Perhaps This Is the Last Temptation

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming of the kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!

To the joyful shouts of the crowd, Jesus riding on a colt entered Jerusalem, the royal city of David. People spread their garments and tree branches before him as a sign of royal welcome. He is the messiah and the king whose coming the ancient prophets prophesied and for whom they have been waiting for many years of oppression under the Roman rule. This is the moment for which the disciples have been following him all along.

There is, however, something odd about the whole scene. Jesus is riding on a colt or on a donkey in other gospels, an animal not fit for a king. Ordinarily for a regal entrance a king would be riding on a majestic and beautifully clothed stallion, a symbol of military power and victory. This is to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah who prophesied: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (9:9). Donkey is a symbol of humility and peace.

This is a rather bizarre scene to imagine—Jesus riding on a colt and people shouting hosannas and laying down their garments and tree branches. But, therein is the irony and the paradox of this whole scene.

Lo and behold, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem is soon turned into a horrific journey of suffering to Calvary. The crowd’s joyful shouts of hosanna are changed to the violent cacophony of “Crucify him, crucify him.” The tree branches strewn on the road to welcome the Son of David is replaced by a humiliating crown of thorns over his head and a naked wood of the cross over his shoulder. Jesus is not the kind of the earthly messiah and king they have been expecting. How quickly things change!

Perhaps this IS the last temptation for Jesus. For anyone else, such a royal welcome would have been a huge ego booster. You can imagine what it might be like. Just as you are entering a ballroom a huge crowd of people cheering you on and giving you a red carpet welcome, like at the Oscars, what an ego-booster it would be!

All Jesus had to do was to give a go to his disciples and the revolt would have been quickly organized. Perhaps the disciples were already planning a rebellion against the Roman authority. Remember later on when they came to arrest Jesus, one of the disciples drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers. This says that some of Jesus’ disciples were armed and ready for a fight when they gathered at Gethsemane. Perhaps they thought it was a secret meeting by night to plan the long-awaited revolt against the Romans.

But to their disappointment Jesus would have none of such violence. He stopped the violent intentions of his disciples and allowed himself to be arrested. No wonder they all immediately fled and deserted him. And no wonder the crowd’s cheers of hosannas turned into the cries for his crucifixion. They were not merely disappointed but were perhaps even angry with Jesus, for he failed their expectation. He was no messiah they had been waiting for.

So, what did they do? They put him on trial. What is so incredulous in this story is that human beings put God on trial. But then, we too often try God for things that inconvenience us and for things that are beyond our understanding and power. How often have you blamed God for things gone wrong in your life? Yet, what human beings muck up so terribly is transformed into the greatest gift of all by the sheer grace and love of God. That is the point of the Passion story—the power of God’s grace to redeem even the worst possible situation. Haven’t you had experiences where you made a mistake or did something wrong but then realized in hindsight that was precisely the moment and the occasion when God’s grace broke in and redeemed the situation? Things could not get worse for Jesus in this story. But also this is more importantly the story of God’s grace and love.

Yesterday my wife Clara and I joined the March for Our Lives at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park. In witness to the students who were killed by gun violence in Parkland FL and in witness to the thousands of children who have been killed by guns since Sandy Hook, March for Our Lives took place in many cities around the nation and around the world. This is a movement begun and organized by the youth of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and the youth of our nation. They are crying out for their lives. They are crying out enough is enough. They are crying out for sensible gun control policy that honors the dignity and sacredness of life. We must listen to their cries unless we have lost our soul. Has America lost its soul? Where is our passion for love, justice and mercy? A passion for simply to do the right thing? The tragic deaths of thousands of children due to our failure to pass common sense gun control policy has ignited a passion in our youth to stand up for moral and spiritual justice. What I saw yesterday in the streets of Philadelphia is nothing short of the Passion for life. The death of seventeen students in Parkland FL could not get worse. But, this has become the occasion for the movement of redemption for life.

The Passion of our Lord Jesus is also all about passion for life, the holiness of  life God has given to each and everyone of us. This is a story about the Son of God who is loving, liberating and life-giving. It is the greatest and the ultimate story of love. “God so loved the world he gave his only Son even to death on the cross so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.” I know of no other religion that teaches that God laid down his own life so that we may have life.

The Father pours out his love on to the Son and  the Son, in turn, empties himself to the Father on the cross. This is the act of perfect selfless love. This is the story of perfect mutual love of Jesus the Son of God and God the Father. It is by this love that we are saved. It is by this love that the world will know that we are the followers of Jesus. There is no love story quite like it, friends. This is the greatest love story of all.

Love conquers all; love forgives all; Love suffers for all; Love triumphs over all evil. This is the Good News we believe in and proclaim to the world. Friends, we are in possession of the greatest love story of all.  Yet, we are timid and shy to tell this story. We are afraid to live and proclaim this great story. The world is hungry and thirsty to hear and know this powerful story. Today we begin retelling and living this story.

For Christians there is nothing holier than the Paschal mystery revealed in the Passion of Christ. The suffering of this innocent victim does not end in utter despair. It had the greater purpose of revealing the power of love.

Jesus gave it all for you and for me so that we may have new and eternal life. How much do you love Jesus in return? How far are you willing to go for Jesus? How much are you willing to give for his love? He gave it all for you and for me.

Preached by Bishop Allen Shin

25 March 2018

Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia

Posted on March 29, 2018 .