This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
9-11 The large crowd of Jews discovered that he was there and came to the scene—not only because of Jesus but to catch sight of Lazarus, the man whom he had raised from the dead. Then the chief priests planned to kill Lazarus as well, because he was the reason for many of the Jews’ going away and putting their faith in Jesus.
Jesus experiences a temporary triumph
12-13 The next day, the great crowd who had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem, and went to meet him with palm branches in their hands, shouting, “God save him! ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’, God bless the king of Israel!”
14-15 For Jesus had found a young ass and was seated upon it, just as the scripture foretold—‘Fear not, daughter of Zion: behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt’.
16 (The disciples did not realise the significance of what was happening at the time, but when Jesus was glorified, then they recollected that these things had been written about him and that they had carried them out for him.)
17-19 The people who had been with him, when he had summoned Lazarus from the grave and raised him from the dead, were continually talking about him. This accounts for the crowd who went out to meet him, for they had heard that he had given this sign. Seeing all this, the Pharisees remarked to one another, “You see?—There’s nothing one can do! The whole world is running after him.”
John makes it clear that Jesus planned his entry into Jerusalem to fulfil the quoted prophecy of Zechariah, which also spoke of a king who would put away the weapons of war and establish peace. The greetings of the people express recognition of Jesus as a Messianic King. John’s account is interesting in its matter of fact acceptance that Jesus did claim to be “a king” and that he was accepted a such by a section of his people. This gives some weight to the High Priest’s fear that Jesus could provoke a rebellion leading to a catastrophic response by Rome.
This open understanding of the “messianic politics” involved in Jesus’ death, is also played out by John in his representation of Jesus’ interview with Pontius Pilatus. The record of the other three gospels tends to place all responsibility for Jesus’ death on the religious authorities, while exonerating Jesus altogether, and underplaying the part of the Roman administration. John makes explicit Jesus’ responsibility for a large public demonstration hailing him as messianic king and for arousing a disturbing amount of allegiance amongst the people. John has already let his readers know that Jesus is no militaristic messiah, but he states that Jesus accepted the title nevertheless and challenged recognition as Israel’s true king.
John’s Jesus does not leave the political sphere untouched by his ministry. He doesn’t wield the weapons of demagoguery and violence used by some of his contemporaries; but he confronts the representative of worldly power with a power which comes from beyond the world, the power of truth; just as he confronts the religious authorities of his own people with a fulfilment of prophecy which requires them to accept him or reject him.
This model suggests that Christian people should not abandon the political arena but should bring their understanding of God’s goodness to bear on matters of state and society. This involves detailed attention to such issues and effective use of the political process, the purpose of which, however, is to promote the concerns of King Jesus. That’s not easy: discerning the aims which can be useful in this world but are not “of this world is often difficult; but insisting, as Jesus’ did when he entered Jerusalem, that they exist and are relevant is a good way to start.
This morning I heard on the radio two men from Northern Ireland reacting to the revelation that the British Government had secretly guaranteed some 200 IRA killers immunity from prosecution. The protestant man whose father had been murdered by the IRA spoke passionately of his need for justice; while the Catholic man, whose mother had been killed by loyalist paramilitaries said that if he knew who’d done it, he would not inform the police, because in the context of the troubles young men on both sides had done terrible things out of mistaken patriotism. For him the present peace was worth the loss of personal justice. How would “aims which are not of this world” help us to decide who is right in this case? I certainly felt that both were right. But the wisdom of king Jesus was that only those who”belong to the truth” could hear his voice. There has not been full disclosure of truth in Northern Ireland, and that has left the hard-won peace open to destruction with every significant revelation. I’m not sure whether a South African style Truth and Reconciliation process is the answer, but I am sure that the British Government should disclose all it knows and challenge other parties to do the same. Peace is an over-riding aim of Christian politics but it is unlikely to be secured with lies or concealment. The way to peace is peaceful, which means, truthful. I doubt if Gerry Adams has paid overmuch attention to truth but the deceptions and concealments of the British Government have not helped those who believe that the facts are always friendlier than the alternative.