Sunday, March 16, 2008

Confessions: Expectation and Betrayal

Today is Palm Sunday in the Christian world, the day which commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, riding on the back of a humble donkey, and received by crowds waving palm branches and shouting, "Hosanna, hosanna in the highest heaven", which means, essentially, "thank God you're here, deliver us!"

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week, in which the story of Jesus' life rises to a climax and ends in his death and a new life. It is also the day when the story of Judas' betrayal is told.

It's interesting to observe the juxtaposition of these two events: a brilliant teacher and leader is welcomed by a throng of women and men overjoyed to see him, eager for his wisdom, hoping for his help in overcoming the evil conditions of their lives, expecting him to overthrow the oppressor and set them free; at the same time, the teacher's erstwhile friend and companion is looking for his own way to profit from the popularity of this man and makes a deal to betray him.

How often this story is repeated in human history: a visionary leader bursts onto the scene, shifts the trajectory of culture, suffers at the hands of friends and enemies, and comes to a tragic end. Few heroes live out their lives in peace and quiet; most sacrifice themselves on the altar of altruism.

Only in the movies do heroes ride off into the sunset to rescue fair damsels (or nations) another day. Most suffer the slings and arrows of opposition as well as the sweetness of approval and a sense of accomplishment.

Most of us are not heroes in the way of Jesus, MLK Jr., Shane, Abraham Lincoln, Wonder Woman, Xena, and others. Most of us just put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out, and if we change the trajectory of culture, it's in very tiny increments. And we all experience betrayals both large and small: in marriage, health, work, family, friends.

Through the lens of my low Christology (i.e., Jesus was not God), I see Jesus as a young man who has done a lot of thinking and study about his religious heritage, has diverged from the traditional path and has developed a theology that is focused on lovingkindness instead of obeying rigid laws which hurt people. He speaks his truth: "the laws were made for humankind; humankind was not made for the law".

Those whose job it is to uphold those rigid laws are fearful; does his message mean chaos? They use the disappointment of Judas, a man who had expected Jesus to rise up as a rebel leader against Roman rule, to bring down this charismatic leader who hoped to change Jewish culture and who taught a way of life so different from the rigid purity laws.

Using his Jewish heritage and culture as a foundation, Jesus sought to help people see that true freedom from oppression lay within, that an inner life in relationship with the Holy was more to be prized than the overthrow of Caesar's rule. He planted this seed at that time and lived it himself, that we might have a model for our own lives.

Yet even those who profess to take Jesus' message most seriously often find themselves (ourselves?) ignoring the inner life in favor of fighting windmills. I certainly do this. I criticize others' behavior or beliefs while neglecting to nurture my relationship with the Holy.

Holy Week is a time for self-examination, for considering our inner lives and how our lives compare to Jesus' classic example of goodness and mercy. We are here to deliver the world---the Hosanna! And in so doing, we will struggle against the criticism and undermining by those who are disappointed in our efforts---the Judas kiss.

It is an age-old challenge for human living. You're gonna be punished for the good you do in the world. Do good anyway.


LinguistFriend said...

I have a hard time at dealing with Easter. It is hard to know how to react to something I really do not believe in, such as the resurrection. I was impressed that on his recent visit to Toledo, even Bishop Spong, so much closer to traditional Christianity than I am, would not be drawn into a discussion of how to interpret the Resurrection. Your hints point at a summary updated christology, which is certainly worth while.
I tend to see Jesus as a transitional figure in the shift from temple Judaism to rabbinic Judaism; that is the issue over which he lost his life, counter-attacked by the priests after his disturbance in the Jerusalem temple. The primary importance of this issue may be why John's gospel shifts this event from the end of the story (Mt 21:12, Mk 11:15-17, L 19:45) to near the beginning (J 2:13-22), so that the rest of the gospel story is read in its light. That is aside from John's historically later christology, which has tended to color our interpretation of the synoptics, in a light shed backwards.
Of course, the idea of a Christian humanism with a low christology is a good one, but then Jesus tends to act as a general symbol for the positive ethical aspects of Hellenistic Judaism. However, he was not the only good and progressive rabbi. So I find that I must open up my view, as you know, to learn from others, not only from Christians, but also from Heschel and Baeck.

Lizard Eater said...

Great post.

Comrade Kevin said...

Forgive Judas anyway.