This Sunday marks the Holy Week in the Christian calendar, starting with the conventional Palm Sunday (April 14) and culminating with Resurrection (Easter) Sunday on April 21.
Of the upcoming seven days, Palm Sunday once again reminds the Christian church of the difficult course and experience of Jesus. His processional route from Pilate’s judgment hall to the hill called Calvary was strewn with not only sadness, but a whole lot of suffering. What thoughts surged through the minds of the people that day will never be known fully. Those who loved him were stunned and horrified at the rapid pace with which events had moved to the dramatic climax.
They still looked for something to take place that would relieve this gentle man of his suffering, but each moment that passed decreased the likelihood.
Those who had never made a decision concerning him, but had seen the loaves and the fish and other wonderful things that he did, now watched him as he mounted his last pulpit.
The soldiers who cared nothing for all this sat down beneath the shadow of this dying man to gamble for the last vestige of his belongings. But over it all hung a question that even his enemies asked silently to themselves: Why would this man die? Two of the condemned had committed crimes that were known, but this man had really done nothing.
Insistently, we ask this question even today. Via Dolorosa, or the Way of the Cross, was reality because Jesus was such a good man. We have our little mottos that say virtue brings rich rewards and honesty is the best policy, but in fact we are forced to admit these things do not work out in everyday living to our material advantage. The person who is virtuous sometimes sees the procession of fame and fortune pass him by with scarcely a nod in his direction. Jesus, who was incarnate goodness, bowed his head before the onslaught of Jewish hatred and Roman cruelty — and all of his goodness failed to release him from the bonds of suffering that evil forged about him.
For his kindness, he received a crown of thorns; for his gentleness, he got a scourged back; for his love, he was given a cross too heavy to bear. Does it pay to be a good person? It depends entirely upon the kind of pay that we want. Jesus had no earthly reward, but his name is more profoundly influential today than that of any other person who ever lived. Think of all the storms that have swept across the face of our world during the last 20 centuries and one cannot fail to be moved by the fact this man still stands as a monument to the satisfaction of right living. No weakling could have cast such a spell upon the ages.
Only a man who had learned a secret deeper than any that men had hitherto revealed could have pointed out such a way for people to follow. Ultimately, we find the problem devolves into a question of selfishness or unselfishness. The man who lives for the moment finds his appetites can be met, his desires can be somewhat realized and his hopes can be fulfilled. But there is a scant happiness to it all. For man was not meant to live like that and no amount of the material serves to meet the deep-rooted needs of his spirit. These things do not satisfy and he is foolish who thinks so.
Alexander changed the map of the world and died sighing for more world to conquer. Jesus changed the motives of men.
Caesar pushed back a frontier and died surrounded by false friends. Jesus purified and enlarged the faith of men.
Charlemagne carved out a kingdom for himself and died an embittered and disillusioned ruler. Jesus laid the foundation for a kingdom of righteousness and justice and truth.
Yes, goodness crucified him, but I take my stand on that side, knowing full well that such is the only way for permanent happiness. Yet again, Jesus was crucified because of the stubborn convictions of men. Judas, believing that this man had tremendous power, attempted to force him to manifest it. He sold the master not for greed — 30 pieces of silver was a paltry amount of money — and not even because he was disappointed in him. He sold Jesus because he firmly believed that once the shackles of Roman authority were placed about him, the master would call down fire from heaven and consume all his enemies.
Judas had a stubborn conviction that he was right and that the way of Jesus was wrong. Jesus is still a menace to those who would follow their stubborn and stupid convictions as to the way that things ought to be done in this world. He has offered us a way of life and we have not been willing to accept it because we have been convinced in our thinking that we know much more about modern occidental life than he could ever know. If Jesus really ruled our thinking and we gave over our convictions to his care that they might be molded in accordance with the principles that he laid down, what a different world this would be. If he was really the ruler, then war as a method of settling international differences by slaughtering large numbers of children would be no more. Our narrow, nationalistic outlook would be broadened so that economic interests would not always dictate our foreign policy.
Our racial problems would sink into the background of an understanding that would sweep all else before the flow of its tide. Jesus trod slowly the Way of the Cross because people were convinced he was all wrong in his estimates of life and its values. May God forgive us that so often we have the same conviction.
Narayan Mitra is the pastor of Merritt Baptist Church. He is also a volunteer chaplain at Thompson Rivers University under the sponsorship of Kamloops Campus Ministries Society. Mitra can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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