I’ve spent a lot of time this week avoiding certain segments of the internet trying not to see pictures of atrocities I know are out there. There’s stuff in Ukraine, and then those babies that were murdered, and the video clips coming out of Shanghai. By scrolling really fast and squinting, I can generally discover what is going on without seeing the actual images. This, I know, proves my own pathetic cowardice. I’m not trying to defend myself. It is the same frailty that generates the pit in the bottom of my stomach when I’m reading through the Gospels—or Judges—knowing what’s coming at the end. The brutality, the violence, the degradation, the ugliness. I don’t want to face it. Knowing it will turn out ok mere verses later doesn’t make it easier.
But that is the story of humanity since the beginning. Violence, injustice, and ruin are the way it has always been though we like to tell ourselves that it is otherwise, that kindness is everything, and that working a little harder is all that’s needed to overcome the various troubles that plague us. If only we had decent rulers, a different system, other, better ways of thinking. What if, as some commercial for some kind of television program asks, everything we’ve ever thought about human history is wrong. A person leers into the camera and I scroll by because that’s ridiculous. We don’t think new things and do better. We do the same things over and over hoping for different results.
And so it is the beginning of another Holy Week, two thousand and more years after Jesus took his place on that colt, the foal of a donkey, and began to do a new thing, something, as the readings said last week, that would finally put laughter back into the mouths of the afflicted, and hope into the hearts of the hopeless.
But what is so curious about it, is that initially, this new work goes according to pattern. Observe the crowd on that ancient Palm Sunday. They groan under their misery and affliction as we do. They have had enough. They are exhausted by life. They are able to see, pretty clearly, as every generation does, all the things that are wrong. Corruption, intrigue, apostasy, exploitation, injustice, inequity, oppression. It’s all there. They know it and see it and understand it. And they want a way out. There has to be a way out.
And so when a good person who makes a lot of sense, who cares a lot about the poor, who distributes free bread and heals all their diseases, who really knows them and who they are, sits down on the donkey and begins to ride into the very center of all the trouble, it must mean that things are finally going to get better. Here is the one we’ve been waiting for, the one who will sort it all out.
I mean, imagine if someone came along this moment and listened carefully to your diagnosis of all the world’s ills, and then got up and pulled out his cellphone and began making some calls. And the people on the other end of the line appeared to be listening. And then later you saw clips of him on Twitter striding around the very epicenter of all your griefs and anxiety, like Zelensky and Boris yesterday, or whenever. Wouldn’t you feel hopeful? Wouldn’t you feel excited? Wouldn’t you retweet? And then post it in some groups? And text it to someone? The modern equivalent of throwing down your cloak and waving your palm branch in enthusiastic relief? Finally, everything is going to be ok. The shift, the solution is finally here.
But then that person betrays your trust. That’s the problem. The person you had such great hopes for suddenly turns around and instead of sorting out everything according to your diagnosis, he turns to you and says, essentially, you are part of the problem, if not the problem singly. You—I’m going to cope with you, with what is sending you down to the grave forever. That’s not what I’m worried about, you complain. I want the mighty to be held to account. I want Elon Musk to give up his income to buy housing for all the poor. I want a guarantee that there won’t be nuclear war. I want so many things.
Whereas Jesus wants me not to die, so much that he took all that I ruin and destroy and focused in himself and went to the cross instead of me. But not just me. Us—that includes both me and my enemy, me and the person I can see with my own eyes is destroying things that shouldn’t be destroyed, injuring people who shouldn’t be injured, breaking things that should be left quiet. It includes the corrupter and the corrupted. The abuser and the abused. The governor and the governed.
The trouble, year after year as I contemplate the crowd crying “Crucify Him”– a crowd of which I am a part no matter how much I desire to distance myself or turn away–is that it’s so personal. Jesus died for me because I am the problem. All my solutions only bring about more ruin because I, in the depths of myself, am the problem. And so Jesus rose up from his throne, and tied a towel around his waist, and laid aside his glory, and went to the outer darkness to triumph over the enemy who was dragging me down into hell. And I, I can only stand there, trying to look at his affliction that should have been mine, wanting to look away, wanting to hide, and yet finally accepting it. There is no other way. There is no other solution. There is no other news or hope for peace. There is no greater kindness, no more astonishing mercy. Don’t look away from him, for he is all you need.