How what Jesus’ believed led to his actions during Holy Weekby Marty Troyer
Every year we pull out the Cadbury, peanut butter, painted and plastic eggs to celebrate what ultimately is the gruesome R-rated story of the public torture and execution of a human being. Why do we coat Jesus’ story in chocolate and bunnies? I’m not sure why you do, but at our house, my son isn’t old enough to understand death, let alone talk about torture and murder. I suppose candy and Easter baskets allow inclusion of kids in the ironic highlight of the Christian year.
Siphoning attention to the Easter bunny is not the only way we escape Jesus during Holy Week. We adults are much more sophisticated. We elude Jesus’ humanity via the warm glow of theology itself. Here’s what I mean. Orthodox Christianity says that Jesus is 100 percent human and 100 percent divine, yet our telling of Easter neglects the human aspects of Holy Week and jumps to a theological interpretation (God is love, Jesus had to die, substitutionary atonement) without looking at the human, historical realities the Gospels themselves focus on. If Jesus’ humanity is fact, why skip so readily from the cradle to the grave?
Whether by a chocolate- or a theology-covered Jesus, skipping the narrative account derails an important opportunity to form faith. The narrative is filled with demonstrations, courage, tears, injustice, backstabbing, class contempt, militarism and mob spirit.
How did Jesus fight the noise and remain self-differentiated enough to stay faithful to God? What would the man Jesus have had to believe in order to endure the journey to the cross? My love for God grows exponentially more when thinking about what Jesus believed to live the life he lived during Holy Week, than it does to ask what I’m supposed to believe about Jesus. Here are my three opening thoughts on what Jesus believed and what I’m committing myself to again this Holy Week.
Something has gone terribly wrong.
At the height of Jesus’ popularity, in the midst of raging throngs of supporters, Jesus stops to weep over Jerusalem. His lament? That we don’t know what makes peace. His harshest criticism is never for the outsider or the nonbeliever. Instead, he saves his strictest action for folks just like me. Indeed, Ched Myers in his book Binding the Strong Man suggests that all the events of Holy Week are an unfolding indictment against the religious leadership of Jesus’ day.
Demonstrating against the temple, parables directed at the leaders, acknowledgement that their unjust practices negatively affect the poor, promises that the corrupt temple system will be “thrown into the sea” all reveal Jesus’ sadness over a world gone wrong. His friends betray him, his friends try to protect him with violence, his friends utterly abandon him. But ultimately, nothing unmasks the terribleness of our world like Jesus’ ruthless execution before the watching world. Something has gone terribly wrong indeed.
But had Jesus only believed this, he would have been jaded, bitter and angry. He wasn’t. He also believed …
The kingdom of God is the real solution to the world’s greatest needs.
Rooted in the prayers of a mother who taught him God “has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly,” Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, revealing true service and mutuality to be more transformative than absolute power. Rooted in an ancient tradition of swords beaten into plowshares and lambs lying with wolves, Jesus rejects the viable choice of violence when his accusers prowl and instead embraces nonviolence: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). Rooted in his experience as a refugee and as a poor, homeless man, Jesus rejects the individualization of faith and embraces God’s love as being for the whole world, not just believers like him, then proves it by forgiving his executioners and embracing his fellow death-row prisoners.
Rooted in direct experience of the love of God for himself, Jesus commits to nonviolence as the greatest demonstration of the sovereignty of God the world has ever seen. Jesus’ actions in Holy Week show me he’s interested in more than just saving souls. He genuinely believes at the core of his being that God’s plan for the world (his “kingdom”) is the best way to live.
But Jesus didn’t wait for God’s magic wand, Armageddon or the rapture to bring such an epiphany. No, Jesus also believed …
God invites us to be part of the solution.
Holy Week kicks off on Palm Sunday with a mass demonstration against the competing imperial gospel, worthy of civil rights march fame. Courageous, risky, committed action on Jesus’ part finds him riding a donkey into Jerusalem, declaring himself (again) king and Lord. Scholars call this ride the “Anti-triumphal Entry,” a parody, a comedy of what is happening on the other side of town, where imperial forces descend on Jerusalem to protect it during Passover. ‘There is a new sheriff in town,’ Jesus seems to be saying. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me. … The kingdom of God is among you. … My yoke is easy and my burden is light. … Pick up your cross and follow me.” Love, acceptance, justice, kindness, humility, nonviolence, mutuality: these are the marks of participation with God in bringing the kingdom to earth.
Astonishingly, we’re told by a reputable source, we are to “have the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). We are to work, because God is at work in us.
Helen Keller says it this way: “I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do something I can do.” This was precisely the attitude in 1960 Houston, when 14 black students from Texas State University sat down at an all-white lunch counter at Weingarten’s supermarket. While they were not served on that auspicious day in early March due to religiously accepted racism, Houston’s civil rights movement kicked off and quietly and nonviolently led to the unraveling of Jim Crow in Houston.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love chocolate and am a sucker for theology. But I have a hunch that if more of us believed what Jesus believed, Houston and other cities would be a lot closer to heaven than they are today.
What do you think? What do you believe this Holy Week? What do you think Jesus believed in the inaugural Holy Week? Whatever you believe, I hope your faith is formed to be more and more like Jesus, our Lord and Savior.
Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church. This was published on his blog
in 2011: http://blog.chron.com/thepeacepastor/2011/04/chocolate-covered-jesus/.
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