting Jesus for my own convenience and comfort?

There are many things organized religions promote that just don’t ring well with ordinary people. Some religious traditions seem incapable of seeing the world of their people which is different from the closed in world of some religious systems that keep insisting on ways of thinking that don’t work any more. What the systems say things should be is not what folks recognize in their lives. Threats of fear, punishment, hell, excommunication don’t work any more, and many folks are just ignoring it all. Pope Francis is addressing this with the Synod, moving towards being a listening church where we hear each other without having ready made answers, and move on together to learn about and from each other, and so the Spirit happens. Many in church management do not agree with him.

How uncomfortably personal am I willing to let this Holy Week be for me? Am I open to recognizing the people around me who are hurt by a system that in its own way treats people as the Temple system did in Jesus’ day? “Church Hurt” is a real thing these days. What am I willing to do? How far am I willing to go? Do I want to be part of judging, or part of healing? Is there something you are calling me to? In the Garden Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk22:42). Having an open and trusting heart that lets me hear and respond to the Spirit, to grace, is most important. Then the terrible scene where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”(Mt 27:46). Is there anything I can learn from it, that the Spirit is reminding me of? Many of us have been in this spot from time to time on our journey. It is not a nice place. Abba, how can I help? Just sayin .  .  .