Jesus' entry to Jerusalem at the beginning of passover week is a complicated affair, full of paradoxes and irony. He performs prophetic acts that invite his followers and those pilgrims traveling with him to laud him as the one coming to take David's throne, to be a just king, to bring in God's rule. As to what Jesus is thinking on his way we know from the gospels that he regarded this pilgrimage to result in his death. One can't help but think of Saint Paul's poetic summary of Jesus' life in the second chapter of Philippians, when one thinks of his entry to the holy city: "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross."
Commenting on this passage, Rowan Williams remarks that: "it opens up those infinite horizons onto what it's like to be God; a God who is sufficiently free in himself to give himself into the hands of others, to put his life into our hands, to take what we might think the greatest risk imaginable. And then of course the whole thing turns round to us because Paul is telling us this because he wants us to... have the same habit of thought, the same self-understanding, in you that is in Jesus. Think of yourself as Jesus thought of himself, think of yourself as realizing who and what you are in gift so radical that it may mean you put your life in someone else's hands. A gift so radical that it could mean a self-forgetting, deeply costly and totally transforming. So as always in the New Testament, the story about God turns round upon us to put to us the basic questions of conversion. What's the form in which you think of yourself? How do you understand yourself? You may understand yourself very much as Paul hints, in terms of someone who retains their security and their freedom, by reaching out and taking
When Jesus took on the form of being a slave, it led him to the cross. At the end of that week we have come to call Holy Week, he was opposed for many reasons but one big reason is that no one wanted a Messiah who was not willing to form a revolutionary group and fight the Romans. New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, suggests that many of Jesus' Jewish contemporaries had located Satan, cosmic evil, in Roman Imperial rule. In turn, they saw their salvation coming about through Roman blood flowing in the streets. Jesus' unpopular message of locating the problems with the world in the hearts of all human beings, including the children of Abraham, coupled with his emphasis on forgiving one's enemies, even Roman rulers, is at the heart of the gospel; however, it remains a hard message for us to hear, even today.
The events that transpired in Jerusalem, leading to and including Jesus' death on the cross forced Jesus' followers to radically re-evaluate their understanding of what it meant to know God. Halden Doerge puts it this way in his blog, www.inhabitatiodei.com, which I sometimes read. In considering the degree to which our infantile, self-centered, and malformed hopes must be reshaped by God, Doerge says this in a Sunday sermon on Palm Sunday: "Christ comes to dash such hopes, to extinguish and transform such desires, to redefine our lives and our longings. He comes to replace our infantile and self-centered hopes with a vision of the fullness of God’s love. Christ comes, not to fulfill our hopes, but to dash them. He is the great disturbance, the ultimate interruption. What we learn on Palm Sunday is that we cannot even hope in God rightly until we allow God, revealed in Christ to define for us what the promises of God truly are. We are, all of us, bound and inclined to find in God’s promises the answers to our desires as they stand. We all think that God’s salvation will mean the fulfillment of our desires as they stand and the removal of all things holding us back from that fulfillment."
As we consider our spiritual formation a worthwhile question we should put to ourselves is this: how do our hopes need to reshaped by God in order to ask the right questions of ourselves, in order to hope for the right things?
Questions for discussion:
1. When Williams, above, talks about taking risks in our imitation of Christ, he presumes that we understand and feel ourselves as being "deeply rooted in the love of God". Do you see yourself as being deeply rooted in the love of God? Do you relate to this description more as concept or more as feeling? How can you tell whether or not you are growing in your understanding of yourself as one who is unconditionally loved by God? How can your relationships with others help you administer this kind of self-examination?
2. Can you point to an example of your hopes being reshaped through a deeper understanding of the meaning of Jesus' death on the cross? What are some desires that we have that can easily become too important to us and, in turn, not leave room for a deep participation in the life of Christ?
3. The ruling class in Israel at the time of Jesus' crucifixion did not want to hear his message for lots of reasons (suggested reading on this: N.T. Wright's, Jesus and the Victory of God, and the Resurrection of the Son of God.) What do you think are some particular ways that the church - in our times and in our socio-cultural setting - does not wish to hear Jesus' message?