Praise and Lament
Praise is quite difficult to deal with… don’t you find? It can be so manipulative or just embarrassing. And yet in spite of that somehow we need to learn how to accept what comes our way graciously, without it going to our head… without protesting too much… without becoming paranoid. The new pope seems to have a way of diffusing praise… and letting it go like water off a duck’s back. Are we ever in the place of knowing the motivations of those who praise us? I suspect usually not.
In a way that’s the theme of Palm Sunday… the accumulated weight of praise comes to a head as Jesus approaches Jerusalem. The different gospels treat this event differently Matthew and Mark emphasise the size of the crowd and the palm leaves waving. In other words they are deeply aware as anyone of the time would be, of the similarity between this event and a famous event in Israel’s history about 200 years earlier – the Maccabean Revolt – when the brutal rule of the Heleniser Antiochus Epiphanes was brought down by a violent Jewish revolution led by the Maccabeus brothers. At that time they celebrated the revolution with a palm-frond parade. And Matthew and Mark make a point of mentioning the palms. Luke’s gospel is different though, he doesn’t mention the palms at all. He emphasises that it is the disciples who are singing Jesus’ praises. It is still a crowd (not just the 12 disciples), but a crowd of the disciples who have gathered over the time of Jesus ministry. They are so excited they are laying down their coats and letting the donkey walk over them on the dirty path…
Although Luke calls it a crowd of disciples there are Pharisees in the crowd too. They feel uncomfortable about the praise. They voice their discomfort with a demand. “Rabbi, tell your disciples to stop”. It’s not clear whether they are trying to protect Jesus, as they did earlier, or whether they find such praise offensive. Jesus response is:
“I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out”.
What’s going on here? I think in spite of the crowd dynamics, in spite of all the misunderstanding that was swirling around him, Jesus does not want to reject their praise. It’s like he’s coming out of the closet now. Jesus had done his fair share of deflecting praise, of keeping things hush hush. Now the true shape of his life is crystalising before his eyes, as he looks down the path to Jerusalem, to his death. This is the outcome of his long obedience to God whom he called Abba, the God who gives and gives freely to all creation and to deserving and undeserving alike…, Now there was no avoiding the great clash with the political and religious systems of the world. This is a point of no return.
And I suspect that as the disciples sing ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ Jesus is very conscious of which Lord he is obeying on his humble donkey, and what it means to bring the ‘heavenly peace’ they were singing about to Jerusalem.
“If these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Jesus believes that creation itself is on his side. His humble, peaceful calling comes from the very heart of God’s creation. His journey, we might say, runs “with the grain” of creation. If the people don’t recognise something here, then the rocks themselves will sing God’s praises. One way or another God’s praise will out.
As he is listening to their songs of praise… he is trusting God to make the truth known. Abba will not abandon him or these people.
And yet this deep faith in God’s faithfulness sits side by side with a profound lament. He’s weeping. Last month we looked at Jesus other lament over Jerusalem…
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city the kills the prophets”.
Today’s lament is similar but slightly different
“If you, even you had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace”
The Maccabean revolution with its palm parade didn’t make for peace. Luke wrote his gospel some years later… after the fall of Jerusalem after another violent revolution and more bloodshed. And so as Luke is writing his gospel he is very conscious that violent revolution does not make for peace.
Today’s reading leaves me struck by the contrast. The crowd is singing for joy. Jesus is weeping deeply. There’s some disconnect here. Jesus is seeing something they aren’t
The crowd of disciples is not wrong to sing praises. They have glimpsed something of the beauty of God’s life in the life of Jesus. They are onto something. If there was a donation box out for Jesus’ cause, they would put money in. They are fans of Jesus. The love him, as fans do. They think he’s wonderful. I suspect if their friends asked them they would say that he was an amazing person. They admire him immensely. But not enough to follow him to his cross. Luke calls them disciples (followers). But Jesus is the only one who will die on Friday. They will all run.
The things that make for peace… It is going to take much more than admiration to save the day for them and for anyone else.
These people waving palms are victims… like everyone else. They have been brutalised by empires. They live like all of us do, since childhood, in the cycles of violence and resentment. They have their wounds. Some big, some which to others might appear trivial. They want justice for themselves.
But only Jesus knows the secret of true justice. Only Jesus knows that the only way to true peace is to pay the cost… The person who wants to forgive… (and Jesus spent is life forgiving people)… the person who wants to forgive must pay the cost of healing and reconciliation – its not a process of forgetting what happened, it’s a process of taking into oneself, absorbing the pain rather than inflicting it back on the offender… and in doing so opening a way towards healing and a different future.
Luke’s is the only gospel that records the words from the cross ‘Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing” Not only that, but Luke puts it in the present continuous tense. Jesus was saying (again and again Luke suggests) Father forgive them… Father forgive them.
In 2006 in an Amish Community in West Nickel Mines School a gunman came in and took hostages. He shot 10 girls ages 6-13 and killed five of them. The first response of the Amish community was to offer forgiveness. The world was astonished and it created a media storm. The Amish folk didn’t know what the fuss was about. Their response was simply. What else could we do? We have spent all our lives saying the words in the Lord’s Prayer
‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’
How could they not follow Jesus now?
The Spirit of Jesus was at work among the Amish. The Spirit of Jesus is at work among us.
Thanks be to God.