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Throughout John, Jesus has talked of his hour to come. Today’s first text announces its arrival. It debuts along with a curious parable spoken in the aftermath of a coming out parade.
The crowd is amped up. They’ve witnessed the sign of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes which then were used to feed 5,000+ people. They saw the sign of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. It’s as if they’re whipped up into a frenzy, like sharks in blood-strewn waters. They wave palm fronds, a sign of nationalism, like waving a flag at a rally or march. They see Jesus as the King – come to free Israel from the Romans, come to deliver the people of God from the hand of their adversaries, come to make all things new for them. In 2018, we might imagine the crowd adulating in front of Jesus, shouting in chorus a nationalistic proclamation such as “Israel first!” or “Make Israel Great Again!” It’s a highly charged, hyper-politicized scene. All too often we tone it down, cheapening it by eliminating the inherent nationalism, militarism, violence, and unruliness that are embedded in the story.
By his actions, Jesus declares what sort of King he is and will be. He does not ride in on a stallion or warhorse but on an everyday beast of burden. His actions, when reflected upon through the scriptures of from Psalm 118, Zechariah 9, and Zephaniah 3, announce a radical vision of universal peace, power with, and the knowledge of God. Those in the crowd expect a different kind of insurgent. They want one to throw off the yoke of the foreign oppressors Rome, but to do so in prioritizing their national fervor, faith, and customs. His vision doesn’t match that of the people, hungering for liberation from all others, power over their enemies and for all to know that they are the chosen people of God. Yet within a few days, the fickleness of the crowd, and the smallness of their hopes is revealed when they renounce Jesus, and in doing so renounce the God they claim to serve, saying we want no king but emperor Caesar (John 19:15). It’s the ultimate act of self-serving idolatry. They want the victory, represented by the palm branches, at any cost. Yet Jesus talks of life through death, victory through defeat, blessedness through renouncement. John alone put this parable about the seed that must die to sprout, in the mouth of Jesus after his massive public accolades following the raising of Lazarus.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation