I love a parade. (part two)

Is this really a good time for Jesus to start a parade into town? He has been putting the powerful in their place at every opportunity; reframing their questions and suggesting that the answers only point to a strange kind of revolution – one where the least shall be great, and the weak are the most powerful. Jesus is the one that eeryone is talking about – the headline news in certain circles: “have you head about how he treated the Pharisees?” – “ a different teaching – with authority!” – “I was blind, but now I see…” – in a time before instant messages or constant news, the rumour mill was the height of technology, and you cna be sure that Jesus’ exploits have been shared (and possibly ‘liked’) by a large percentage of the population.

So is this good marketing, or a singularly bad idea:

Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.”

Because we are used to reading this text in Holy Week, we know that there will be a price to pay for this sort of cheek; Mocking the powerful and accepting the people’s praise is going to get you the wrong kind of attention. There is more than one ancient prophecy about to be brought to life, and it is an important feature in the drama leading up to Jesus crucifixion, but what is the point of this kind of behaviour? It is more than just the opening act of Jesus passion – a ‘king’ on a donkey; a passionate preacher trashing the furniture at the entrance to the temple – what’s the real story here?

Jesus has asked his followers for something different; he has challenged their understanding of the law of Moses; he urges them to reconsider their ideas about who God is and how God can be approached. He is trying to redifine righteousness, touching the untouchable, eating with the unclean, ignoring the habits of faith that separated the “chosen” from the forgotten. In a region ruled by Roman might – among a people with long memories (for the liberating promises of God) but little experience (beyond opression and captivity of their own generation) – the ideas of Jesus (who is only too happy to practice what he preaches) are not just religious nonsense – they are political propaganda.

So when you act out of your convictions, you draw attention (and potentially harm) to yourself and your ideas. When you question the religious practice of long standing (selling ‘perfect/acceptable’ offerings [at a profit] is a method of controlling both the style and substance of worship) the frozen chosen are not likely going to rush to your defence when the authorities come calling. Jesus is working under the shadow of destruction long before the cross is laid on his sholders – and that, I think, is the REAL story.

As the passion story meets us in the long season before Advent, Matthew’s gospel reminds us that everyone who chooses to follow this (comical) king who longs to see holiness represented in the temple – everyone who is attracted by a kingdom founded on love where even the poor and the outcast have a place – all of us who take Jesus as our model are working under the shadow of the cross. Destruction is assured; the establishment will not be mocked; power does not easily lose its attraction for those who hold it. We are pledged to what seems like a losing cause.

Consider the discussions we have – the dreams we have for the church as a voice of reason, and a place of influence. We are told that this is how it used to be, but a church in “power” is not what Jesus called into being. Jesus started a movement that spoke truth to power, and suffered for it. The “main-stream” is not where we were meant to swim, and we need to accept that.

Jesus is not given a heroes welcome on that day in Jerusalem – this is a parody of a parade. His real business is revealed in his actions at the temple; rearranging, not just the furniture, but the focal point of God’s worshipping people. “a house of prayer, not a den of robbers”. This is not a blow to the Sunday shopping crowd, but a wake up call for those whose defence is “we’ve always done it that way”

So we are not the hottest ticket in town. Crowds don’t rush to our services (just our dinners). Our strength – indeed, our only purpose as the gathered people of God is prayer – worship – praise. And we must find a way to continue to do those things – in spite of the burden of our buildings, and the burden of our expectations of ‘success’. Our buildings are too big, and too costly to maintain – let’s find smaller buildings. There are too many churches for such a small population (some say) – Let’s unite with our neighbours in faith. Let’s put aside the notion that worship can only happen on certain days, at certain times – ideas that mean we are routinely excluding folks who work weekends, or rotating shifts. Jesus saw that the faithful had fallen into a trap – the safety and security of something familiar, which had strayed from its original purpose – and he challenged them to return to that purpose. We are drawn into that same challenge.

The church still has work to do – the gospel of Christ still has the ability to change lives and offer hope. Our community needs what we can offer, hospitality; compassion; celebration; and of course, an opportunity to seek the Holy One in all those activities. We must keep Jesus’ challenge before us – we must approach questions of sustainability and existence from positions of prayer and praise. Our work in worship must inform our work in the world. When it does – when faith is revealed in all its power and majesty – that will be reason enough for a parade.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Amen


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