Who is This?
‘…This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee…’ (Matthew 21, verse 11).
Today is a day of rejoicing; a day when we celebrate the coming of the King. A King unlike any other King, King Jesus…His Coronation awaits Him; His crowning glory is yet to be…The throne of Heaven is His destiny, His Kingly rule will, ultimately, extend throughout the whole world, touching very heart, transforming every life. There is to come a time when, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’. We affirm all of this only because we have the benefit of looking back over the years; we know the story; we know how it ends; we know that its ending ushered in a new beginning, the end to which we look forward in faith; faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead; the God who is already making all things new; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in and through whom this present and future glory has been revealed; the One who overcame that which would otherwise frustrate even the power of God – human sinfulness, and death its inevitable consequence – This Jesus, who was dead…and so God power-filled love, God’s love-filled power is let loose through out the world; God’s active presence enlivening the Church that bears the name of Christ, that through the Church, present and active in the world, Christ’s Kingly rule is made manifest in anticipation of the yet greater glory that is to be. We know all this, because we are part of this unfolding story. But it was different for those present on the first Palm Sunday. Many of the pilgrims recently arrived in Jerusalem from all over the near East and beyond would never have heard of Jesus As far as Jerusalem as a whole was concerned, He was a relative stranger. Yet the means of His arrival, and the hub bub surrounding his entry at the gates of the city would at the very least have aroused the curiosity of the onlookers, hence the straightforward question asked of His followers, ‘Who is this?’ No doubt Jesus’ coming in to the city attracted any amount of attention…a man on a donkey as opposed to a horse – not easy to ride at the best of times, especially for a grown – up – with His followers, his supporters, His ‘cheer leaders’ going ahead, laying down their cloaks, strewing palm branches in His path; quite a spectacle, somewhat akin to a carnival atmosphere. But in the end, the question remained, ‘Who was He?’ The reply, ‘The prophet, Jesus from Galilee’. ‘Prophets’ were two a penny in C1 Palestine – God’s mouthpiece – One who deserved to be listened to because it was not just him who was speaking. Invariably the ‘prophet’ would be would be critical of the ‘priest’ – denouncing the religion of the day in the name of the God whose character, purpose, law and intention had been besmirched, compromised, overridden, and confounded by those whose role it was to represent God to the people and the people to God. As such, Jesus’ words would have resonated with those who felt marginalised by the so-called religious establishment, especially since it had entered into an uneasy pact with the occupying Roman power to secure some form of peaceful coexistence. The Jerusalem equivalent of the ‘Westminster’ bubble existed in their own particular version of ‘Never Never Land’ while all the time growing unrest in the Provinces found new impetus from the ‘prophets’ emerging from amongst their own. What better role model could they have than the Son of a Nazarene Carpenter accompanied on His way by a rag bag collection of disciples, none of whom really understood just who Jesus was. As Holy Week unfolded Jesus did nothing to dissuade His detractors. It was as if He was intent on ‘playing them at their own game’ and in so doing ensuring the inevitable conclusion. Sooner or later it would be ‘better that one man die than the whole nation perish’. Sooner or later the ‘politico/religious establishment’ was bound to close ranks and engineer the removal of the One who was being seen to be an increasingly dangerous threat to the established order. The irony is not lost on any one that when it came to it when Pilate was to make the offer to release one prisoner as a gesture of good faith to the Jews at Passover, that the religious leaders saw to it that Barabbas would be the choice, not Jesus – ‘better the “devil” you know – even though Barabbas was a self- confessed murderer, and insurrectionist, he could be controlled, manipulated. Jesus was beyond the ‘control’, the ‘manipulation’ of anyone other than His own self-motivation.
This last week saw the anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, quite possibly the most influential Christian thinker of the 20th century, who was executed on 9thApril 1945 at Flossenburg Concentration Camp. During his time in prison, he mused on the question, ‘Who is Jesus Christ for today?’ His ‘simple’ answer was, ‘The Man for others’…Accordingly, the church that bears His name must be ‘Church for others’…The ‘church’ becomes ‘community’ only insofar as it serves others…In so doing, Jesus the Christ continues to do what Jesus of Nazareth was intent on doing…deconstructing religion – its self-seeking, self-serving, self-indulgent nature…dethroning its arrogant assumptions…debunking its declared raison d’etre…The Resurrection is not only the answer to life after death; it sends us back into the world to live in a renewed way…
’If the church cannot interpret Christian faith in language meaningful for the ordinary person in our secular world, then, Bonhoeffer believed, it must limit itself to two things: prayer and righteous action. Out of that it might be born again and discover a new language that would impress the world with its freshness and power.’(John D Godsey: ‘Bonhoeffer’s costly Theology).