Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday : Assumptions And Consequences

Today is Palm Sunday.

We make assumptions about Palm Sunday.

We see Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, a crowd of pilgrims throwing down their cloaks to make a carpet and waving palm branches and identifying him with messianic expectations...and assume that, out of the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims swelling the city to bursting-point for Passover, that just five days later these same pilgrims are whipped-up to call for Jesus to be crucified.

That’s a huge assumption. It allows us to wonder at their fickleness, and either take pride in our own steadfastness or worry about our own fickleness.

But what if, out of all those in the city that week, different people responded to Jesus in different ways? What difference might that make, to how we read the story, to how we allow the story to read us? Might it challenge the assumption that Jesus didn’t have to have died, if only those people had been less fickle?

We see Jesus in the temple, turning the tables and driving out those selling animals for sacrifice, and hear Jesus accuse them of turning the house of prayer for all nations into a den of robbers...and we assume that they are charging too much, exploiting the poor. But the Gospels don’t say that it is money that is being robbed. There is no textual evidence – biblical or otherwise – to suggest this.

Another huge assumption. It allows us to caricature the Jews as wicked, making a profit on access to God. We would never do such a callous thing.

Animals for sacrifice were sold to pilgrims who needed them. A range of sizes, in order to provide for the poor as well as the wealthy. There is no textual evidence to suggest exploitation. What does appear to have happened was that the tables where these transactions took place had spilled over from outside the temple into the Court of the Gentiles, the (only) part of the temple non-Jews were allowed, the place of provision for all nations to pray.

The consequence of an attempt to ensure access to God regardless of socio-economic background was a denial of access to God on the grounds of ethnic background. What difference might that make, to how we read the story, to how we allow the story to read us? Those things we do, in order to increase access to God – who do those very actions (unintentionally) exclude?

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