Sunday, April 10, 2022

"Doing the Best We Can" Palm Sunday and the Passion of Jesus of Nazareth - April 10, 2022 Rev. Richard S. Vosko

 

Photo by Remy Gieling, Unsplash


Musician Elizabeth Conant wondered why the affable and talented Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins overdosed on drugs. She wrote: “We need to trust that no one is having an easy time of it; this is a hard planet. Human beings are all doing the best they can, just to get through.”


As we Christians begin another holy week we are challenged to embrace the stories of passion and death as if they were our own. Think of the many people around the world who are suffering and dying because of discrimination, starvation and brutal war crimes — Bulgarians, Haitians, Syrians, Ukrainians, and countless others. They do the best they can “just to get through” but, in every situation they need help from others.


Today’s gospel texts are incongruous. First, Jesus of Nazareth arrives in Jerusalem to much applause and fanfare! At long last he was the Coming One who was to save Jews and others living in a distant outpost of the Roman Empire. (Luke 19:28-40) Then the story of his triumphant entry turns ugly as it details the journey of the prophetic Jewish Nazarene to his execution on a cross. (Luke 22: 14-23:56) 


Did Jesus ever second guess his mission? Did he think to himself, while riding that donkey, with a feigned smile on his lips, nodding to the prostrating crowd, “God, what am I doing here? Wasn’t there an easier way to carry out this mission?”


Jesus did not finish what he set out to do — bring about peace and justice for everyone. Critics say Jesus failed in his mission. Social activists say we are charged to carry on his task. What role does failure play in the ways we can improve the way we behave in life?


The second testament depicts Jesus as an enigmatic and compassionate person determined to help people who hunger for dignity; he took a lot of risks to do so. Like many prophets in the Hebrew Bible Jesus protested publicly against the status quo. He criticized civic and religious leaders for their hard hearted crimes.


Jesus raised an awareness of the injustices that prevailed in his time. His speeches and actions annoyed elite power holders. They accused him of making trouble and for posing as a king (although he never claimed to be one). He was executed because he was a political activist.

Today’s passage from Second Isaiah 50: 4-7 gives us some background for understanding Jesus’ behavior. It is the third of four suffering servant poems. It lists the qualities of a true servant. One of those characteristics is to be mindful; to pay attention to one’s calling.1 [1]


Jesus did what he was supposed to do and it required much sacrifice. Not only did he follow the expectations of his empyrean Father, he also listened to the cries of the people around him and he took action.


Some commentators will focus on how Jesus emptied himself of his Godly personhood. This phrase refers to the incarnation of God. Jesus never called himself divine. 


In the Bible Jesus is called the Human One. A Jew throughout his life, he never abandoned his humanity. This side of Jesus makes it possible to identify with his life and the good he did; his suffering and his death.


Many people today are forsaken even as they hope for brighter days. Volodymyr Zelensky feels abandoned by some Western countries as well as greedy banking and oil industry executives. But, he continues to take risks to keep Ukrainians free from death and autocracy. Like other Ukrainians he is doing all he can do. 


The same is true of the Romani, the Uyghurs, Guatemalans, Afghans, and others living on the edges of society. Millions are doing their best to survive in refugee camps. Others wait anxiously to cross borders into hospitable territories like those waiting to enter the United States.


In his letter to the Philippians (2:6-11) Paul was concerned about whether his listeners would embrace a Christ-like way of living for others. It would require listening to them and finding ways to help. 


During this holy week we ponder not just the passion and death of the prophetic Jew we call the anointed One and savior. We recommit ourselves to a Christian lifestyle, making sacrifices and taking risks to help others so they can live without the fear of abandonment. None of us can do this alone but we try to do the best we can. 


We can volunteer at food banks and protest at rallies. We can also do other things that matter. Acts of generosity, kindness and compassion, a smile, a hug can make a huge difference in the lives of people who live among us, who are deserted and vulnerable. This is a hard time for all human beings. Many of our brothers and sisters near and far need help.



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1 “Attention is the Beginning of Devotion” in Devotions: Selected Poems of Mary Oliver (NY: Penguin Books) 2017

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