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Sermon by the Rev. Dr. George Hermanson, "."
This post refers only to the text for Passion Sunday.
Click here, Luke 19:28-40, for commentary on the Palm Sunday text.
About the only thing I like about this lesson is that I get so many others things done while avoiding the hard work of engaging this painful text.
And in the congregation I serve, where we do not have musical, drama, or other artistic resources to present the story, the sheer length of the text is itself a burden. Who could possibly take this in in a single sitting within a worship service? (And unfortunately, even this post cannot be "short," though I hope it will still be easy to use and faith-provoking.)
Nonetheless, this lesson is crucial. Unless we immerse ourselves in it, the Good News of Easter loses its impact and power.And yet, to truly enter into the story, we must place ourselves beside Jesus in his own time, in his own place, among his own people. But to avoid repeating here what I have frequently commented on elsewhere, I've summarized 7 key interpretative points:
- The conflict within the Gospels is NOT between Jesus and "the Jews." English translations of the Bible mistranslate the underlying original Greek word for JUDEANs. Judeans, especially those from the capital city, Jerusalem, look down on Galileans as uneducated, backwoods, small town, hillbillies. Jesus is a Galilean. The idea of a Galilean being presented as King of the Judeans is huge, collective insult. Of course Judeans would defend their honour and shout for the Galilean yokel to be crucified.
- The Judean authorities - King Herod, the chief priests, the Pharisees, and the scribes - are actually puppets and collaborators. They hold their positions solely at the whim of the Roman authorities and act as agents of the Roman Empire. Their self-preservation lies in preventing social unrest. See John 11:47-48:
What are we to do?
This man (Jesus) is performing many signs.
If we let him go on like this,
everyone will believe into him,
and the Romans will come and destroy
both our temple and our nation.
- Brutal execution by stripping naked, whipping, and nailing to a cross was carefully crafted by the Romans to inflict the maximum amount of pain and degradation because they wanted to kill not only the individual but also any followers. That is to say, by demonstrating their iron-fisted authority over Jesus, the Romans hoped to kill any aspirations in any of his followers to "take up their cross and follow."
- God did NOT send Jesus to die for our sins. God DID send Jesus because God so loved the world, and in Luke 4:18-19, Jesus declares why God has sent him as he reads from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent to proclaim release
to the captives, and recovery
of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year
of the Lord's favour.
Abiding in God's love and remaining loyal to God by proclaiming God's Kingdom of non-violent justice would unavoidably bring Jesus into direct conflict with Rome's violent injustice.
- Unlike all other victims of group-sanctioned violence, THIS story ends forever the selecting and killing of scapegoats to carry and atone for the sins of the community. (The metaphor of Jesus as the Lamb of God ought to refer to the Passover lamb - which is NOT a sin offering.) If not for the first time in human history, then certainly for the final time, ritual killing for atoning of the community's sins is revealed to be a charade - the victim is innocent - "there is no basis for the accusation." (Luke 23:4) God does not now, and never did, want death in order to forgive. God begins with forgiveness, unconditionally, freely, because that is who God is - God is love.
- We need to hear the story for inward-formation, not information. We need to hear it as a self-correcting story that confounds our accommodation of violence. Hearing this story as one that makes violence purposeful / meaningful / significant / redemptive is a form of violence if it legitimizes violence. God did NOT send Jesus to die as a sacrifice for our sins. God sent Jesus to proclaim that God's Kingdom of non-violent justice was at hand, and BECAUSE of our sin, we killed the one who taught us to call God, Daddy.
- Even though I refer to this text as a "story," remember that it is about real people who, like us, made decisions and took actions for complex and complicated reasons. They were NOT actors in a play. They were, like us, freely acting within their own limitations and faults. And as we read the lesson, we'll see how at many points discussions are held, possibilities are considered, and decisions are made that could have been made differently. Jesus' death is not inevitable and unavoidable; his death is not ordained by God.