It Lives!

Isaac has re-ignited our discussion going back to February about the questions of morality of violence in the world and the Church’s position toward it (among other things, of course), and I have, of course, responded. I really feel this is a discussion in which all Christians should be involved. I encourage you to take a look and please join the discussion!

Do-It-Yourself Caesarean

Wow, this really hit me for some reason. Just as we in the United States are having a huge legal debate over one of the most gruesome abortion procedures ever invented, a brave woman in rural Mexico performs a Caesarean on herself to save her baby. Apparently, she had already lost a baby due to complications during delivery. Talk about bravery and self-sacrifice. Now compare that to that one lady who let her baby die because she didn’t want a C-section, due to the scar it would leave (she denies this now, of course)!

Palm Sunday 2004: Do we mean it?

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Today Jesus enters Jerusalem for a final time (that is, he won’t be going back to his home country before he dies). This year, as I have thought about the so-called Triumphal Entry, my focus has tended more toward the crowds that greeted Jesus than to Jesus himself, at least at first.

I started wondering, were those people (at least some of them) the same people who, only a few days later, called for Jesus to be crucified? It seems to me that, with such large crowds at the two events, there had to be some people who had been present at both. At any rate, both crowds could be taken as representative of the one city, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’
—Matthew 23.37–39

Jesus’ lament is an identification of himself with the god of Israel and his brooding, protecting qualities. Yahweh is repeatedly identified as a winged protector (cf. Dt 32.11, Ru 2.12, Pss 17.8, 36.7, 57.1, 63.7, 91.4, Isa 31.5). Wright talks about how a hen will gather her chicks under her wings when there is a fire, so that even if she is scorched to death, the chicks may survive (Jesus and the Victory of God, pp.570,571). While that may have some striking parallels to the actual story of Jesus’ self-sacrifice, I would think that Jesus may have had in mind the mother-bird’s protection of her children from raging storms, as in Psalm 57.1:

…in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by.

Both conceptions convey the same point. The protecting hen does not shelter her young for no reason. Something very grave and dangerous has happened. As most commentators point out, Yahweh has left Jerusalem’s house “desolate,” as Matthew says. Luke has Jesus uttering this lament as he approaches Jerusalem, knowing its inhabitants will ultimately reject him and his offer of protection. Matthew has Jesus speaking these lines within Jerusalem, after leaving the temple. Matthew’s arrangement presents us with a striking recollection of Jeremiah 12.7:

I have forsaken my house, I have abandoned my heritage; I have given the beloved of my heart into the hands of her enemies.

The “house” of Jerusalem to which Jesus refers is obviously the temple. It is by far the house of Jerusalem most people know. The distinctive feature of the Israelites (later, the Jews) was that God dwelt among them. Judah and Jerusalem were therefore even more distinguished because of the fact that God’s holy mountain, on which his house was built, was within their borders. Jesus, as Yahweh, departs from the temple, God leaves his “house,” because his people have rejected his offer for protection. In Jesus’ lament, the house therefore is no longer Yahweh’s, but simply belongs to the citizens of Jerusalem (cf. Gundry, Matthew, p.473).

When Jesus leaves the temple, it is, in some ways, an act of judgment, or at least one of giving the people up to their fate. Yahweh promises the gift of his protection in Isaiah 31.5:

Like birds hovering overhead, so the LORD of hosts will protect Jerusalem; he will protect and deliver it, he will spare and rescue it.

However, the promise has been rejected, and the protecting birds will not be there when the storm comes. As we know from history, Jerusalem faced the onslaught of a furious storm (in the form of Roman armies) a few decades later, and by 70 CE was left in ruins.

But back to that Palm Sunday. Why were the people there? Why were they so excited? John says a lot of people were there apparently to see the person who had raised someone from the dead (along with, of course, the person who had been resurrected):

When the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead…The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”
—John 12.9,12

Of course, this greeting has some very powerful political overtones, but I want to focus on the religious import. These people have greeted him as the one who “comes in the name of the Lord,” as Jesus said they must, and yet, God has left his house. Jesus’ saying the lament before entering Jerusalem, as Luke tells it, makes it even more apparent that even if the people greet him in the appropriate manner, there is still something missing. I would venture to guess, especially if these were the same people who demanded Jesus be crucified, that they did not fully believe Jesus to be one coming with the authority of the god of Israel, let alone believe that he actually was the god of Israel. And again, even if they did acknowledge those things, they did not believe with the sincerity that directs actions. It was simply a lip-service.

The personal challenge that has arisen to me as a result of this line of thought is this: Are you a genuine devotee of the Christ? Do you really believe that Yahweh came to Jerusalem that day in the flesh? Do you live your life in a way that reflects that conviction?

If I answer “no” to any of those questions, my life and my beliefs are exposed as fraudulent and self-serving. If we give lip-service to our God, if we simply shout “Hosanna” and lay palm branches before him and nothing else, there will be nothing to stop us from turning around and calling for his crucifixion in the next moment.

Another way to ask the question is, are we for real when we pray, “Thy will be done”? Or is that something we can only genuinely pray when we think God’s will is in line with our own? I think the danger for me is actually just bypassing God’s will altogether. I simply don’t pray “Thy will be done.” I act more like “My will be done.” Either way we do it, either through hypocrisy or simple neglect, we still come to the same tragic results. Our palm fronds become symbols of our duplicitous self-centeredness, our shouts of “hosanna!” devolve into howls of “crucify him!” and in the end, we are the children of God who have rejected his loving protection, and our flock of beneficent birds has flown, just as the raging storm appears on the horizon.