Irritated by Palm Sunday (Bad Easter Part I)

We were bad before Easter.
We were bad before Easter.

Easter celebrates the conquest of death by Life.* This is the day we remember that God became man so man could become like God. This is the greatest party and a foreshadowing of the party to come.

But I am a philosopher by nature and we are cynical souls and so begins a series on the people who are more like I would have been during those great days. These are the people who had a Bad Easter. They chose, to quote The Last Crusade, poorly.

There, but for the grace of the calendar, go I.

Palm Sunday started this best week off with a celebration. Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead. People were excited and he entered Jerusalem looking like a King. If you were a Roman, this was bad news, but it was also bad news for a certain type of religious person. As the excitement built, they saw people having fun and knew in their hearts something must be wrong.

Joy is suspicious. Religious joy doubly so. Flourishing human beings are hard to control, rob, and destroy. There is a reason toxic churches exist: they exercise control to enrich themselves. They do well for themselves by perverting the gospel for power and profit. Jesus was coming into the city, but he was not coming with the right permission or approval, and not in a way where money could be made. He was wasting this chance to monetize his ministry and irritating the powerful establishment. Let the historical record reveal the wickedness (from the account of Saint Luke):

As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road.  As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
    who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
    and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

 Why would the Pharisees so irritated? It was not their beliefs. Remember in terms of Jewish schools of thought and ideas, Jesus was a Pharisee. He believed what they believed, but unlike the Pharisees, Jesus did what he preached. He believed in the resurrection of the dead like they did, but he saw the dead raised. He believed in Scripture, like they did, but he lived it. He rejected watering down Scripture to fit with the trendy ideas of the academic elite, like the Pharisees did, but kept talking about it publicly. 

He cared about the poor in practice and not just in words. He cared about justice in practice not just in words. He opposed sin and was sinless.

Worst of all, Jesus was having a big show outside the Temple structure. If a rabbi spoke in the Temple, money could be made, product (doves in this case, not DVDs) could be sold. Jesus was wasting His chance and worst of all He was doing so in a way calculated to ruin the fun for everyone else. He was giving away the “pitch” and irritating the Romans.

How could the hypocrites keep their graft going?

Jesus’ disciples were proclaiming Jesus “king.” This was not going to go well with the statists in government who thought they had a monopoly on power. Romans wanted everyone to say Caesar (government) is Lord, but Jesus’ disciples were saying He was Lord. Liberty was threatening to break out all over Jerusalem.

Jesus’ disciples were asking God for help directly (Hosanna!), not going through the established regime. No offering was being collected. Jesus was on a donkey and not the ancient equivalent of his own jet. He was a Pharisee making the other Pharisees look like the sold-out-to-the-Romans grifters they were.

Being a Pharisee is good business: you represent the reaction to the secular Romans and the liberal Sadducees. You can peddle apocalypse and fear. You can develop a counter-culture that can be quite lucrative. You can build a small pond and be the big perch of the pond.

Jesus was a real threat, not because He was some hippy liberal Sadducee, but because Jesus took Moses seriously. He lived out the conservative way of life. He had no King but God and He wasn’t part of their counter-culture establishment. His disciples were messing up the compromise that if churches were quiet about their beliefs in public, the Romans would let them say any of their Jewish nonsense in private.

Jesus was being a public Jew.

How to attack this man? He was faithful to the Scriptures. He was righteous. He went around doing good. He was not a Roman flunky, cutting deals in private.

The only recourse was to shut Jesus and His students up. On Palm Sunday, they would not be quiet. They were shouting Jewish truths so loudly that everyone could hear and so the establishment (right and left) was mad.

Judging people is unpopular just now, but forget particular people. We all have traces of Bad Easter in us. The line between “Hosanna!” and “Get those kids out of my palm trees” runs through every human heart. We are cranky when we should be joyous. We are narrow when we should be broad and broad when we should be narrow.

Am I irritated by Jesus? Does Jesus demand I do what I say? Is Jesus insisting I shout in public that He is Lord and not Washington? Is He demanding I stand in solidarity with the sick, the poor, the prisoner, and the powerless? Is Jesus saying both “never do I condemn you” and so irritating the religious right and “go and sin no more” irritating the religious left?

Are Jesus’ followers being loud about some truth in ways that shame me in front of my cool academic friends? Am I putting Jesus in “American Christian speak” so only those who know my dog-whistles can hear what I am saying? Am I bold in Church but a coward in public? Am I part of a Temple system that sells the truth for money?

I am. We all are. I can wave a palm branch and still think those kids should be quiet. Am I?

Time to pray: Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

*The oldest Christian churches celebrate Easter on a different schedule. We are one week later . . . but in an act of ecumenical joy I am writing this week!

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