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Posts tagged ‘donkey’

Standing Up to Bullying Inside and Out

Matthew 21:1-11

Here we are reading a story that is usually associated with palm branches and hosannas. For many Christians, this is the story they hear each Sunday before Easter, called Palm Sunday. It’s a strange and complicated tale, because shortly after this weird parade, things go really bad for Jesus and co. Betrayals, arrests, torture, even death. I’ll never tell you what to think or how to interpret these stories—I simply share my thoughts, what I’ve studied, and what I’ve heard. Considering all that, I’ve never been one to think that Jesus of Nazareth knew that he actually would be tortured and crucified once in Jerusalem. I know that some of the Gospel writers allude to Jesus knowing and predicting it, but keep in mind how these stories were written and when they were written. These authors had the benefit of knowing what was going to happen, and they were also speaking to various groups of people who needed context. In my view, this doesn’t taint the story. I actually think it makes it better. Consider that if Jesus didn’t know what was going to happen in Jerusalem. Consider that even after Jesus’ death Jesus’ friends and family and didn’t know how to interpret all that happened. And consider that it was a LONG time after that people finally decided to write down what stories they had heard about it.

In other words, I’m saying that the story gets richer for me when we ask the identity questions again:

Who was this Jesus? Who did people say Jesus was? What did Jesus say and do?

And who are we?

Because religion created the Jesus figure. Each and every form of Christianity, whether Eastern Christianity, Roman Christianity, American Christianity, etc. came up with their own version of Jesus. And so that work shouldn’t end. The story continues. Who is this Jesus? What did Jesus say and do? Who are we?

Let’s get to the story of the day, shall we? Jesus of Nazareth was finally reaching the climatic destination that all the Gospel writers foreshadow: Jerusalem, the mecca, the epicenter of religion and culture and language and…the Roman Empire.

Yeah, there’s that.

Consider that as Jesus and the ragtag band of followers processed towards the city for Passover, there was another procession. The Roman army came to the city from the west. They were the riot police before they were called riot police. They had one job during Passover: keep the peace. Because Jerusalem’s population would explode to more than 200,000 people for the festival. Because crazy, trouble-making fools like Jesus of Nazareth would be coming.

The stage is set.

Meanwhile, our storyteller throws in some quirky twists. Before they get to the city, Jesus sends people ahead—they have one job—go find a certain donkey and a colt. It’s a weird request, right? Or is it? It’s all setup beforehand. Because of the threat of danger, things are more secretive now—kind of a like a really good spy movie.

Daniel-Craig-james-bond-BWJesus. Jesus Bond?

Only Jesus doesn’t do the martini shaken not stirred. He’s more into red wine.

wineSink

Oh right—the donkey business. Matthew‘s author is asking us to pay attention [once again] to a story written mostly for Jews. The donkey, metaphorical or not, is meant to point to Jewish prophetic literature, and in this case, Zechariah: This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Keep in mind also that the people with Jesus, i.e. those called disciples or followers, were now at this point the loyal and close counterparts of Jesus. Those who met them outside Jerusalem, however, and put their cloaks on the ground, were not all sympathetic to their cause. And once inside the city, things got even worse. People did not celebrate Jesus and his little parade—instead there was confusion, skepticism, and in some cases, even anger. It was never really a celebratory parade. It was a messy protest.

And all this leads us back to the questions. Who is Jesus? What did Jesus say and do?

Who are we?

The way I see it—Jesus wasn’t a king, at least not the type of king or ruler we usually imagine. Jesus didn’t wield power, didn’t sit up on some throne barking orders, didn’t stand far off aloof from the common people, didn’t press buttons to launch war weapons, didn’t see violence as any kind of answer. Neither was Jesus a religious leader who wore a big and funny hat with extra jewelry and long prayers and holier than thou attitude. But neither was Jesus a political revolutionary who used weapons to make change or who held up the end far above the means.

Jesus was and is to me, someone who represented the best of what our humanity full-expressed can be: Jesus loved and accepted people as they were, and encouraged them to heal in any way they needed to.

And Jesus stood up to bullies.

Oh yes, he did. He stood up against his own people the Pharisees and called them out for their hypocrisy. He stood up to the Roman bullies who hid behind their forums and pillars to avoid seeing the horrific aftermath of their wars, the extreme poverty caused by their taxation, and the inhumanity of their occupations of other’s lands. Jesus stood up to the bullies. And yes, it was dangerous. Yes, it was difficult. But Jesus’ love for people moved him to stand up.

Friends, I don’t know where you are today or what you’re thinking now. I’m asking myself: Who are you today? What do you do and say, how are you loving and accepting people as they are, and how are you standing up to the bullies? Because there is no fear in love. If we love, we cannot let fear overwhelm us and hold us back. We love. We must stand up.

What is happening in Syria, what happened in Rwanda and South Sudan, and all other places where genocide and war and inhuman acts reign, these tragedies and unspeakable acts are and were made up of moments when a group turned into a crowd, when people turned on an imagined enemy because someone planted that evil seed. It happens here and everywhere. Mosques and Sikh Gurdwaras and Hindu temples and Jewish synagogues have been attacked and vandalized — hate graffiti is painted on walls and cemeteries are vandalized. Trans people are beat up in the street and terrorized, bullied in bathrooms, made to live in fear, made to feel lesser. Those who are homeless are robbed, beaten, and left to die. Black and Brown people are targeted, beaten, arrested, and sometimes even wrongfully killed.  Anyone who “looks” Mexican is told “Go back to your country, we don’t want you here!” Look, as a humanity, we have to face something—that we can find ourselves getting swept up into a parade of emotion and fear and misunderstanding, and before we know it, we are participating either directly or indirectly in bullying. We may want to walk with Jesus and the disciples from the East, but we can easily join the Roman legions from the West.

And that’s why Jesus’ example and the story matter. We cannot stop all the suffering in the world, no. But we can be aware, we can stand in witness, we can stand in solidarity with those who are marginalized or victimized. What we cannot change, we can acknowledge. We can love by doing this, by listening to someone’s story and saying: I hear you, I love you. Your suffering is not ignored, not unseen.

And I’ll stand with you—I’ll stand with all of you who are hurt or lonely or rejected. I’ll choose not to follow the bullying crowd and instead I’ll stand close to you, on the margins, loving you. In doing this, we stand as close as we can to the Spirit, to the Divine presence, who is constantly offering love, offering healing, offering identity.

 

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The Subdued Entry and a Path to Peace

Luke 19:28-40

Peace sayings from various traditions

Hindu tradition
Oh God, lead us from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.  God’s peace, peace, peace to all.

Buddhist tradition
May all beings everywhere be happy, Peaceful, and free.

Jain tradition
Peace and universal love is the essence of all the teachings.
Forgive do I creatures all, and let all creatures forgive me.

Confucian tradition
First there must be order and harmony within your own heart.
Only then can there be peace and harmony in the world.

Native American tradition
Give us the wisdom to teach our children to love, to respect and to be kind to one another that we may grow with peace in mind.

Muslim tradition
Praise be to the Lord of the Universe. Who has created us and made us into tribes and nations, that we may know each other, not despise each other.

Have you ever heard a story that you thought you knew so well, only to discover that you really didn’t know it at all?

It happens all the time, actually. We remember events or moments in our lives and tell stories about them. But often the details of those stories change, according to the new experiences we have had in life and because we’ve had time to interpret what happened. This is very, very human and actually helps us to grow as people and to develop new perspectives and worldviews.

So Palm Sunday, at least the idea of it, is all about a story and how we tell it. Honestly, I understand why some Christian traditions do not observe Palm Sunday, because they are taking the stance that it has become an institutional holiday and not something that inspires us to develop our spirituality or to serve others. Perhaps in some cases that is true, but you could say that about most if not all of Christian traditions. A tradition is only worth something if its purpose is to inspire us to be better people and to treat others better. Otherwise, it’s just a story that we keep making up to serve our own purposes.

So let’s look at the story we always read on Palm Sunday, this time in Luke’s Gospel. Alert: though we’re looking at Luke, we’re really looking at Mark. The Gospel of Mark was the first Gospel written and so the other Gospels often borrow from Mark’s story. In this case, Luke borrows a lot of Mark’s original version of Jesus finally getting close to Jerusalem. There are a few subtle changes, though, that are worth noting. First, I have mentioned before that Luke uses the word “journey” in some way shape or form many, many times. So here again, Luke changes the story to say that Jesus was journeying ahead and going up to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the climax of Luke’s story and the author of Luke refers to Jerusalem more than any of the other Gospels. But before Jerusalem, Jesus journeys through Bethphage-Bethany-the Mount of Olives. Though geographical markers, these places were also significant symbols. In the OT book of Zechariah, the Lord approaches Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives [14:4]. So right away, we get some king and lord references.

And it continues. Jesus sends two of his pals to a village nearby to find a little donkey that has not been ridden. Yet another reference to Zechariah: Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he; humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey [9:9]. So they do find the colt and bring it to Jesus and then they put their cloaks on the colt. Again, Luke says that Jesus is journeying—this time on the donkey.

Along the way, people start spreading their cloaks on the road. Another royal kind of sign. Notice there are no palms in Luke’s version. We’ll get to that in a moment. The people are shouting things, but not hosannas.

Luke has them shout out a portion of Psalm 118, though Luke changes it. The people don’t say, as the Psalm does, blessed is the one, but they say: blessed is the king who comes in the name of the lord. So now that Jesus is journeying towards Jerusalem, Luke finally acknowledges Jesus as some sort of king. And just in case we have forgotten Luke’s story that we read at Christmas, Luke calls the cloak throwing crowd a “multitude of disciples” rejoicing and praising God in a loud voice for mighty works, and in heaven, peace, and glory in the highest!

Cue Linus.

linus-van-peltCue Gloria in Egg-Shell-Seas-Day-O

Cue Christmas carols that you know you don’ t want to hear EVER again….

r-LOUD-NOISE-large570

Luke’s entry to Jerusalem seems happy. A little TOO happy?

At least, for one brief moment. Luke adds verses 39-40, as they don’t appear in Mark’s story.  Some Pharisees speak. They call on Jesus to make his disciples stop their affirmation of him as king.  Jesus responds: “I say to you, if they will hold their peace, the stones will cry out.” The use of the future tense here indicates Jesus’ role as a prophet. This is consistent with Luke’s story, for Luke presents Jesus as a prophetic voice much more than a king or religious ruler. In this story, those who follow Jesus are speaking joyfully of the peace they have found in him. If Pharisees or anyone else try to silence that joy and peacefulness, nature itself will chime in.

I hope the details help you discover some meaning in the story or at the very least, they help you see another perspective about this think people call Palm Sunday.

Because maybe buying palm branches and waving them around sanctuaries, taking them home and pinning them up until they rot and then throwing them away isn’t leading us anywhere special. Maybe we should pay more attention to the people who spread their cloaks and coats on the ground, and even on the back of a donkey. Perhaps they were “all in” for this peaceful and joyful journey in a world that was not so peaceful and joyful.

For there were no trumpets or choral anthems or pretty palms. Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem with the sounds of only a few enthusiastic people. The rest were skeptical, angry, jealous–even violent about this idea of breaking down the walls of separation to create peace within people and peace around the world. And yet, that was this prophet’s wish and all he taught and lived asserted this path to peace.

To close, here these words from Frederick Buechner:

That is what the palms and the shouting are all about. That is what all our singing and worshiping and preaching and praying are all about if they are about anything that matters. That you and I also, each in our own puny but crucial way, will work and witness and pray for the things that make for peace, true peace, both in our own lives and in the life of this land. Despair and hope. They travel the road to Jerusalem together, as together they travel every road we take – despair at what in our madness we are bringing down on our own heads and hope in the one who travels the road with us and for us…approaching every human heart like a city.[1]

May we continue to journey towards peace—peace within ourselves, peace with others, peace around the world.

 

[1] Frederick Buechner, “The Things That Make For Peace” from A Room Called Remember:

Cloaks, Branches, Donkeys, and…?

Matthew 21:1-11

Hosanna, Hey-sanna, Sanna, sanna, ho!

I am conditioned at this time of year to hear that song and to see the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, because I actually saw the original Jesus Ted Neely perform in a live stage version a long time ago. For some reason, it stayed in my mind.

And…why does Jesus always resemble Michael Bolton?

This hosanna story that many of us think we know…

We all visualize it in some way.

How do you see the story of Jesus of Nazareth entering Jerusalem at Passover time?

Now, see the story through the eyes of various artists:

jesusjerusalemitalian1 JesusJerusalemItalian jesusentersJerusalemBenedictineSisters African_Jesus_Christ_s_triumphal_entry

I personally like Jesus on the T-Rex. Of course, it makes sense.
He’s Jesus, after all!

jesusonDinosaur

Jurassic Park Jesus!

How we visualize the story, of course, is determined by our culture, time period, and upbringing. It’s related to whether or not we grew up with palm branches on this particular Sunday and sang “Hosanna” songs or whether we did none of those things. Perhaps this story is just a quick pit stop on the way to Easter—something to spend very little time on and something that could in fact lead to crucifixion and death, which are not nearly as pleasant as egg hunts, chocolate bunnies, and Easter baskets.

But this story deserves our attention—that is, if you wish to take the journey to the end of the Gospel story.

But the road goes through Zechariah.

Zechariah the prophet from the OT is the only way to make sense of this. You see, this story is told by the 4 Gospels: Mark, Luke, John, and Matthew. Mark wrote it first, and the others borrowed and altered the first version to fit their perspectives and their audiences and their time period.

It’s like hearing the same story as told by four different people who never met each other.
But in the end, all four stories lead us to one question.

Who was Jesus of Nazareth?

Puzzled male shrugging wearing lab coat

So consider some details we get. We’ll stay in Matthew.

Jesus came to Jerusalem from the east. Bethphage, called the house of figs.

The Romans [soldiers], however, came from the west to maintain order during the Passover party.

Jesus’ entry mocks the Romans. It is counter-empire.

How many donkeys and why? Two.

See Zechariah again. Donkey and a colt [baby].

However…

The quote “humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, on the foal of a donkey” is like “your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path,” a Hebrew repetitive wordplay; one thought that is expressed in two ways. Maybe Matthew misinterpreted Zechariah? No, not really—that wouldn’t make sense. Matthew wrote to a Jewish audience and knew about the prophecy and he also had Mark’s Gospel as a reference [with only one animal]. Matthew tweaks the OT texts to fit the style and message of this particular telling of the story.

The crowds were not what we may think. They weren’t Jerusalem crowds, because as mentioned before, Jesus was from the north [Galilee] and Jerusalem was in the south [Judea]. Jesus of Nazareth was not a superstar in Jerusalem. So the crowds were his followers, kind of Jesus flash mob formed outside of Jerusalem city, to greet Jesus on his way in and to mark this moment, because they really wanted things to change.

So the people shouted things from Psalm 118. They reminisced about the good old days—when King David was ruler of Israel and things were better. Could Jesus bring back prosperity for them? Some of them saw Jesus as a prophet, others as a king. Some thought he was a teacher, a Rabbi, a brother in a struggle for independence. However they saw him, people threw their cloaks to the ground. This was to show their hope that Jesus would be something big. It was respect. It was Matthew’s red carpet moment. Jerusalem was Hollywood and Jesus, at least the people hoped, would be a superstar.

superstarNow, there were no palm branches anywhere in Matthew’s story…just branches. Why don’t we wave figs instead? Or olives? That would make more sense. Well, we have John’s Gospel to thank for that—the only one that mentions palm branches.

And before you blink, the story is over.

We’re left with the intriguing ambiguity of the crowd.
All the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.

And then, the story continues. Jesus goes to the temple and starts throwing furniture around.

It’s true. The story begs us to ask this question

Who is this?

Who was this Jesus?

A king? A prophet? Just a dude from Galilee?

Who?

It may sound strange, but I’ve come to the conclusion in my own journey that perhaps this question who was Jesus is our own obsession and not really what Jesus himself was concerned about. Nearly everyone tried to define who he was. Even the Romans and temple authorities who arrested him and eventually crucified him tried to figure out who this Jesus of Nazareth really was. But each time, Jesus himself refused to accept the titles given to him.

Makes me wonder: what would Jesus say to us now as we do the same thing?
We give Jesus titles and want him to be what we need him to be.

Will he be our king, our Lord, our Savior, our Messiah?

Will he save us from our personal problems?

Will he give us all the answers if we just praise him and shout encouragement at him?

Will this Jesus be all that we want him to be?

I don’t think that this is what we ought to obsess over anymore.
You see, in the Gospel stories, Jesus of Nazareth is not worried about titles and what people believe about him.

He cared about how people lived.

How did they treat others?
How well did they love?
Did they forgive?
Did they heal?
Did the show mercy when it was difficult?
Did they show hospitality to strangers?
How did they live?

You see, we continue to argue about who Jesus was and is and the Gospels tell us so what? You’re wasting your breath and your time.

How do you live?

How does this Jesus of Nazareth—his teachings and his life—how does he inspire you to live?

Because when it’s all said and done, our perspectives and opinions will always be subjective. But our actions will speak louder. Our love and compassion will make an impact on the world.

So how will this story inspire you to live?

 

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