RCL Year A The Church of the Holy Cross
Palm Sunday April 13, 2014
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.
What does that mean? It’s always seemed daunting to me. Something I can never achieve; something I don’t dare try for, because I’ll fail. Something I’m not sure I want to try for.
In the church where I grew up the narthex windows were huge. One of them was the Palm Sunday window, depicting Jesus going into Jerusalem. He sat on a donkey. People all around him were waving palm branches and praising him, worshiping him. It looked like a parade. But Jesus’ face was sad. Not like the object of a parade at all. As a child, I didn’t understand why. I wondered about it.
I saw as I grew up that all the pictures of that day were strangely contradictory. The people were always jubilant. You could almost hear them singing. But Jesus was either very serious or sad, or his face was turned to heaven in something like a “Why am I here? Please help me!” attitude. He was never interacting with the crowd. He wasn’t enjoying himself at all. This parade is not what he’d had in mind.
Those paintings and windows are a far cry from the parades we know, the celebrations and motorcades on the streets of our cities and in the movies and on TV. People riding in those parades are always waving at the crowds, always smiling, always happy, enjoying the people’s adoration. Presidents being inaugurated. Heroes returning home. Astronauts and Super Bowl winners.
Of course, as I grew up and learned more, I understood. The sadness in Jesus’ face foreshadowed his death. He didn’t want to be worshipped. The people were missing the point, taking the easy road, giving him all the authority to accomplish what they wanted. Making him someone he never sought to be.
But the contrast, the contradiction, stayed with me. Jesus was born to change people’s hearts; people wanted him to change the world. Now. In their lifetime. With little if any change in their hearts. It’s easier to lift up someone who will accomplish something for you than to do it yourself, especially if it requires the hard work of changing.
And so we see that having the same mind as was in Jesus is a tall order. It goes against much of our nature. We long for peace and harmony while we resist giving up power or influence or position that will break down the barriers to peace and harmony. We earnestly desire to share power with our neighbors, until we find our own power being whittled away. We think we have answers to problems and can be unwilling to bend to invite cooperation and compromise. It’s easier to wear a cross and worship Jesus than to invite change into our hearts and minds and into our world.
Not all the time. Only when the conversation begins to get uncomfortable for us and we imagine a future not of our making.
I know I’m being hard on us human beings. But we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re not right there in the crowd around Jesus.
In the first place, it feels good to be adored. We all respond to people loving us. Jesus fought that temptation in the wilderness, to be adored and to be worshipped. He was human. That temptation was real for him, and it’s real for us. But Jesus’ heart, or his mind, to keep the language of our lesson, told him the way to kingship was not the way God was calling him. He would always point to God, away from himself. The ego is too vulnerable to play around with power. It’s too easy to rely on oneself and forget to look to God for strength and guidance.
And we all know that to adore someone is just as dangerous. There’s a fine line between adoration and hatred. Should the person not live up to your expectations, that line disappears. And what, really, is in our mind when we merely adore Jesus? We fall into the same trap of neglect when we worship Jesus and name him Savior but stop short of the work of faith that will bear the fruit of our salvation. The change that must come into our mind to form it in the mind of Christ.
So what was in Jesus’ mind? How can that mind be in us?
Jesus, it seems, was always for the underdogs, the ones not in power, the people who suffered because they had no power. Lepers, beggars, the common folk; prostitutes, all kinds of outcasts and sinners no one would touch. And so we see that when we look toward the people who live on the margins of our society we are looking in the right direction. In our world they would be immigrants, even the illegal ones; criminals and those imprisoned wrongly; people on death row; people who have wronged us. But these are the people who are easy to forget. They’re the ones who make us uncomfortable because we will probably have to give up something to make a place for them. These are the people Jesus walked around with, and his mind and his heart were with them.
There’s something even more fundamental and more necessary to having the mind of Jesus: learning to forgive. Forgiving is at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus could not have gone through the time we call Holy Week with the grace he shows us if he had held on to anger, resentment, vendetta. I imagine he prayed constantllly asking God to set his mind to forgive. He was human, after all.
It’s clear we’ll have to resist or even reverse some of our natural human tendencies if we are to have the mind of Jesus. Not easy to do, and yes, we will fall short. But I believe intentions and actions can mold our minds. St. Paul has put the instructions into words for us. If we truly desire to have the mind of Jesus, God can build our minds and mold them little by little, day by day. We have our model, and we don’t have to do it all by ourselves.
To desire the mind of Christ to be in us we must first desire change to come within ourselves. We must resist the human tendency toward self gain and look to the good of others, especially those who aren’t equipped to provide for themselves a good life. We must desire to forgive, and forgiving can be the hardest of all. Reconciliation is the work of the people who follow Jesus. It’s the ministry Jesus calls us into.
How do we become like Jesus? In a thousand small ways – each of us has a list. I’ll give you some of mine. Every time we resist the temptation to argue a point from the selfish angle, just to be the winner; every time we refuse the temptation to hold a grudge or to make a decision based on a vendetta; every time we speak up in defense of something we know is right, even though the crowd is against us; every time we join with people to swell a movement that may seem to have no chance but that seeks to improve the lives of others. In these and other ways our minds grow into the mind of Jesus.
One caveat: We all know where these decisions led Jesus: to the cross. They are not popular decisions, and they may not win us many friends or make us the heroes of the parade. Especially forgiving will appear to others to be weakness, foolishness, just as Jesus dying on the cross appeared to the world to be weakness and foolishness. But we know also God’s affirmation of this kind of life. God has defeated the forces of abuse and neglect and vindictive actions forever.
The affirmation for those who desire and strive to have the mind of Jesus will not be a noisy parade. It will be a banquet where we share equally and joyfully all that God provides for us. And it will be a joy that can never be known except as we grow in our care for others. We will sit at a round table, so to speak: no one will be first, and no one will be last; no one will be left out or forgotten or neglected. Jesus was always looking to others; always pointing to God; always desiring the best for others.
As we walk through this last week of Lent; as we contemplate Jesus’ passion and his mind as he walked through that week, let us ask God to give us grace, that the same mind might be in us that was in Christ Jesus.
The Rev. Mary B. Richard