Dying to be Understood

Mar 25, 2018 by

Service for Palm Sunday 2018 by Bob Bond.

Children’s Time

Have you ever seen someone get picked on?  What was going on? … Why were they getting picked on?

  • Usually, it involves someone being seen as ‘different’ for some reason. I have witnessed people get picked on / put down / kept apart because of skin colour, because of language and culture and religion, because of developmental disability, because of physical size (i.e. being short, or big).
  • Also required, on the part of those doing the picking, is a need to feel superior (‘better than’) and secure and (seemingly) justified (for being ‘better than’ and ‘all secure’).

Have you ever been the one picked on?  What was that like?

Have you ever been the one (or among the ones) doing the picking?  What was that like?

The story of Palm Sunday and the eight days that follow is a story about Jesus being set apart as different (first – on Palm Sunday – by being celebrated, adored and prized(!)).  And then, when the rulers addressed their insecurity over Jesus, they got pretty well everyone involved in picking on him to the extent of crucifying him.

We go over the story again and again, year after year, to get it clear that all stories [not just Jesus’ story but all stories] of ‘being picked on’ go wrong (on their own energy).  Jesus is the best person ever and gets killed.  We get to look at him at each turn of the story, and watch it all go so wrong.  We are supposed to learn, from this, so that when the ‘picking’ is going on in our time and our place, we see that the one getting picked on is reflecting Jesus.  We get to think about how the one getting picked on is not the problem but is the solution to the actual problem.


 

Meditation

As you put your Valentines Day and St. Patrick’s Day cards away, and get ready to receive an Easter card or two, here’s a left-over Valentine’s Day card joke for you:  Cover – “What’s the difference between love and marriage?”  Inside – “Love is blind; marriage is an eye-opener.”

Now, you are saying, “It’s Palm Sunday … has Bond suffered a concussion or something?; what’s the matter with him?”  People, I’m actually on topic, because the silly joke tells a truth, and that truth casts light on Palm Sunday showing how it is – pretty much – a bad joke … for this one, donkey-back, heralded “King!” is six days later crucified, the sign over him still reading “King”.  Now let me explain myself.

“Love is blind”.  There’s a psychology-mechanism at play giving this statement of folk-wisdom its veracity.  The mechanism, I’ve talked about before, is called “projection”; it is certainly worth repeating because this transaction plays such a huge role in all our relationships.  “Projection”, just as the word makes you think, is all about what comes out from person A and gets layered on top of person B as A looks at B.  So there is “B”, and there is what “A” sees when “A” looks at “B” … and they are not the same thing.  The most direct way into understanding this is, in fact, using the scenario where A is in the process of falling in love with B.  Deep inside “A” (down in A’s unconscious), you see, is all sorts of stored-up material, the parts of which we’re considering right now are those about “what makes for the perfect ‘other’?”.  Some of this material comes from A’s childhood and family-life (in particular from mom and dad).  Some comes from neighbours and friends, some comes from stories and art, movies and plays and TV … the material is gathered from experience everywhere!  Now, in B’s appearance and sound and behaviour, there happens to be a thing or two that line up with what A is looking for in the perfect ‘other’.  All it actually takes is that “thing or two” for A to turn on the projector, and see ALL of it there, layered on top of “B”.  And with that, A falls deeply, madly in love.  The joke on A (which is to say the joke on all of us) is that the whole rest of that relationship (across time and shared experiences) is indeed an eye-opener for A because B is not that “perfect ‘other’”!  B is a real person, with all the complexity and all the faults and all the actual strengths and wonder a real person has.  So, yes, the rest of that relationship finds A getting to see, address and contend with what is actually there in B, just as B (who has every-bit-as-much projected B’s inner-stuff onto A) gets to find and deal with the truth of A.  Actual relationship is an eye-opener every-which-way one looks.

Jesus, whom we have watched make-his-way to Jerusalem over the past five weeks of Lent, is at Bethany just opposite Jerusalem, and today (as we read) enters the city.  There are volumes of truth about this man, truth that is admittedly hard to fathom.  Some of this truth he himself has been keeping silent:  Jesus has instructed anybody (and any spirit) that is getting ahead of the slowly-unravelling truth-of-him to be quiet about what they suspect.  But on the other hand, Jesus has been outspoken about lots of his truth.  Three times on the way to Jerusalem he basically knocked the disciples over their heads with what was to come upon their arrival; and they do not-at-all get it.  Not three times but incessantly Jesus preaches and teaches and heals people, heals nature itself, to reveal the broadest truth he has to offer – the truth about God and God’s kingdom.  Today, he is his usual thoughtful, clear, precise self in choosing his medium and message:  he stages his entry to Jerusalem coming up to the Eastern wall riding on a donkey.  Everything announced by the prophet Zechariah is thereby being broadcast for all to know:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!

Lo, your king comes to you;

triumphant and victorious is he,

humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

… [H]e shall command peace to the nations;

his dominion shall be from sea to sea,

and from the River to the ends of the earth.

The thing is this: as hard as Jesus works to make himself clear, make his message clear, make his person clear, that is only half of each-and-every relationship.  (Let us keep our wits fully about us, because it is the same for all of us, all the time.  As hard as you might work to make yourself clear, make your message and person clear, that is only half of every relationship.  If you are person “B”, the other half is what person “A” is projecting onto you.  And you have no control over that … it is “A’s” unconscious that is in control of all of that.)  What the crowd projects onto Jesus is fueled by so much!  They are in Jerusalem for the highest of their feast days.  What greeted them there? … overwhelmingly it was Rome that greeted them there.  Soldiers everywhere.  Pilot’s presence constantly in their face.  Taxes everywhere they turn, so much of it siphoned off to Rome.  They are sick and tired of being ‘put upon’.  So, yes, the thought of this one who – all the gossip says! – cares for the little guy, stands up to the powers that be, teaches with a kind of authority people haven’t heard before, heals with power people haven’t seen before, NOW PARADING INTO THE CAPITOL CITY, RIGHT INTO THE FACE OF PILOT, LIKE A KING! … well, everything that is wanted in terms of nationalism and religious supremacy, everything wanted in terms of freedom from Rome, gets projected onto this man.  “We’ve got our champion!”, all agree.  By the way, the matter of palm branches, made explicit in John’s account but which we project(!) onto Mark’s story when Mark tells how people “spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields”, [the business of palms] is a clear sign of the crowd’s projection.  The palm is a symbol of Judean nationalism, appearing upon standards during uprisings and revolts, appearing on Judean coins.  The palms announce exactly how the people want this story to go.

On Jesus’ side of the relationship with this great mass of people, oh-my-goodness!, just how misunderstood could his clear sign of the donkey become?  This was not the horse of a conquering king; this was Zechariah’s foal of a donkey signifying the king not of Judea but of all nations, a king not of warring but of peace.

That was on Sunday.  On Monday, says Mark, Jesus comes again to Jerusalem, to the Temple, and drives out the buyers and sellers, stops the merchandizing, teaching all at hand that this place is supposed to be “a house of prayer for all nations”. On Tuesday, says Mark, Jesus is confronted by the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders actively seeking a means to justify executing him; Jesus outmanoeuvers them with argument and in a parable dishonouring them.  Then come Pharisees and Herodians trying to catch him up; he summarily astounds them.  Then come Sadducees with dogma that Jesus simply dismantles.  In all of this, Jesus with characteristic integrity continues what he’s done all along:  he works to tear through the projections and simply – in truth – be seen.  Mark reports that, mid-Tuesday, one teacher of the law does put projection aside and engages Jesus in truth-seeking, which Jesus gladly honours and commends to others.  Jesus then goes on teaching the crowds, teaching the disciples, in particular preparing his followers for the times to come.  On Wednesday, Jesus is in Bethany, and there is the meal at Simon the Leper’s home, at which an unnamed woman anoints him with oil, and Jesus honours her for it.  Also on Wednesday, Judas Iscariot goes to the chief priests to betray Jesus.  On Thursday the Last Supper is arranged and shared, then come the Gethsemane prayer scene, the arrest, and Jesus before the Sanhedrin.  On Friday Jesus is brought before Pilate, is turned on by the crowd, mocked by the soldiers, and crucified.

I remind you of the drama to help you see it as Jesus’ incessant effort to be seen out-from-under everyone’s projections onto him.  And in this, let us be clear, the disciples are little better than anyone else … indeed, they are worse, because they were with Jesus for his whole ministry and still they don’t get it (they don’t get him).  In Mark’s account, it is the women who followed Jesus and provided for him ever since the beginning, in Galilee, who come closest of all to seeing (in truth) Jesus.

The Church in every age – individual Christians, and collectives sometimes as large as the whole – too often we have failed in this most basic of relational tasks by taking one-or-another favoured projection-onto-Jesus and running with it instead of doing what must come, if a relationship is to grow, and be confronted and changed by the person that is actually there.

So, for instance, there are those who grab riches, or grab power, or who pick on certain others, and claim the behaviour is aligned with Jesus.  These people are right there in the story:  they are Judas Iscariot.  I confess that sometimes I have been Judas Iscariot.

Less violently, there are those who ‘come close’ by catching solid glimpses of truth both in their head and in their heart, but who get tripped up – even denying the truth – in action-in-life.  These people are right there in the story:  they are Peter.  I am sometimes Peter.

There are those who seem to follow in Jesus’ way pretty well, but who – deep down inside – are looking for benefits of some kind in the end.  These are the sons of Zebedee.  I am sometimes James, or John.

As the spiralling of our lives continues, the hope in all our relationships, and (by our religious disciplines) in our relationship to Jesus, is that the truth of the Other comes to be prized more and more, our projections get put aside more-and-more, our Self gets changed / enlargened / more-grounded / closer-to-Truth more-and-more.

So, once again, people called by Jesus, the story of our Leader’s passion comes to confront us with Jesus’ truth.  You want to see God’s “king for occupied Jerusalem”? … here is God’s king, now listen.  You want to know about the kingdom of God? … here is God as fully at work as God can ever be seen or known to be, now listen.  Work harder than ever to put aside your projections (anything you’d want to see, or find, or have in Jesus).   Work to be out-of-your-own-way as the truth of Jesus comes to you, for you.  Now listen.

Passion Scriptures

The Lector reads from Mark 14 –

53They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” 59But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62Jesus said, “I am; and

‘you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power,’
and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”

63Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him.

One enacting Jesus reads from Isaiah 50 –

4The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

The People sing – “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray”

The Lector reads from Mark 15 –

1As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3Then the chief priests accused him of many things. 4Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” 5But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

6Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. 7Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. 8So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom. 9Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead. 12Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 14Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

One enacting Jesus reads from Psalm 31 –

9Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.

10For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.

11I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.

12I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.

13For I hear the whispering of many — terror all around! — as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.

14But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, “You are my God.”

15My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.

16Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

The People sing – “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray”

The Lector reads from Mark 15 –

16Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. 17And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

21They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. 22Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). 23And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. 24And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

One enacting Jesus reads from Philippians 2 –

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The People sing – “Stay with me, remain here with me, watch and pray, watch and pray”

Pastoral Prayer

God – Creator, Provider, Saviour – many in the world around us hold that you are nothing but the projection of our anxious and longing minds.  They deduce that we personify what we pretend to understand, making you in our image but bigger, projecting you up into the sky, and that then we play at relating to our own invention.

There is some truth in what they say, God.  Though the only possessable thing about you we’ve got is your name (“I am what I shall be”), in our art you look like us and in our stories you come across like us.  Forgive us for familiarity where mystery calls for awe.  In our prayers, we ask and we tell, as though it’s correct for us to control.  In our theologizing and our evangelizing, we can suggest we’ve got the market cornered.  Its no wonder the atheists roll their eyes!

This is a day when we would pray to become clearer and more honest about our projections than ever before … all our projections.  In relationship to you, O God, the ancient observation that “your thoughts are not as our thoughts; your ways are not as our ways” needs its day, every day.  In relationship to Jesus, if the discomfort of the disciples isn’t ours in his presence, then – sadly – we’ve layered him over to make him tame.  In relationship to one-another, if we are not growing in not simply knowledge and acceptance but enthusiasm and respect for all the amazing differences, divergences and diversities, then we are heading away from salvation when your invitation is to ‘turn’, ‘come in’ and find love.

God, we pray this day to have greater integrity than ever before as we cycle through Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter.  This past year, as a community of faith, we have surely come to see more clearly your kingdom as the un-kingdom – the opposite of ‘living off those below,’ where instead the so-called expendables are the honoured, the last are first.  We get it increasingly clear, too, God, that your kingdom is at hand, even as it was when first announced, just as it always will be, and if we cannot inhabit it now we ought not expect more later.  So, yes, this week when above all weeks ‘the Way’ of Jesus is right before us, grant – on account of all we’ve ever experienced and learned – that we do spiral inward toward the centre where Christ abides.

We pray for the world, for all who are picked on because of current operating principles, for all who suffer on account of any cause.  We think of people we know, people we love who are hurting.  God, may their identification with Jesus mean all that it can truly mean for them.

We ask these things in Jesus’ name; who taught us to pray saying, …

Benediction

Pick up your cross and follow Jesus.  This is not invitation, or direction, to go about seeking harm.  It is all about the great paradox of life, and love, within God’s creation.  For in spending oneself comes one’s fullness.  In surrendering, self is set free.  There is that of us which must die in order for new life (everlasting life!).

The blessing of God, the love of Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit go with you all, now and always.

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