“Intrusion-Invasion: Jesus on the Move”
By Rev. Dr. Orville James
Sunday, April 10, 2022
Reading: Luke 19:28-40; 45-48
It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus* by stealth and kill him. Mark 14:1 (NRSV)
Palm Sunday is a big deal, but I’m thinking we’re not always sure why. When I was a kid in Sunday School, we made it a day for joyous celebration, coming in waving palm branches and cheering for Jesus our king who rode into the city today.
Now, this Sunday is also known as Passion Sunday from the Latin word meaning “to suffer.” It’s the beginning of the week that starts so well and ends so badly -- cheering on Sunday, and five days later yelling, “Crucify him!”
So, we get that it’s a big deal, but many of us might be wondering why. What’s the message? What’s the take-away about God and our lives, from this week? I want you to think about this week as a couple of snapshots showing who God is and how God operates. I want to tell you two stories – both true, that show different sides of God.
“How are you doing?” the preacher asked a friend of his, as they got coffee together.
“Well, okay,” she replied.
“Only, okay?” He asked.
“You see, our son has been putting us through hell,” she said. “We didn’t even know where he was for months until last night. My husband and I were eating dinner and suddenly, without warning, he bursts through the front door and begins cursing us, demanding money, refusing to join us at the table. After an ugly scene he stormed down the hall and slammed the door to his room.”
“I’m so, so sorry,” the preacher said.
“Well, my husband gets up, goes into the kitchen, pours himself a drink, turns on the TV, and slumps down in his chair. That’s how he handles these moments. I walked down the hall and said, ‘So, can we talk? I just want to talk.’ I could hear him curse me from inside his bedroom. I tried to open the door. It was locked. So I went into the garage, got a big hammer (I think it’s called a sledge), walked back in, stood before my son’s bedroom door, drew back and with only one blow was able to knock the doorknob clean off the door. Took about a third of the door with it. Then I lunged at my astonished-looking son, grabbed him around the throat and said, ‘I’m not going to put up with this crap anymore. You are better than this! I went through labour for you, gave birth to you, and I’m not giving you away!’” She paused and then looked back at the preacher.
“I really think something important happened for us last night. I think he heard me. We’re on a new track” she said.
I want to suggest to you that God is something like that and the events early in Holy Week show it! Jesus rides into Jerusalem – and His arrival is like an invading ruler proclaiming His authority and challenging the present regime.
Do you know what his first act in Jerusalem was? Listen: “And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers… He was teaching and saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.”
And so, it went for the next 4 days that week – Jesus challenged and argued and confronted – knocked on, smashed down the doors to get through to proclaim the truth. There’s the first snapshot of God. Where might you be in that picture?
I don’t know where you’re at – what’s going on in your life. But I’ll tell you there are times life has had to smack me upside the head – break through my defenses and force me to think about changing my ways. This tactic is necessary in many areas of life. In the business world, when asked about what makes a good leader, a prominent management consultant replied, “Courage to push against the defenses of an organization. Good leaders have the courage to intervene. In dying organizations, leaders simply manage what is already going on.”
This tactic should be deployed in education too.
“A good teacher will get in your face,” said the grad student. “Poor teachers sit back, lay out their material on the whiteboard, take it or leave it as you will. A good teacher is the one who dares to intrude. Comes at you with energy and urgency and even a bit of attitude.”
Really? I was hesitant about that, until I read the back page piece of the March 2022 Macleans magazine. It’s written by a young writer who lives here in Toronto. He’s writing back to his High School English teacher in Ottawa:
I remember nervously writing essays for you, agonizing over each word. Every paragraph was another opportunity to impress you. I had it in my head that I was the best of my cohort because I read books and knew big words. All my other teachers were dazzled by my vocabulary, and I figured you would be the same. I should have known better.
“You’ve got potential, but it’s hidden beneath words you don’t understand the meaning of.”
It stung but you were right.
You were the first person who had taken my writing seriously enough to criticize it. My predilection for the over-the-top wordplay became a running joke between us, and every time I threw some fluffy adjective into my writing, I’d hear your sarcastic voice in the back of my head telling me to cut it out.
Do you see? In education, in business – good leaders, at times, are aggressive, urgent, intrusive, disruptive, demanding!
Friends, one of the most important things about God is that in Jesus, God intervened – God intruded into this world and all the status quo indifference, corruption, spiritual laziness.
Holy Week says that in Jesus – God’s not going to take it anymore. This God is on the move, not hunkered down at church. God’s invading the city, intruding into our lives. But then comes the astonishing twist: Look, here Jesus comes, not to destroy what is broken, or punish those who are wrong, but to reclaim and rescue. He takes what is wrong onto Himself, bears it, stands with us, in all our brokenness and sinfulness – in the midst of the pain and suffering.
He sacrifices Himself – to save us.
So, if we’re going to understand that God is like a mother who is willing to smash through our rebellious defenses, we also need to understand what God does next.
Here’s the other story – the other image I want you to cling to; it comes from the London Sunday Times, telling an emotional tale from the devastating earthquake in Armenia a couple of years ago.
A mother and her child were trapped under many tons of concrete when their building collapsed. They had just enough space between the great slabs to huddle together. For a week, in bitter cold and darkness, they lay there, without food, without water. The little girl begged for water, but there was none. In desperation, the mother found a piece of broken glass and cut her finger. She urged the child to suck her bleeding finger, the only liquid she had to keep her daughter alive.
“Please Mama,” begged the little girl, “cut another finger for me.” Fortunately, a few days later the little girl and her mother were rescued.
I think about these two stories – of the mother who broke down her son’s bedroom door to confront him with tough love – and this mother who was willing to sacrifice herself to save her child. I don’t know which parental treatment you deserve or need. You may be suffering and need tender sacrificial compassionate care. Or you may need some things confronted and challenged in you and your life.
Today is Palm/Passion Sunday; may you experience the God who comes today, with all the force, and all the truth, and all the mercy that this week Holy Week brings. Amen.