|L’entrée de Jésus a Jérusalem, Corinne Vonaesch, 2001.|
Who is this?
The text this week finds this question on the lips of the whole city. Or perhaps it is the city itself that is asking the question. It is unclear who is asking this question. It’s equally unclear who answers the question. The text tells us the crowd replies,
This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.
It’s the most honest reply I can muster. It states the things that I know to be true about Jesus. He is a prophet. He has come from Nazareth. He is here now. Truly when I read this story and wonder about this procession, I’m not sure that I can say anymore than this. In this particular gospel, as Marcus Borg has pointed out, there are bold assertions of faith. In earlier versions of the gospel tradition, the healed walk away confused and the disciples are constantly befuddled. In this gospel, they claim faith that Jesus is indeed the Messiah — until now. Here they are not so sure. When asked who he is, when they are able to assert that radical faith at odds with Roman Empire, whoever they are in that crowd, they falter. They can only call him a prophet from Nazareth. It doesn’t really fit with their plea for salvation moments before, but maybe it was that desire that startled them. After all, who wouldn’t be overwhelmed from calling out for salvation like that? Who wouldn’t wonder if any one person can right all wrongs? Who wouldn’t pause to wonder,
Who is this?
This particular gospel wants Jesus to fit within a particular narrative. I can’t help but worry about this gospel author who so fervently believes that Jesus has to be the missing puzzle piece. He tries so damn hard to shove Jesus Our Square Peg into The World of Round Hole. It doesn’t work. You can try to shove our poor Jesus in there as hard as you want. He’s not going to fit perfectly. And this is why I love him. Jesus doesn’t really want to fit with the conventions that any one else might impose upon him.
It’s what I find fascinating about this procession which Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe so well in the book I cannot find on my shelves today. They are careful to describe the two processions that would have been happening at once in the city. Entering from the West is the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Entering from the East is Jesus straddled across a donkey and a colt. (Seriously, that’s ridiculous.) It seems that Jesus has planned this. He has sent the disciples ahead to get the animals. He’s prepared to mock the procession on the other side of the city. He wants to capture the imagination of the city. He hopes they will dream of another possibility, but it seems the city or the crowd or something gets stuck on him. They want to know more about him.
Who is this?
They want a leader. They want someone to show the way. They want someone to lead them. They want someone to point them in the right direction. And they want to know that it will be the right person. So, the question is obvious.
Who is this?
It’s the question I heard in this reflection on the Middle East. The columnist sees the need for a leader. It is that leader that will solve the problem. It is that leader that will assure the Egyptian people that they will indeed be O.K. They need a Nelson Mandela. They need someone truly amazing that will sweep in and show them the way. Well, that’s what happens in this ancient story. He comes from the East. He rides into town like the leader on the other side of the city — but I am completely unconvinced that he’s going to solve all of the world’s problems. Poverty, racism and violence still exist. There is still corruption. These things are not removed with this one leader. (Nor might I add is that true for any leader.)
Instead, Jesus Our Square Peg has asked us to see. Just before this procession, two men asked him to help them see. Jesus touches them and they find the sight to follow him. Of course, that’s the theological cliff. I don’t think that Jesus is pointing to himself. I think he’s point to God. He asks us to see God in everything. He asks us to use our imaginations in this procession. Play with power. Create a new order. Prepare the way. He challenges us to be our own leaders. He asks us not to worry so much about who he is — but who we are on the way to creating justice and peace.