Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus… – Philippians 2:5
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. And he’s getting quite a welcome. People line the streets for miles, shouting “Hosanna”, celebrating. They recognize that the long-awaited King has come among them. He has come into town just like the ancient prophecy foretold! He’s the one! Finally!
Time to break out the palms and the confetti! He’ll put the oppressors on the run! The dark time of the reign of Rome is over. Hosanna! From now on, the people of Judea won’t have to worry about the bullies, the tyrants. They won’t have to worry about hunger – fear – violence – oppression. The kingdom of God’s reign has arrived in Jerusalem. The Son of David has come.
And how tempting all that fanfare must have been for Jesus himself – for, after all, he was human – how tempting it must have been to just stop here at this Jerusalem moment. So easy, now, to gather an army, to build a new Empire. This one would be based on love. He’d kick out all the connivers – the tyrants – the liars, cheats, and scoundrels – the devious, power-hungry war mongers – and create the kingdom of love. Can’t it exist somewhere on earth? Why not here? Why not in Jerusalem?
But he’d already faced that temptation. Clear back when he was in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus explored the option of gathering an army. He pondered it, for sure. But he came to realize that down that path lay worshiping Satan. Any kingdom that would kick some people out, no matter how awful they are, is not the New Jerusalem that he was meant to bring. And so, “being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)
When I was young, I went in for the idea of atonement, for the idea of the sinless Son of God taking on the sins of humanity and dying a horrible death so that we could be saved. These days I don’t think we get off the hook so easily. We are not meant to place the guilt of killing Jesus on our shoulders, nor are we supposed to understand God as a force bound by the rules of human limitations in understanding. God doesn’t need somebody to take on our sins so that we can be acceptable to God. God is in the very fabric of our hearts. God is part of the fragrance of human existence.
We don’t get to simply be deeply sorry for the ego consciousness that leads us to exploit, to murder, to ostracize, and to seek power and dominion. We have to change it. We have to die, like Christ died. He died to show us the way to be the seed falling to the ground and expiring. He died so that we understand the need for our own humbling to the point of death.
Every day, we are called to humble ourselves. This means emptying ourselves of the impulses and constructs that keep us separate from God and from the lush and wonderful world that we occupy. Every day we are called into the death of the Son of God.
So, standing with Christ in the town square where the adulation and the glory are, let’s turn around. Let’s turn toward that more profound journey, the path of loss and brokenness, the road that leads us to Golgotha – and to true freedom.