The Beginning is the End is the Beginning...

As usual, before we get started, this is your chance to follow the link to the texts for this week, with thanks to you, Diocesan web site…

Now, we are prepared….

Isaiah 50: 4 – 9a

An interesting juxtaposition. In the Philippians text – though the writer does not explicitly use the terms imitate or emulate or obey – it is implied that those who wish to follow Jesus are called pattern their own lives to the way of suffering and obedience. The gospel of Luke, however, dips back into Isaiah for the model of a messiah – who is willing to stand up to the ridicule and violence of others towards him and not back down. This is the suffering servant who sets his face like flint to the road before him, just as Jesus will do in Luke’s gospel – 9:51 – and when he does, all realize that he will not be turned back from the fate he will meet there.

The prophetic witness of the Hebrew texts forms a powerful platform upon which the gospelers can construct both Jesus’ mission and his authority to do so.

Philippians 2: 5 - 11

As stated above, this text flows into the next chapter of Philippians, where imitation (3:17) and the similar notion already introduced in v. 5 – “be of the same mind” (3:15) – make it obvious that this “self-emptying” and “humbling” is the foundational characteristic of those who enter into relationship with Jesus.

As noted by Willard Swartley, “The context of this foundational confession on Jesus’ self-emptying and humbling to the cross is Paul’s admonition in vv. 3-4 to put away conduct that proceeds from mimetic rivalry: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” Then follows: “let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus. To me, this is the quintessential biblical text expressing “good mimesis.” We are to have the mind of Christ, who even though he is equal to God, does not get caught up in rivalistic mimesis. Rather, he takes the role of the servant. This also ties in with John’s account of the Last Supper, the gospel text for Maundy Thursday: Jesus teaches his disciples servanthood, urging them to take him as a model.” (“Discipleship and Imitation of Jesus/Suffering Servant: The Mimesis of New Creation,” in Violence Renounced, pp. 225-226). 

Luke 19: 28 – 40 (Palm procession); Luke 23: 1 – 49 (Passion)

Two passages from Luke confront us today and there is just too much going on to do justice to any or all of the themes that come rushing at us. So, just to dabble…

The entry into Jerusalem: As I have mentioned before, the deeper meanings of this story as told by Mark, cast a shadow over the other gospel renderings. Bottom line (with apologies to Borg and Crossan): Pilate would arrive for Passover in full procession with his legion, coming up from the governors’ actual residence in Caesarea Maritima to wow the crowds and to make sure that the meaning of all the pomp and power was taken to heart – Rome is in charge here and if you get out of line as has happened on occasion at Passover, you will not enjoy the consequences. He would have entered the city on a warhorse, and would not have been surrounded by a crowd of lowlifes waving palm branches, but instead, would have been escorted by chariots and soldiers bristling with swords and spears and bows (again, to send a message, and not one of hope).

By contrast, Jesus rides in – not on a war horse – but a donkey, to shouts of joy and honor that Pilate would never hear. The meaning is clear: Caesar’s kingdom, the empire of Rome, with all its fear-mongering and threats of violence and demands for compliance, is doomed. The kingdom of God, the beloved community, the kingdom of Love (as in, God is…), where – as Philippians reminds us – we care for others in a spirit of love and mutuality and live in peace, will be the final victor. (Side bar: Jesus dire prediction – both here and as he is being marched to his execution – underscore the futility of trying to bring down violence with violence, as the Jews will do in just about thirty years. And, the results will be disastrous. Sermon: You would think that we would have learned that lesson by now, but we cannot give up our adoration of destruction and death as a means of enforcing our ‘values’ while acquiring what we need and desire).

Which brings us to the Passion: Running with that idea, what strikes me more and more about this text is the willingness on Jesus’ part to accept the violence that the system wants to fatally administer. I have grown beyond the notion that this was somehow or in some way, God’s plan to remove our sins so that we would be worthy enough to enter heaven – Judaism had rejected human sacrifice after the Exile since even their kings were offering their children on the altars of fire, so why would the King of the Universe suddenly sacrifice his child? (Augustine in about 420 is the first to float the idea of Original Sin and our need to be freed from its curse… time to move on, or perhaps, go back….) 

As those who testify before Pilate say in Luke’s text “he stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” We know what he taught – not violence, but a revolution just the same, of the mind and of the heart. (Be of the same mind as Christ) And while this was not an immediate threat to Rome – though its time came and then continued to come and will continue wherever oppression and death need to be addressed – it was an immediate threat to those who controlled the religion and though it, the people. Luke’s Jesus knew that and still set his face for Jerusalem, knowing it would be the final act of his mission. And, he accepted the only thing that their system knew how to do, the only thing they could do. And, by dying as he did, he exposed their emptiness and powerlessness for all time. (Sermon: What if we actually believed that premise? What if we then acted as if there was nothing that the powers that be could do to us, to stop the inevitable coming of the kingdom? Why do we continue to accept what the Romes of this age offer as life, as truth? I think I know the answer….)