During this holy week, Jesus directly challenges the powers that be. He challenges the colonial government, riding into the holy city of Jerusalem as if he were the star of a Roman military procession. Jesus challenges merchants and commerce, driving moneychangers out of the temple. Jesus challenges religious authorities, calling them hypocrites, and predicting the destruction of the temple.
But that’s not all. Jesus goes on to challenge his own followers. He defies their expectations of social and political change, telling them that he will soon be crucified. He defies their values around money, accepting an extravagant gift of ointment. He defies their self-image, predicting that they will betray him.
Jesus challenges everyone. And most folks don’t react well. Some are angry. Some are troubled. Some lose their enthusiasm for Jesus’ movement, and drift away. A few are so upset by Jesus’ actions that they begin to plan for his destruction.
Reading the story again this year, I was struck by how much determination it must have taken for Jesus to do what he does. Everyone – literally everyone except for God – wishes he was acting differently. But Jesus still choses, again and again, to speak and act in a way that is true to who he is, and how he is called. He points out the dangers and limitations of all the structures around him. He even questions the expectations and character of those who follow him. Jesus offers his community his truth: a strange gift that is difficult to accept.
In this time, we are also dealing with some hard truths. A global pandemic has arrived, and it has challenged everything. It has brought into stark relief the weaknesses and failures of our governments, our economic systems, our religious authorities; our societies. It also brings out many revealing reactions in individuals: in you, in me, in all those around us.
Like the disciples in Jesus’ time, we cannot control how this all ends. We can’t control how the structures around us respond, how the people around us react. We can’t control those things; we can’t even predict them. The only thing we can decide is the same decision that faced the disciples: What will I do? Who will I be?
A few among us may be called to truly heroic acts in this time. Bless you. For most of us, the faithful living of these days will mean something else. Each day, we will need to discern: how we can be true to ourselves, true to our callings? How might we practice patience, kindness, generosity, and honesty, to impact the good of the whole?
Don’t forget that in this difficult work we have the comforts that Jesus left us. He does not only offer challenge to the world during this week. He also gives us a meal in which to remember and experience him. He gives us a new commandment, to love one another. He gives us his presence beside us in prayer.
Please pray with me: Jesus, challenger and comforter: may your story, and the crucible of these days, inspire us to find within ourselves a deeper truth, a greater strength, a more bountiful sense of grace to accept and share. Amen.