A Degree of Irony


Here are my thoughts for Palm Sunday, 2007.
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There is a degree of irony in Palm Sunday being on April 1st this year. The tradition of April 1st as “April Fool’s Day” is supposed to have begun when the calendar was changed from the Julian version to the Gregorian version in 1582. Prior to that time, the beginning of the New Year was April 1st. With the changes in the calendar, the beginning of the year was moved backed to January 1st.

Those who continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st either did not know of the change or refused to make the change. Others made fun of these two groups of individuals and thus the tradition of trickery on April 1st. It appears that there is no historical evidence to back this commonly held belief. One reason is that England did not make the shift to the Gregorian calendar until 1752 but April Fool’s Day was well established in England by that time. So there must be some other reason for the celebration of foolery that occurs on this day.

But more importantly, today is Palm Sunday and it is a celebration that transcends other events. But it is a celebration that we have a hard time understanding. We see it as some precursor to Good Friday and Easter Sunday but we know very little about what transpired on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. In a world where the celebration of Good Friday as a holiday has passed quietly away, we spend most of Palm Sunday focusing on the events of Good Friday without considering what Jesus did on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.

The problem with the Gospel reading for today (1) is that we do not know what transpired that week. The passage from Luke takes us from the celebrations of Palm Sunday to the celebrations of Easter Sunday without knowing or understanding what else transpired during that fateful week. If we are not careful, if we do not read the other Gospels, then we are likely to forget why this week is so important. In moving from the celebrations of today to the crucifixion on Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, we forget the reasons why the religious authorities were so adamant about having Jesus arrested and put to death. The irony of it all is that if we do not know what happened on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday then we cannot understand what transpired on Thursday and Friday.

What happened during this week that is so much a focus of our lives as Christians? Why did Jesus ride into Jerusalem from the east on a donkey? According to Mark, it was Jesus’ intention to confront Roman imperial power and religious collaboration with it. While Jesus was entering the city from the east, Pilate was riding into Jerusalem from the west in a manner to symbolize and remind the people that Roman ruled the land. Pilate entered with a procession of troops and cavalry while Jesus entered on a donkey. This symbolism was to remind the people of Zechariah 9: 9 – 10 where the king of peace comes to us on a donkey who will banish war and strife from the land.

The contrast between the actions of Jesus and the church is very clear and it is very deliberate. For on Monday, Jesus cleanses the temple of the money changers. The religious authorities of that day had long collaborated with the Roman authorities and Jesus’ action of throwing out the money changers was a reminder that the temple authorities had turned the temple into a den of thieves.

On Tuesday, Mark writes a series of conflict stories that speak of the coming destruction of the temple. We are reminded that the authorities looked for some reason to arrest Jesus for such activities but they were unable to because the crowds protected Him.

We have, I think, all been lead to believe that the same crowds who cheered and supported Jesus during the week were the crowds who called for His crucifixion. But, as we read the account of that gathering we see that it took place in Pilate’s courtyard where ordinary people would not have access. Those who called for Christ’s crucifixion were supporters of the religious authorities and Pilate. It only makes sense that those who were opposed to Jesus would want to insure that Pilate get rid of the one man who threaten their very way of life. (2)

The irony of this week is that we haven’t learned what this week is about. Our political and more widely known religious leaders call for a restoration of moral values but only as it pertains to us. They somehow think that they are exempt from this call. Prominent politicians called for the impeachment of President Clinton because of his marital infidelity while engaging in the similar acts of marital infidelity. Pastors condemn homosexuality while engaging in the very acts that they condemn.

Jesus came as a servant yet many of the more noted pastors live lifestyles that make opulence look understated. Jesus came as the king of peace yet our leaders, both political and religious seek the establishment of another Roman empire. And the irony of it all is that we celebrate Palm Sunday but when the work week begins, we are like Peter, denying Christ as our Savior.

As Lent ends, let us remember why this week must be observed; let us remember that Jesus came as a servant and He asks us to be the same. Paul wrote to the Philippians and reminded them that Jesus sought to be a servant first, even though He had every right to be the One and Only King. (3) For us, it would be the best of ironies if we were to seek God through Christ and not reject him. It would be the best of ironies if we were to become the servant to others and let Jesus be the One and Only King.

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(1) Luke 22:14 – 23: 56
(2) Adapted from “Collision Course” by Marcus Borg & John Dominic Crossan, Christian Century, March 20, 2007
(3) Philippians 2: 5 -11

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4 thoughts on “A Degree of Irony

  1. There is a degree of irony in Palm Sunday being on April 1st this year. The tradition of April 1st as “April Fool’s Day” is supposed to have begun when the calendar was changed from the Julian version to the Gregorian version in 1582. Prior to that time, the beginning of the New Year was April 1st. With the changes in the calendar, the beginning of the year was moved backed to January 1st.

    Those who continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April 1st either did not know of the change or refused to make the change. Others made fun of these two groups of individuals and thus the tradition of trickery on April 1st. It appears that there is no historical evidence to back this commonly held belief. One reason is that England did not make the shift to the Gregorian calendar until 1752 but April Fool’s Day was well established in England by that time. So there must be some other reason for the celebration of foolery that occurs on this day.

    We know what happened on Monday, Tuesday, etc. because we have available to us the witness of the Gospel record found in Mt., Mk. and Jn., Lk. is not a solo witness. We have no reason to limit ourselves only to Lk.
    The composition of the crowd is debatable. Regardless of identity there is no doubt what they sought.

    I question that “we haven’t learned what this week is about.” Rather I think it is well understood. But it is a hard lesson that goes down hard. So we massage it, we move away from the aspect of sacrifice for sin to whatever is easier to accept and explain.

    Clinton was guilty of perjury under oath. He was not impeached for sexual infidelity. He was impeached because he knowingly and willingly broke the law. As an officer of the court, he had no excuse for such behavior. Had the Senate been able to find a backbone, He would have receive a just punishment. Their failure allowed him to go unpunished. There have always been political and religious leaders who have been guilt of similar sexual infidelity. Clinton was tried by the Senate not because he was sexually unfaithful to his wife or that he lied about it on national television but because he perjured himself while testifying under oath. The same judicial procedure is applied to anyone who purjures themselves under oath. Clinton’s justice department prosecuted and imprisioned many people for exactly the same crime. Purjury is not a “small thing” as the integrity of the judicial system turns precisely on the integrity of witnesses.

    The High Priest lived well as did many of the religious functionaries who administered temple affairs, but the average rabbi was not wealthy. If within many denominations the same is true of those with administrative responsibilities, nevertheless it does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of pastors do not live opulent lifestyles. Almost without exception they are shepherd who seek to feed not fleece the flock of God. They are not building “kingdoms” but they are being used of God to build His Kingdom. And the same is true of a great many sincere, genuinely committed denominational leaders. To describe such as an attempt to establish a “Roman Empire” is without a basis in fact. In the market place of ideas it is not wrong to advocate a western world view that is rooted in New Testament faith in Christ. Such a world view did not wander in out of the desert with a sword looking for Mecca.

    Jesus came as a servant. But to only say he came as a servant is to say to little. He came as Prophet, Priest and King. There are over ninety images of Jesus in the Old and New Testament of which servant is one. Further Jesus did not call us only to be servants. He did not call us to be fishermen. He did not call us to be peacemakers. He did not call us to be evangelist to the world. He did not call us to be anything except committed to him. That commitment is lived out vocationally not only as servants but as peacemakers, preachers, teachers, doctors and nurses, soldiers and statesmen.

  2. I am at a loss as to why Earl copied the opening paragraphs of my blog but I will let that go for the moment.

    As to my comment about not knowing what transpired during the week, I did indicate that there were other sources. But the lectionary reading for today comes from Luke and Luke goes from Palm Sunday to Good Friday. My writing in the blog, based on a source indicated in the footnotes, is to point out that separation of time.

    If we have learned what Holy Week is about, it appears to me that we haven’t done a good job of learning.

    We as a society claim to be a Christian society, yet we lead lives that are hardly Christian. I will accept the correction that President Clinton was impeached for perjury but I would point out that it was predicated on his marital infidelity. And while there was this great discussion about the President Clinton’s morality, where was the discussion about Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s? We find out that while Speaker Gingrich is seeking to impeach President Clinton, he was engaged in a second extra-marital affair.

    Who threw the first stone at the women accused of adultery? No one, because they knew they were all guilty of some sort of sin. Yet, many Republicans today and many Christians today (not all, I know) are quite willing to throw the first stone even though they cannot meet the test as given by Christ.

    And if we are to prosecute President Clinton for perjury in what should be considered a private matter, then what are we to do with President Bush’s lies and Vice-President Cheney’s lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? A lie is a lie, but the consequence of the lie are sometimes greater than the lie. President Clinton had to answer for his lie but when is President Bush going to? Why are those who are outraged at what President Clinton did not similarly outraged at the transgressions and abuse of the Constitution done by President Bush and his administration?

    It is true that many rabbis were not wealthy and many of today’s local preachers live on minimum salaries. For 7 years, I served as a part-time local pastor and what I received in compensation barely covered the expenses I incurred.

    But when you see the face of the church today, be it the face of the United Methodist Church or any other denomination, you see pastors and leaders who are, in my estimation, no better than the Pharisees and Priests of the ancient church who “sold their souls” in order to gain power. Jesus cleansed the Temple in order to remove those who sought power for themselves as opposed to serving God.

    What I see in the church today, and that includes the United Methodist Church, is a movement towards big and bigger churches. I see religious leaders who seek to build their own empires; I see religious leaders who are more interested in market techniques than they are in the true Gospel.

    Finally, I think we are called by Christ to be his servants. Too often we want Christ to be our servant, to give us what we think we deserve because we have done the “right” thing. We are called, as John Wesley was called, to bring the Good News to the world. If that means that we are called to be servants, so be it.

  3. Opps. With respect, the opening paragraphs were copied entirely due to my inexperience with using a keyboard. I am not used to writing on a screen. I have not ever used a lectionary preferring to plan preaching annually based on the needs of my local church.

    My comment about Clinton is absolutely accurate. The motives that led to his impeachment were not at issue. Neither was the infidelity of any member of Congress. Congress is not a Christian institution. It is a political construct that operates according to the rules of the House and Senate. Our opinions not withstanding, infidelity and dishonesty, involuntary manslaughter and even closet racism are seldom matters of their institutional concern.

    Rock throwing is a partisan activity with the throwing of the first stone usually occasioned by a combination of opportunity and expected outcome. If one or more congressmen find such a combination handy alleged lies of Pres. Bush or V.P. Cheney will come under review. The lack of outrage at Clinton’s abuse of women and his disregard for the Constitution is not excused by any lack of similar outrage at Constitutional abuse alleged to the Bush administration. In both instances it simply shows how sadly otherwise sincere Christians have been compromised.

    Recognizing that the way things are are not the way things ought to be, frustration can lead one to use a single broad brush to paint black the entire canvas of the UMC. Compairing UMC leaders to Pharisees and Priest who have “sold their souls” for power is as inaccurate and uncharitible as statements by so called “reformers” characterizing all UMC agency and board personnel as opportunistic left-wing Democratic political stooges.

    The UMC is a denomination of small churches. That is at once our strength and weakness. Large churches do not so much need denominational support for effective ministry as do small churches. This is part of the dynamic of tension that exist within the UMC. Large churches do not so much need a publishing house for printed materials they can produce in-house. Large churches do not so much need the work of agencies and boards to organize and conduct effective ministry. We long for that time when we were not a “Church.” We must needs find a structure that will allow us to most effectively minister. The current ongoing debate about missioal priorities within our Church is part of finding that structure. The sometimes loud outcries of that debate are a reason for hope for Moses is not going to come down from the mountain top and even if he did, the all the answers will never be carved in stone. The answers will come bit by bit as with an upper room mentality we yield ourselves to the leadership of God’s Holy Spirit. Sincerely. Earl.

  4. Pingback: “Almost Spring” « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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