With every step Jesus took into and within Jerusalem, he pushed against the status quo of fear and oppression. He pushed the Jewish leadership in their cooperation with the empire. He pushed the Roman leadership, riding that thin line between nuisance and seditionist. The leaders saw that the crowd was getting behind Jesus, drawn to his preaching of love and justice (probably more the justice than the love). They needed to figure out how to get rid of him, but the crowd grew bigger and stronger. “Not during the festival,” they said to each other, for fear that the growing masses gathering for Passover might riot.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem in Mark’s gospel he uses a fig tree with no fruit on it and the temple itself as symbols of the lack of justice for the people who are suffering under the weight of oppression. On Wednesday of Holy Week, a woman comes to anoint him as Judas scurries off to betray him. It is against this background of blessing and treachery that we find ourselves as we walk ourselves slowly toward the moment when the hope of Israel is executed on Friday. This is where the church finds herself: in the struggle of being both part of the domination system and, at the same time, seeking to be separate from it.
Today I had the privilege of marching with hundreds of people protesting a number of anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-community, and pro-prison, pro-prejudice, pro-hate bills that are making their way through the Arizona State Legislature. I announced the rally to my congregation and a number of folks showed up, including a number of other Presbyterian clergy. You can find more info on the bills here, as well as statements from my denomination, the PC(USA) (find PC(USA) statements here), that supported our going out and rallying on behalf of our sisters and brothers who are most affected by this kind of fear-based and hate-filled legislation.
As I follow Jesus on his journey into and through Jerusalem, I cannot think of a better way to spend my Holy Week—fighting for justice and equality, and against hate, fear, and prejudice! It is this kind of life to which Jesus was pushing his disciples and his religious leaders. Too often fear keeps us at bay from where our faith is leading us. Too often our ignorance keeps us from engaging in our communities around us and from the gift of getting to know other people and their incredible stories of survival and triumph over some incredible odds.
Holy Week, and especially Easter Sunday, is often looked upon as an act of personal piety. Yet, the resurrection was a communal act! Everything Jesus did throughout his short ministry were communal acts, drawing people to the table of fellowship and reconciliation. The parable of “The Good Samaritan” is often depicted as a nice story of helping people. What is left out is that the Samaritans were a hated race of mixed Israelite people, looked upon by those in the southern kingdom of Judah as traitors to true Israel. Jesus asks the scribe after telling the parable, “Who was the neighbor?” The scribe responds, not even being able to say the word Samaritan: “The one who showed mercy.” I can almost hearing him responding through the grit of his teeth, offended and angry at Jesus’ parable that would dare demand of him to love his perceived enemy.
What is God calling you to risk in your life for the sake of another? What does love—real love, sacrificial love (remembering that “sacrifice” really means “to make sacred”)—look like in your lived context? Who are the marginalized people in your community? How might you reach out and invite them to a table of fellowship where all are equal and all are truly loved? What about your faith community? What are they doing to not just serve the “other” from afar, but to truly befriend them, listening to their stories, sharing in their pain and suffering, and seeking to offer the healing love of hope?