Year C, Palm Sunday
March 24, 2013
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Certainly this man was innocent.”
Those are the words of the centurion overseeing the execution of Jesus Christ. Innocence. What a word. It conjures images of unspoilt childhood, of quaint naïveté. Innocence implies preciousness, something that can be lost, and once it is lost it is gone forever. Then there is the innocence of, “I didn’t do anything wrong”, of innocent until proven guilty. When it comes to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, it would seem that that centurion had it comprehensively right, “Certainly this man was innocent.” But then again, I do suppose innocence is in the eye of the beholder.
Everywhere Jesus Christ went He healed people, cast out demons, fed the hungry, taught the meaning of law and prophecy, had and encouraged deep relationships with people and had and encouraged deep relationships with God. He even raised someone from the dead. Everywhere He went He did the right thing, He was blameless, innocent, even.
Did Jesus do anything wrong? I mean not in a “without sin” kind of way, but in a guilty-of-anything-in-the-eyes-of-man kind of way? He ticked people off, pretty much continuously, but was that wrong, was He guilty of anything? His glorious procession into Jerusalem, the procession we remembered with our foot steps this morning, sure it slowed traffic and certainly would have annoyed some merchants whose business would have been disrupted by the commotion, and civil/military authorities despise anything unexpected or unpredictable-seeming, but wrong, guilty? The money changers might have a case, Jesus certainly violated decorum, tradition and probably law in driving them out of the Temple, but disobedience to laws, civil, religious or otherwise, is only wrong if it is applied to just laws.
Jesus was guilty of nothing. He was not leading people astray from society or the faith. He was not preaching against the Law or the Prophets. He was not advocating violence or an overthrow of the standing government or religious authorities. He certainly did not speak or act against the sovereignty of God. Yet even at his birth, people, powerful people largely, sought to suppress Him, silence Him, kill Him. Beginning with Herod’s pogrom against infants and toddlers, the slaughter of the innocents, through the horror of this coming week, everywhere Jesus went, He was met with hostility, with anger, hatred and open violence. His own people, the people of Nazareth tried to throw Him over a cliff, the demoniacs all cried, “Leave us alone,” the authorities came under cover of darkness to take him away, and the crowd screamed “Crucify him!” One writer put it, “He came with the gathering love of a mother hen, yet was met with deadly resistance.” Everywhere He went He met resistance to not just what He said or did, but more importantly, to what, to who He was. Why is it that we hate the innocent so?
I do mean we. This story, the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, this day’s raucous Yippie-like political theater, a 1stcentury Occupy Zombie March into the capital, the agony of the Passion; this is a reflection of our nature, our very broken, our very sinful, our very human nature. We reject the naïveté of “it is simply the right thing to do” in public policy and in how we live our lives. We disallow as simplistic, radical notions of Sabbath, gift and cooperation. We shun honesty and in doing so, condemn the honest; we shun the disruptive, so we reject the agitator, often the bearer of simple, blatant truths. We marginalize those who offer mercy and those in need of mercy. And why? Why do our own agendas become the most important? Why do our own needs trump the needs of others? Why do our desires and even dreams seem to be more important than others’ ability to survive? Why do we sacrifice, or consent to the sacrifice of the innocent that we may not be put out or inconvenienced? Or more directly put, why do we think it is ok to be a bystander?
The violence of National Socialism was unveiled in 1938’s Krystallnacht. Across Germany religious buildings, businesses and homes of Jews were ransacked. Dietrich Bonheoffer, the great Reform theologian was a witness to this terror, and notated the haunting 74thPsalm in his personal Bible with the words, “How long, O God, shall I be a bystander?”
The cross is a bitter symbol. It is disgusting. Dirty. Filthy. It is obscene, really. And in its obscenity it demands our attention. It represents the torturous execution of the innocent at the hands of corrupt priests, collaborationist leaders and their Imperial overlords, it doesn’t get any worse than that. Well except for adding us, the throngs of bystanders along the edges of this scene, bystanders passively watching it all happen. The cross refuses to allow us to be bystanders. That is the agonizing mystery of the symbol of our faith. We may not, on pain of a death estranged from God, be bystanders any longer.
As we immerse ourselves in the agony of this week, in the horror of the Passion, imagine what Jesus and His friends were going through. Imagine not knowing that Easter was immanent. Imagine not knowing that this story was going to end up OK. Imagine not having the blessed assurance that the light shines in the darkness. truly. Imagine what the world would look like if we were not just bystanders to the slaughter of the innocent, if we were not bystanders to the crucifixion of the innocent like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Imagine what that would take? Imagine. That is our task this Holy Week. AMEN