Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday
I had a friend in college I'll call “Bob”. Bob was drop dead cute. He had big brown puppy eyes and girls just swooned around him. I hated that! And Bob was never without a girlfriend. Bob’s problem was he could never keep a girlfriend for more than a couple of months. Bob would fall "in love" with a girl and he would be absolutely sure that this was the woman for him. Everything about her was perfect. She was pretty. She was bright. She had all the qualities that he was looking for – for a couple months. After a couple of months, about the time something was expected of him, things started to change. Bob started to realize that what he was dealing with was actually another person. She was not just a projection of all his fantasies but actually had her own perspective and her own opinions. She actually had her own way of doing things. She actually had her own expectations. At that point, Bob would break up with her, disillusioned. And then fall in love soon with another girl and start the whole sequence over again. He was continually fascinated with the idea of love, but disillusioned with the reality. Or, better put, he was good at infatuation, not so good at actual love.
I wonder if that isn’t how most of us engage God much of the time. We are in love with the idea of God. We are infatuated with God. We want to welcome God with shouts of “Hosanna. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” But mostly we are really just projecting our own expectations and wishes onto the idea of God. When God turns out to be something other than our preconceived notion of what God is or should be, we must either change or do something to avoid changing. And our Hosannas turn to, “Crucify him!”
[And let’s be clear here: In the passion narratives, when the gospels refer to "the Jews" the Jews are the representatives of all humans and the evil that lies close at hand when we want to do good. (Romans 7).]
It’s not just that Jesus, as the Messiah and the enfleshed presence of God, did not conform to the expectations of his fellow Jews. It’s that Jesus – and the God that Jesus reveals – messes with the usual categories of all of us for what God should be. And Jesus calls into question many things that each of us wants to otherwise assume about what is right and good and true about life.
It’s not just that the Jews expected a Warrior Messiah and got a non-violent, self-sacrificing Messiah instead. It’s that all of us prefer the Lion of Judah to the Lamb of God. All of us want to enlist God in our battles – literally when we go to war, but also our political and other battles.
What we want, I am thinking – what we are infatuated with – is a God we can use for our own comfort and to our own ends. We want a God we can use to prop up our own preconceived notions about what life is all about. We want a God we can use against those who threaten those notions. Indeed, we often want a God we can enlist to beat up our enemies – rhetorically at least, but often enough literally.
But that is precisely where the God we know in Jesus frustrates our infatuation. A God who empties himself is hard to exploit. Certainly hard to use as a stick with which to whack one’s opponents.
Such a God will frustrate all easy certainties about what God is like and what God wants. To believe in such a “humble” God demands humility and circumspection.
To move from infatuation to love requires a willingness to get to know the one we claim to love. It means to be prepared to let go of even our most cherished fantasies of what God is or should be. If the God we claim to love is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 2 is a good place to start. Becoming deeply familiar with Jesus in each of the four Gospels and the creeds will also be necessary lest we “make up” our own Jesus instead. And it will require that we not gloss over or ignore those things Jesus says and does that challenge our prejudices and assumptions about God and life. And, even then, when we think we know, we will be humble, patient, and circumspect about it. Our shouts of Hosanna must always be tempered by the self-awareness of our own tendency, when the God we know in Jesus does not suit our agenda, to cry, “Crucify him!”