It worked for the Maccabees, why not Jesus?
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Monday, March 29th: Psalm 36:5-11; Isaiah 42:1-9; John 12:1-11; and Hebrews 9:11-15. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is the Monday of Holy Week. Out of the 52 weeks of the year, this is the single week the church names Holy. This is the week when we remember Jesus’ last days. Yesterday Jesus entered Jerusalem and was hailed as God’s anointed, the Messiah, the Christ. People saluted Him with cries of “Hosanna to the Son of David,” basically “Save us we pray, Saviour sent from God.”
Their hopes were legitimate. Judas Maccabaeus in the mid-second-century BCE was a Jewish guerrilla leader who defended his country from invasion by the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He proved to be a military genius, overthrowing four Seleucid armies in quick succession and restoring the Temple of Jerusalem. The Seleucids were the successors of Alexander the Great. His empire was one of the largest in history. They had conquered and ruled the land of Israel for two centuries. And this guerrilla leader, Judas Maccabaeus, of a ragtag band of zealots, overthrew them.
The Maccabees ruled Judea for a hundred years. Then the Romans arrived and in 63 BCE. General Pompeii captured Jerusalem and the Jews were once again under foreign dominion. It is quite possible that the people of Jesus’ generation may have heard firsthand accounts from their elders of what it was like to have once lived free, to not have the soldiers of a conquering oppressor garrisoned in your capital and overlooking your Temple.
Messianic expectations ran high in Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. The people believed that God would send another warrior-saviour to free them from yet another pagan army just like God had done when He sent Judas Maccabaeus to defeat the Greeks. And what an appropriate time for God to do so as this Galilean wonder-worked paraded into Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover, the celebration of God’s miraculous liberation of the Jews from Egyptian slavery. Jesus did not seem at all concerned about the Romans who were watching Him. Jesus was fearless in the face of such military might. Surely, this could be the Son of David, the anointed Saviour, therefore, “Hosanna,” “Save, I pray!”
This is one of those clear examples of Jesus surprising people of faith, doing the absolute unexpected. This is a lesson for us even now. Jesus is always going to be a challenge because Jesus will always call us forward. The city of Jerusalem was full of expectation on Palm Sunday. The people would have risen-up with Jesus if Jesus were a warrior. They were ready to follow on their terms, based on their expectations.
But we all know the story. Jesus would never lead an army. Jesus would never condone violence. And in this way Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant. The tradition was there, but the people didn’t want this sort of Saviour: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. … I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations …”
As we begin Holy Week, let us learn the lesson of Palm Sunday. Let us not confuse our expectations of what God should do with what God does. Let us strive to seek God’s way as revealed perfectly in the life, ministry and message of our crucified Saviour. And may this help us to make Holy Week holy.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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