Jesus, stay in your lane

Published 6:39 pm Tuesday, April 7, 2020

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By Charles Qualls

The splendor of Palm Sunday was all too quiet for most of us. Oh, try as folks may with all manner of drive-in and internet “church,” nothing can truly substitute for gathering together. Watching children process down the aisle and waiving palm branches. Singing the songs of our faith while listening to a room filled with live instruments. But, I trust we all did the best we could.

Matthew 21: 1-11 gives us our backdrop for Jesus’ triumphal entry. Then, and now, the world was probably looking for something more. If we’re honest. Jesus rode in on a donkey and they were looking for chariots. His manner was humble and they were probably looking for pompous and ceremonial. But, they trusted that he was doing the best he could. So they got excited and cheered for him anyway.

If we dare to pay attention after Palm Sunday, this is a busy Jesus we are following toward Easter’s victorious tomb. We like this Palm Sunday Jesus. He is playing to a big crowd, everyone is jubilant and all is well! He is simply coming in, headed to a showdown with the authorities. His power has been demonstrated earlier that day, even as he instructed the disciples as to what they should do ahead of them. Then it was so, and we are impressed. It all led to the parade entering into Jerusalem. Just as he had said. We like the busy, active and wise Jesus.

Can’t we be fickle sometimes though? Some of the same people who are waving palm branches at Jesus and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” may well have been the very same crowd who would turn on him mere days later. They would soon be some of the ones calling for Jesus to be crucified.

That’s because we don’t like the heavy Jesus as much. The one who steps over into our business and challenges us in places we don’t want to be challenged. We want Jesus to stay in his lane. We prefer he receive the adoration of the crowds and be the grand marshal of our Easter parade. Maybe clear a bunny or a sheep out of his lap so that a small child may be allowed to come and sit on his knee. That’s the Jesus we like.

Instead, this busy Jesus still has work to do. Heavy work. You see, if we borrow from Luke’s account, this Jesus has “… set his face toward Jerusalem.” So, in these next days he will teach and challenge the locals as a man who knows his last days are upon him.

Right after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he will overturn the money-changers’ tables in the Temple and then curse a poor fig tree. Whenever I suggest to someone that Jesus’ anger here was instructive, they resist. They’ll prefer to play semantic games, because an angry and frustrated Jesus in his very season of Passion is not what we want to see. They’ll insist he was instead “righteously indignant.” They’ll observe that a divine Jesus would never have been angry. They’ll philosophize that to be angry is to lose control.

Unwittingly, they are suggesting that our Lord didn’t even know how to die right. I was talking with someone whose father is slowly dying. Meanwhile, his spouse of now more than 60 years is still nagging and insensitive to his dementia. She tries a corrective approach, rather than an understanding and compassionate one. The person observed, “This is the way it’s been with them for 60 years. With her, he can’t even die right.”

In a world that longs to be entertained rather than formed, and to be pacified rather than to be instructed, here came Jesus. Not political enough. Not showy enough. Not military enough. Not dynamic enough. When he did get puffed up, we hide that very Jesus and instead venerate the happier, gentler Savior. Then, and now, he probably couldn’t even die right.

Try this instead. Let Jesus be who he was at all stations of the Passion. Follow him this week, no matter what street he goes down. No matter what cause he takes on or what group he challenges. Don’t rob him of his strength of conviction, and don’t water down his energy. How can we take seriously a Jesus who did those things that come next, right after Palm Sunday, and confine him to having done so with a smile on his face?

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.