My friend, Michael Hryniuk, has his PHD in Christian spirituality and Psychology, or something awesome like that. And he’s also a phenomenal spiritual director. And he tells the following the story.
He was teaching a class of masters level students in Washington DC, and the students kept asking during class: “Is this going to be on the test? Do I need to know all of this? Is this for marks?”
And Michael, this deep theologian looking to nurture the souls of his students, got a little tired of this question.
“Why? Why does it matter?”
“Well, because I need to get a good grade!!”
“Why does that matter?” Asking university students this question leaves most of them flabbergasted.
“Well, if I don’t get a good grade, I won’t be able to get into the doctorate program I want to!”
“Why does that matter?”
“Well, then I won’t get the good, high paying job that I want!”
“Why does that matter?”
“Then I won’t be able to live the lifestyle I want!”
“Why does that matter?”
“I need to provide my kids. I need a decent house. I don’t want to have to eat dog food when I’m retired.”
“Why? Why? Why?”
It kept going, until it got here.
“Well, I need good marks because I don’t want to end up living in a cardboard box under a bridge.”
“Well, why does that matter?”
“Because I’m afraid that I will be a failure.
If I’m a failure, I’m afraid that nobody will love me. I’m afraid that I will not be loved.”
Today we read about the crowds adoring Jesus. We even re-enacted them. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
I think the crowds were afraid. I think the crowds, in their joyous celebration of Jesus, were deeply, deeply afraid.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord is taken from Psalm 118. A psalm that intertwines God’s love enduring forever with cutting down our enemies.
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
10 All the nations surrounded me,
but in the name of the Lord I cut them down.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
It was written by a people in the midst of a struggle with very real enemies trying to kill them. Not pretend enemies like people who vote differently than you or your neighbours because their dog keeps going to the bathroom on your lawn. Enemies that would actually kill them. It was written looking to God for strength and leadership, looking for God to fulfill his promise that Israel will be a chosen people, blessed, God’s light to the world.
When the crowds were crying to Jesus “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of Lord,” they were afraid. The biggest military the world had ever seen had their boots to the throat of Israel. The biggest empire the world had ever seen was occupying Israel. The Romans were everywhere. Where was God? How can we be blessed with a boot to our throats? Has God given up on us?
Has God given up on us? Where are you God? There’s all this chaos around me, I feel lost.
But here comes Jesus! Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!
All their hopes and dreams came out here, looking to Jesus as their king. He will come and make things right. He will come and throw off the yoke of oppression. He will cut down our enemies. We will be saved!
It’s kind of like being in a lifeboat, and they were going to be saved.
Here, let me explain. I’ve said it here before, but I think it’s worth saying again:
If there was a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat was a lawyer, a doctor, a child, a stay at home mom and a bartender, and one had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?
It’s one of these terrible exercises where we start judging and classifying others and justifying the choices we make. Assuming nobody offers themselves, we would immediately look around and start proving why we deserve to be saved. I’m a mother. Kids are the future. I can do this and that and that is why I am important. Every decision we make becomes a justification for how we live.
We’re all in a lifeboat, deeply afraid that we are the ones who are going to be thrown overboard.
And this is not that far off to how we live our day to day lives. We come up with all sorts of reasons why we are important and worthy of love.
We do it with our sports. The Bombers win? We won! The Roughriders lose! Ha! You lost!
At our best, we compare about things that we do or don’t do. I’m a good boss. I’m a good employee. I’m a good parent. I’m a good child. I’m good at making money. I’m good at spending money. I’m a good hippy living off the land.
At our worst, we compare things like appearance, skin colour, gender, marital status, intellectual ability, culture, religion.
It’s this entire rat race proving that we are better than everybody else.
Why else do we spend thousands of dollars on clothes? Why else do we compare how big our TV’s are? Why do we get so mad when people cut us off? Why do parents brag about how high their toddlers can count or how little TV they let their kids watch? Why do we make fun of people when they have old cell phones or put spoilers on their mini-vans? I am important. I am more important than that person. I should be saved. I am worthy of love and life.
Because we are all in a lifeboat, and we are all deeply afraid that we are going to be thrown overboard.
The Israelites were afraid of getting thrown out of the lifeboat. Their identity was wrapped up in one of God choosing them and being blessed, but their experience was something very opposite. They felt that they were the ones being tossed out of the lifeboat. Being occupied by a superpower kind of messes with your mind a little bit.
But look! We’re saved! We won’t get tossed out of the lifeboat! Here comes Jesus! And look! He’s riding a donkey! Just like it says in Zechariah!
9 Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
And that text comes right after a prophecy pronouncing God’s judgement on Israel’s enemies.
8 But I will encamp at my temple
to guard it against marauding forces.
Never again will an oppressor overrun my people,
for now I am keeping watch.
They were thinking: God will punish those who oppose us. They will pay for all the pain they’ve caused us. God will drive the Romans to the sea. God is on our side. We will win. We will not be thrown out of the lifeboat!
Jesus, the king, is coming, and never again will an oppressor overrun us, for now God is keeping watch. We no longer have to be afraid. We will not be thrown out of the lifeboat!
But they were wrong. They missed it.
Jesus approaches the city of Jerusalem on his donkey. And he cries. He weeps for the city.
“If you only know what will bring you peace… You’re can’t see it. You’re missing it. You’re going to get destroyed, because you did not recognize God coming to you.”
You’re afraid. You are looking in the right place, you are looking to God and to me, Jesus, but you are letting your fear rule and are missing the point.
You’re looking for a king, a conqueror, someone who will come and defend you, someone who will stick up for you at the expense of others, someone who will drive your enemies to the sea, someone who will prove that your fears were right. You’ve missed everything I’ve said and done for the past 3 years. You are living in fear. And it will destroy you.
The people worshipping Jesus with palm leaves were living in the house of fear. And he wept because of it.
Moving from the house of fear to the house of love starts with this: Do not be afraid.
We read the phrase: “Do not be afraid” over 50 times alone in the Old Testament. It’s spoken to Abraham, Hagar, Moses, the Israelites, Joshua, David, Elijah, Daniel, and all sorts of kings.
The same thing occurs in the New Testament.
An angel appears to Zechariah, and says: Do not be afraid.
An angel appears to Mary: Do not be afraid.
An angel appears to Joseph: Do not be afraid.
An angel says it to the shepherds: Do not be afraid.
An angel appears to the women when they find the empty tomb: Do not be afraid.
Jesus says it to his disciples after walking through a locked door: Do not be afraid.
The apostle Paul hears it: Do not be afraid.
Even the book of Revelation, when John sees a vision of Jesus, the first thing Jesus says is: Do not be afraid.
Do not be afraid.
Your identity is rooted in the love of a creating, redeeming God. Do not be afraid.
Even if you live in a cardboard box under a bridge, you are loved. Do not be afraid.
Even if you are worried about being thrown out of the lifeboat, do not be afraid. You are loved.
You don’t have to live in the house of fear. Jesus invites us to live in the house of love.
John 15:4 “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”
But this identity of being beloved even if we are living in a cardboard box under a bridge is incomplete if it stops there.
It should lead us to fruitful living.
John 15:5 “If someone remains in me and I in him, they will bear much fruit.”
This is why Jesus was weeping. The adoring crowds were right in worshipping Jesus. But they were wrong in their expectations.
It starts with our identities as God’s beloved. But it ends with how we love others.
About how we serve.
About how we consider others better than ourselves.
About how we do to others what we would have them do to us.
About we do our best to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly.
The last shall be first and the first shall be last.
One of my favourite authors said this week “I would say that the powerful, revolutionary thing about Jesus’ message is that he says, ‘What do you do with the people that aren’t like you? What do you do with the Other? What do you do with the person that’s hardest to love?’ . . . That’s the measure of a good religion – you can love the people who are just like you; that’s kind of easy. So what Jesus does is takes the question and talks about fruit. He’s interested in what you actually produce. How do we love the people in the world that are least like us?”
Luke 9:23-24 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
We don’t lose our lives for ourselves. We lose it on behalf of others.
Kind of like Jesus this week. Losing his life for others.
The good news is that we believe in something more powerful than evil. We believe in something more powerful than death. We believe in something more powerful than fear.
We believe in Jesus. In God with us. With all of us. Regardless of our beliefs or perspectives or actions or failures or mistakes or sins or opinions.
It’s this belief in Jesus that helps us move from the house of fear to the house of love.
And we do this in full trust that God is telling us to not be afraid, that we are beloved, and because of that love we will have more and more love to give.
“If you alone find inner peace, thousands around you will be saved.” St. Seraphim of Sarov.
So ride on King Jesus. Nothing can hinder thee. We are not afraid. We believe in you. We believe in love. Come and fill our hearts with peace. Ride on.