"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The fans and the mob

For reasons I won't waste your time speculating about, my mind returns every Palm Sunday to the contrast between the crowd's adulation of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey with the venom of the mob calling for his crucifixion before Pilate a few days later. One thing I'm sure of is that both crowds are figurae, types, of own souls as they oscillate between grace and sin, between living, joyful faith and preference for the world's way of doing things. We welcome Jesus as our savior, yes; we also shout "Crucify him!" whenever we sin seriously, as most of us have done. I'd love to help do a movie in which a couple who had greeted Jesus with hosannas went on to join the crowd yelling for Barabbas' release instead of Jesus'. A plot premise would have them desperately poor, ripe to take a few shekels from the high priest's henchman for joining the mob. I have an old friend who could write a good script for such a movie. Of course there's always the matter of raising the money...

Which brings me to my main point. The Jews weren't ready to accept the idea that God could come to them in person as a man who, sans army, formal education, or even money, would challenge their religious leadership rather than the occupying power. You can hardly blame them; they thought as people normally would. The Anointed One they expected would be a political savior. He would eject the Romans by force and turn Israel into a glorious earthly kingdom where other nations would worship God just as they did. That's what the Apostles hoped for too, which is probably why Judas was disappointed enough to betray Jesus when it had become clear that wasn't going to be the script. They didn't start to get it until Jesus appeared to them after the Resurrection; they didn't even understand, until well after the fact, that he had actually prophesied the whole thing. My friends, the Apostles are us.

We instinctively assume that good fortune consists in our obtaining the blessings the rest of the world considers blessings too. That's the movie we want to see, or better, to make. When we don't see it or have the wherewithal to make it, then God's script for us can be a bitter disappointment indeed. In response, some of us betray him and are lost, temporarily or permanently; many abandon him when the path of fidelity seems likely to yield, at best, a cruel joke. We return only when some grace, foreseeable yet unforeseen, brings us back round. Rare are the Marys and Johns who stand steadfast by him at the foot of the Cross. And even they often don't get to see, until their own passing, much of the Great Light to follow.

This Palm Sunday, I pray for the wisdom and courage to follow the script God is writing for me. I don't want to be tempted, any more than I already am, to leave the fans for the mob.
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