The Risk of Misunderstanding

Mark 1:1-11
Palm Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Never before in the history of our country have leaders been so scrutinized. We’re suspicious. We’re critical. For a number of years we have critiqued our political leaders but now corporate and financial leaders are not excused. “What in the world were they thinking to take the risks they took with our economy?” we wonder. “Were they thinking at all?” we sometimes say. Yet surely we must acknowledge at some level that we all turned a blind eye while life was going well. If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. But we did not realize that the strain we were putting on the system would surely break it eventually.

Surely those who followed this teacher, healer, prophet, miracle-worker Jesus for 3 months or even the entire three years of his ministry had no idea what was coming, any more than we could have predicted the collapse of our national and global economy.
I wonder how much Jesus knew himself about his impending doom. Surely, as the disciples and Gospel writers looked back, they remembered him making allusions to his death. But just how clear was Jesus about what was going to happen that week? I have this notion that in his fully divine, fully human nature, he simply lived an authentically holy and true and right life of love each day risking the consequences of that life, and the anger of those in power who misunderstood him.

I think the day-to-day events of the last week of his life were not completely known to him. Yet he sensed the impending doom. To come into Jerusalem in the pattern of a King and then to go to the temple and challenge the money changers, Jesus was going down a path he must have understood to be risking his life. Surely there was a heaviness about him as he pondered an entry into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration, knowing as he did that many people disapproved of his message. Yet another part of him knew a courage that did not bow to fear, a love which kept reaching out, a truth that was unwavering.

Hear now the Palm Sunday story from Mark’s Gospel:

Every year when we come to Palm Sunday, I experience this enormous tension between the two shouts of the week. First the joyful celebration of a triumphal entry, with people shouting “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, which means ‘save us, we pray.’” and just a few days later, they shout, “Crucify him, crucify him.” In our more immature times of faith and thought, we like to think of good guys and bad guys. But nowadays, we really understand we are large and paradoxical in ourselves. We all contain the good, the bad, and the ugly. So the same disciples who dropped nets and followed Jesus, who lead the procession, would be falling away, denying that they know him. The same one who sat with Jesus at table for the Passover meal, immediately goes out to betray him to the authorities. And by Friday Jesus is praying for all of us, the prayer he prays for those who killed him, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.”

So the tension of this week is this: We all want to be part of the blessings – receive the healings, hear the inspiring teaching, be nurtured in the forgiving love. We all want to participate in the celebration, to worship when it’s a happy time.

We like Palm Sunday. We get it. We understand. We’re glad to be part of the joy and success. How many people wanted a piece of the strong economy, and were willing to participate in the risk of others’ welfare because of the benefits to themselves?
But Palm Sunday is just the first day of the week. Palm Sunday is also sometimes called Passion Sunday. We know that Thursday betrayal and Friday’s abuse, and even Saturday’s hell are coming. When the going gets tough, when the powers and authorities are not on our side, when success (in the eyes of the world) is not looking promising, then you find your real friends who stick with you through thick and thin. When life is hard, when you’re under threat, when you’re suffering, who really understands? Jesus learned as Palm Sunday moved to Passion Friday that many of his friends misunderstood him, and were not prepared to go all the way with him. They were expecting him to be the power-broker he could never be. Because his power could never be wielded in place of love. His power was love, perfect love, life-giving sacrifice. He had talked about servanthood and the power of weakness, but they misunderstood, still stuck in their paradigm of hierarchical kingship.

The church still misunderstands. Majesty is in lowliness. Power is in weakness. Greatness is in humility. Authority is found in life-giving submission for the healing of others. And those are the tensions, in which we find ourselves today. But perhaps we get a little closer to Jesus, maybe we understand a little better now than we did a year ago. Maybe we get it when we are more weak, humble, and lowly in the world. Perhaps the proud nation, the proud CEOs, the proud Wall

Street, the proud Houses of Congress and White House, the proud celebrities, and even the proud churches all need to be brought to their knees. Then we might just discover what it truly means to be God’s children, all of us together full of humility and grace. Then we might learn that our songs of Hosanna “Save us Lord. Save us now, we pray” are not just for ourselves alone but for all the suffering world. Our shouts of praise and longing are for all people who know, really know the pain, the agony and loneliness of Friday, and who wait with eager longing for the renewal of life. Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.

Let us bow and quietly meditate on the gift we have in a God who joined our human life to experience our pain, to feel how unfair life can be, to be misunderstood, lonely, and abused, and who promises us hope in the midst of despair.

Later at Communion Table:

We come to the table now, remembering that Palm Sunday quickly moved to Maundy Thursday, the night of the Passover, when Jesus shared his last meal with his disciples. On that night, Jesus begins with an act of loving, submissive service, in washing the dirty feet of those who adored him. Then he said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” That is the command, from which we get the word “Maundy” So the message at this table is love. Love from Christ to us. Charge by Christ that we should love one another. Here at this table – always the same tensions we see on Palm Sunday. The joy of a shared meal, and yet the jarring, mysterious words, “This is my body, broken for you. Take eat. Do this in remembrance of me. This is new covenant in my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sin.” We come to celebrate the power of God and the weakness. We come, aware of our own neediness and of the marvel of God’s radical inclusion. We are, each of us, both loyal and a betrayer, both faithful and a denier of truth. And Jesus says to all of us, “I am the bread of life. Come.”