Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Slaughtered King:
A Reflection on Palm Sunday

A lot of Scripture tonight. Lots of words. Testing the attention span of all of us – we who live in the age of the push button notification. Just give me the sound bite, the pertinent information, and move on. The mystery of Holy Week begun on this day resists tidy delineations of this kind. The mystery, overwhelming; the story, to be entered; Christ crucified and risen, the garment we put on. Still, a lot of words. I don’t want to add too much to them, but instead to offer a short reflection to focus our attention in the midst of the words; a reflection on the first verse of our first reading, Luke 19, verse 28: “After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.”

After Jesus said this. The “this” that Jesus said, before he went up to Jerusalem - the immediate context for all that follows - is the familiar parable of the talents, which ends with the nobleman’s ominous lines: “‘I tell you, to all those who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence’” (Lk 19:26-27).

The connection between this earlier passage and the Passion narrative swells with an unresolved tension. Plainly, Jesus’ parable and the nobleman’s words do not prepare us to see the heralded, new king slaughtered. But God’s rejection of the evil wrought by “these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them,” lands squarely on Jesus.

Palm Sunday reveals Jesus as at the same time God’s elected and rejected one. This is meant to be Good News for us, but it is still hard to see Jesus slaughtered in the presence of God and God’s enemies. Harder still to hear the words on our lips – “Crucify him!” – and realize that we are God’s enemies, the ones “who did not want me to be king over them.”

I do not like to think of myself as an enemy of God, but my not liking it does not by itself make it untrue. I am like the double agent who sometimes forgets whose side she is on. But I have found grace in Jesus’ hard words to his disciples, “Love your enemies” (Lk 6:27).

“Love your enemies” is what we do when we imitate God’s love for us. Love for enemies is how God's love first finds us.

I used to think of an enemy as the worst thing a person could be, but enemy status has not proved enough to keep God from us or to prevent our being found in Christ. Instead, love without expectation or personal gain is arguably only known in the context of enemies. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” Jesus asks. So I have learned to ask for God’s help in loving my enemies, and also to pray for enemies to love.

Maybe loving enemies is how we go up, with Jesus, to Jerusalem. Maybe this is a piece of the surrender and truthfulness by which we learn the friendship of the crucified King.

Here is this week’s great mystery: once enemies of God, loved, now friends, of the crucified King. The promise and threat of this week are both there in the words: 
Crucified King.” Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder narrates this moment for us, the moment we come to this week and stare at the cross and see him for who he is and ourselves for who we are and wonder in horror what it all means. He writes, “Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him. The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it even the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come.
Let us pray.

Gracious God, heavenly Father: you have given your Church grace to hear and proclaim; we preach, we proclaim, Christ, and him crucified. Keep us attentive; keep us awake this week, so that we might know him whom we preach.


SFH. 3.24.13

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