Palm Sunday, the big things begin.
At first I thought I was going to write about the idea that Jesus is more than a popular movement or a celebrity. There is this huge movement into Jerusalem to popular acclaim, they are all screaming their welcome like all the ticker tape parades and whatever we do these days to make a big deal out of a popular or important someone. It irritates the leaders of the temple and Jesus says: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
I have focused on this in the past, the idea that God’s saving good news is essentially unsilenceable. For me that is proved in the way (for example) the church has at various times tried to silence women and especially feminists, and yet somehow there bursts within us always through many, many generations a wellspring of hope and the need to call out and critique. At times it may have slowed to a trickle (or just been hidden from posterity) but at times it gathers momentum into a flood of reforms. That is one example, but there are many. God’s people seek the gospel of liberation and human dignity. God’s people who believe in Christianity and also God’s people who are in indigenous cultures or who find God somewhere other than the scripture (however much you love the scriptures they are only books of human writing after all and God is in them and beyond them).
But then I found out about this page. The idea that “stones will shout” can also be mobilised for reactionary purposes. The “stones” here does not mean the natural environment, mother earth screaming out her pain at the foolishness and abuses of humanity. The “stones” are now reconfigured as a wall, creating law and order and keeping out the non-compliant. The bible readings in and of themselves are double edged weapons and anyone it seems can wield them in any way…or can they?
Where is the evidence in the text?
Yes there IS the links with tradition in how the story unfolds and the kyriearchal language. I must say, this is sort of a manifesto statement but if the kyriearchy really is as intrinsic and necessary to faith as more conservative voices in the church claim then with tears I have to depart. There is nothing for me in a dazzling kingdom of privilege and dominion. Who are the Pharisees then telling the disciples to stop shouting, stop praising Jesus. I know the website I linked to above would have it that the “liberals” within the church, especially more progressive clergy are attempting to silence the eternal “truths” of tradition.
If we stop at Psalm Sunday we are then at a stand-off. “We” are authentically praising God and “They” are trying to silence us, claims each side. Perhaps I have finally realised why the passion reading also takes place on a day when I would have though the palm story was enough! We look to the Passion for clues to who Jesus is. To find out some deep “truths” about a person look to what they are accused of by their enemies, and where they stand when they are less than glamorous.
Jesus in the Passion is accused of crimes against the state (the colonists, the ruling class) and of crimes against the established church. He is accused of upsetting the comfortable lifestyles of the wealthy and the privileged. He is not known for judging and constraining the poor, the gospels echo with his raucous criticisms of those who are powerful, hypocritical and judgemental. Those who are powerful and rich need to use hypocrisy and judgements to retain their privileged place in their society and this is how Jesus becomes a threat. And so he is put to death shamefully.
To me this answers the question on whose side he is on. The answer is he is on the side of love and justice; equality, compassion and whatever makes us uncomfortable within our consolidated “Sties of contentment”. So when we turn to judge our opposition, we do not have Christ with us, except if we are being a genuine voice for the liberation of the poor and oppressed. As an ego-trip no one gets to win the argument, no one gets to claim the Christ. Christ never follows us, but always leads. My sometimes anger and focus on what the patriarchal church does wrong needs to be reconfigured into the love that walks the way of the cross NOT AS A DOMESTIC VIOLENCE VICTIM…not anymore silenced, unaware or self-harming. Not compliant or subservient. However I am equally not there to assume some sort of moral high ground and feed my ego. I am there to orient myself in love toward Christ (Wisdom), always to make my interests align with Wisdom’s interests of justice, kindness and right relation. I can trust that the love of God is better than worldly success and more long lasting even than life itself.
This does not mean I abuse or neglect myself or my worldly life- I think that can be misguided too. But my focus is radically the Word of God, the living love-driven manifestation of God that became a person in Jesus’ human story of friendship, words, political activism, acclaim, betrayal, suffering, death and faithfulness (we’ll get to that). In research there is a growing emphasis (started by the feminists- who else?) on reflexivity, in knowing who I am as I state my point of view and interrogating my motivations and interests and the power networks that allow me to say some things and not others. I think faith needs a measure of reflexivity too, even when we are opposing oppression we need to bear in mind who we are, what our emotional baggage is and reorient ourselves toward the justice of God rather than point-scoring and anger.
So I began my reading of the Palm Sunday even, thinking that this was a case of a popular celebrity being picked up one moment and spat out by popular support the next because where are they when he is arrested and tried and killed for goodness sakes? But Luke tells us that “All” his acquaintances” and particularly underlines the presence of a core of supporting women, all of these were at the cross, standing some way away and perhaps awkwardly wondering whether they dare say anything, what all this means and whether they are next.
And in a society that is steadfastly refusing to radicalise despite HUGE and unfair reforms that take away our little and redistribute it upward to the already rich, that pick on the refugee, the elderly, the low-paid worker, the unemployed, the mentally ill and the single mother; in a society like that can we not relate? We love justice but we don’t want to “start trouble”. We don’t want to be accused of being “selfish” or “naïve” by demanding a better, kinder, happier society. We will add ourselves to great parades and popular shows of believing in causes, but who among us actually moves toward the foot of the cross to wipe the face of Christ, or dare lift him from the cross. Who speaks a word to try to halt the crucifixion? Who takes him into our arms preventing his capture? We all look for leaders to do that for us, we are all “only the crowd” or “only the women” and our role is feeding, supporting, following. Noone dares to begin what could be a large movement of resistance to the ongoing crucifixion of Indigenous communities, public education, disability supports, the earth itself.
When I say “nobody” I of course mean people like me, because in fact some few individuals DO give their time and effort to oppose injustice and the chaos of killing Wisdom. But why do they stand so alone? Why do we as a whole lack the energy and courage to stand against unfair shows of power by the ruling class? What does it take? Must our God always be sacrificed to the status quo? Have we nothing more than tears to give? I don’t know what it is that stops me living more faithfully, not precisely. But the deep emotional response I feel to follow Jesus on Palm Sunday and then the deep tears of Good Friday, the many current parallels to the way of the cross tell me that SOMEHOW I must break out of that background place that the followers of Jesus have in Luke’s account of the passion. If we love, why do we stand back bracketing our religious life so far outside our REAL life, bracketing ourselves into mere passive spectators in the story of Jesus?
In Luke’s gospel there is the teasing hint of an untapped potential and there are significantly constant women who might start something. Might they? Might we? In between chanting “Hosanna this, hosanna that” might we listen for the call inside us of Sophia. Wisdom who has suffered more than enough through our inaction. How will she stir us this time?