Saturday, March 31, 2012

Saturday in Passion Week

Jeremiah 18:18-23 / John 12:10-36

From reading current commentators on the Gospel, one might well imagine that Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem was a carefully staged set piece, a deliberate symbolic provocation, calling unambiguously upon the imagery of the prophet Zechariah: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion, shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem: BEHOLD THY KING will come to thee, the just and saviour: he is poor, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass. On this view, not only did Jesus know exactly what he was doing in fulfilling the prophecy which, by his Spirit, he had inspired Zechariah to speak centuries before, but he knew that the chief priests and the multitudes in Jerusalem, as well as his own disciples, would have recognized the connection. That is, he would have been making an unambiguous claim, at once his own proclamation that he is the Messiah and promised King who, as prophesied, would be among the poor and even poor himself, and, at the same time, a knowing and unavoidably provocative gesture to force the chief priests into action against him, thus fulfilling the death he knew he had to die. In this interpretation, no one was in doubt, everyone in the know, with each and all playing his part precisely according to script.

The Gospel itself tells quite a different story. According to the Gospel, at least the disciples themselves did not make this connection between Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and the prophecy of Zechariah until after Jesus had risen from the dead: These things His disciples did not know at first: but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written of Him, and that they had done these things to Him. In other words, while we can assert without hesitation that the Evangelist wanted us, the readers, to make this connection even as the disciples themselves, in the clarifying light of the risen Lord, saw how this entry into Jerusalem had been foretold so long before, we make a mistake, and potentially a dangerous one, in presuming that the works of the Lord will always be quite so apparent to us. Said differently, as hard as it might be to imagine that the multitude crying Hosanna to a man entering Jerusalem from the east on an ass did not have the prophet Zechariah in mind, or that the chief priests did not either, we ought to take the Gospel seriously here; they did not know, even as they were fulfilling what God had told them would happen.

Why does this matter? Have not all of the things prophesied by the Scriptures been fulfilled in Christ? Do we even need to wonder whether the events unfolding before us have already been given their right interpretation in the prophets? Indeed, is not that kind of prophecy hunting just the spiritual disorder that leads, if not to actual heresy, then often a failure to read the Scriptures aright?

While it is true we ought not to shoehorn contemporary events into the pattern of the prophets' words, it is also true that we must be humble about our knowledge about God's providential ordering of events, not merely in the past, but more especially of our present. Even though we see things now by the light of the empty Tomb, and so by the light of Jesus Christ risen from the dead, this is no guarantee that God's reasons and intentions, the proposal of his will, even when spoken of in his revelation, will be any more immediately clear to us now than the prophecy of his entry into Jerusalem was clear to Jesus' disciples, the multitudes, or the chief priests. What we must do, what we do whereby we will be judged and held accountable, is not the clarity of our insight into divine providence, but whether, here and now, we act in accord with the sincere promptings of the Holy Spirit, whatever the personal cost, or whether, to maintain what we imagine to be necessary for our happiness, we invent devices and think up thoughts, plot and scheme against those who stand in our way.

Whether we know God's inner counsels is never up to us or our efforts. Whether we act out of charity in accord with the truth placed before us is.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, itself remaineth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal.

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