Friday, April 6, 2012

What I was expecting

What was I expecting?  What was I expecting, when I ran into the field and cut branches from a tree to carry in the procession?  What was I expecting, when I shouted “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!?”  I don’t know…I didn’t have a clear picture, just a feeling of excitement.  Excitement was in the air.  Pilgrims were streaming into the city for the Passover, to celebrate our redemption of from slavery.  We’d heard the rumors about Jesus of Nazareth, “a man,” they said, “like the prophets of old.  A man who preached God’s Kingdom.”
 “He is coming to Jerusalem”, they said, “They saw him pass through Jericho—he’s coming, today.”

The feeling was like it had been at the Jordan, when we went out to see John.  It was like we’d finally come to a turning point.  John baptized us and told us to repent of our sins because someone was coming who was greater than him.  And when John was killed, people started asking more and more urgently “Who?”  Then we started to hear the rumors from Galilee: “He heals the sick, and there is no demon he can’t master.  They said he gave a blind man his sight, that he even raises the dead.”  And then they said he’s coming here, to Jerusalem.  And he did.

I guess I just got caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment.  Then I saw him riding, on that donkey—it looked like a joke, to be honest with you.  And the people with him—what a bunch of rednecks!  Half of them were women!  What was he thinking?  But there he went, bold as brass, right into the temple.   And then he did--nothing.  Just looked around a little and then left again.  What was I expecting?—more than that!

But I don’t think anyone was expecting what happened on Monday.  I still can’t believe that he got away with it.  It’s been a long time since anyone saw action like that in the temple, what with the tables knocked over and seats knocked down.  Everyone saying “who does he think he is?” and moaning about their lost business.  Obviously the higher-ups were none too pleased about it, either.  But I could see then why people were impressed with him.  That was stone cold crazy, and I could hardly wait to see what he did next!

On Tuesday, I got to the temple as early as I could, and he was already there, drawing a big crowd.  And he was dealing.  The chief priests and the scribes and the Pharisees kept interrupting and asking him questions, trying to find a chink in his armor, and every time he just took them apart.  But it wasn’t like he was just ripping on them to show them who was the top dog.  Everything he said made so much sense.  Listening to him you started to see things in a different way, like the things that you thought you already knew you didn’t really know at all.  It was like when you’re having a dream where you’re being chased and you’re totally caught up in it and afraid you’re going to die or something and then you wake up and you knowe that it’s just a dream and you’re back in real life and there’s nothing to be afraid of.

And these people who you’ve been taught to respect like their word is law—I mean big shots, chief priests, elders, who are on the council and have big houses up on the hill—you start to see that deep down they’re really afraid and everything they say is calculated—every word like a weapon to defend them and their position and to beat down anyone that tries to say anything different.  They’d talk about God and Moses but then Jesus would answer them and you couldn’t help but wonder if they were just making stuff up, and what were they really after.  But with him you always felt like he was just giving you the straight dope.

So I wasn’t that surprised when I my cousin came over on Friday morning, just as we were waking up, and said that he’d been arrested.  I wasn’t happy about it.  I thought he’d at least put up a fight.  He should have asked for volunteers when he was teaching in the temple and hundreds of people were there hanging on his every word.  I would have stepped up.  All my friends would have, too.  We could have protected him, or smuggled him out of the city.  I heard he didn’t even try to get away, just waited for them like a stupid sheep.

Anyway, my cousin’s mother is a cook at the High Priest’s house and he told me that she said that they’d taken him to the Gentile governor to have him executed.  So we headed over there to see what was going on.  As we got close there was a big crowd coming up the street.  They were talking about how Pilate (that’s the governor) likes to release a prisoner at the Passover to show what a good guy he is, and they were all going there to get someone out.  When we got to the square outside the fortress the governor was there on his seat with Jesus in front of him with his hands bound, and the chief priests were going at him, accusing him of stirring up rebellion and plotting to destroy the temple and blaspheming God and all kind of crimes.  So then Pilate turned to him and asked him what answer he had to all the charges they were making.

All eyes were on him.  And there was this silence.  I remember thinking—“here it comes!”  I looked around at the chief priests and the elders and the governor and his officers and I thought “Now I get it--he planned it all, they’re all playing into his hand and now he’s going to spring his trap.”  I don’t know what I was expecting, but he just stood there.  Completely still.  And then the governor’s face kind of twitched, and he shifted in his chair, and suddenly the people around me were pressing forward and yelling about releasing a prisoner and I don’t really remember what happened after that except someone started shouting the name “Barabbas” and pretty soon everyone was chanting “Barabbas, Barabbas, Barabbas!”

But all I could think about was how betrayed I felt.  What was I expecting?  I guess when I heard him teaching in the temple I felt like, for the first time in my life, I had a part to play.  You know how in all the old stories it seems like God’s plan works through the underdog—Moses with his speech problem, and David, the youngest of all Jesse’s sons, Rahab the prostitute and Amos the herdsman?  For a couple of days it had felt like I was in one of those stories, that I wasn’t meant to spend my whole life just being pushed around by the decisions that other, more important people make.  I felt like I knew just as much about who  God is, and what God wants, as any priest or scribe, maybe more.

But when I saw Jesus standing there, not even trying to defend himself, letting them just walk all over him, I knew I’d been wrong.  I knew that whoever God is, he doesn’t have time for people like me.  I knew that all those old stories are just fairy tales, and that in the real world it is the big shots who matter, and they will do whatever they have to do to keep it that way.  And the flame in my heart, the hope that he put there, turned to hate.  And when the crowd started shouting “Crucify him! Crucify him!” my fist was in the air.  My voice was shouting as loud as any of them. 
So what do I expect?  Nothing.  I don’t expect anything at all.    

About Me

My photo
Petaluma, California, United States
I am a priest in the Episcopal Church, and have been (among other things) an organic farmer and gardener, and a Zen monk. I have a lifelong interest in social and spiritual renewal on the basis of contemplative discipline, creative nonviolence, and ecological practice. In recent years my work has focused intensely on the responsibility of pastoral ministry in the humanistic, evangelical, and catholic branch of Christianity known as Anglicanism. I'm married with a daughter, and have three brothers and two parents.