Tag Archives: power

Palm Fronds and Tomahawks

Donald Trump has given every preacher a gift for Palm Sunday.  To prove he is in charge. he sends Tomahawk missiles on Friday and a Carrier Strike Force on Sunday. Meanwhile,  around the world, churches show a different projection of power. In many parishes a Donkey will have led a Palm Sunday procession through the neighbourhood streets. Power is displayed with a shout of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palm leaves.

Jesus the King enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. No gleaming escort or royal troops. No brass bands. No flags. No symbols of personal or national power. No Eagles with arrows in their talons.  No slogans of Peace Through Strength.  Just a dusty road, a borrowed donkey and peasants waving flora. He’s not very kingly with his talk of turning your cheek to be struck over and over and the idea that your neighbour’s life is as important as yours. God’s idea of the good life is very different from what we conjure for ourselves and set as the template for all.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, exhorts us to see the futile nature of sabre rattling and power projection. He makes us conscious that conventional munitions kill Trump’s “beautiful babies” just as tragically as chemical weapons.  He leads us to see the show of force is not really about beautiful babies but rather policy and alliances and national prestige. People don’t really come into it.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, only has love of God and love of neighbour to offer. The  Church has spun that into complicated theories of just war and Christendom where the state is God’s agent of order, justice and purpose. In reality those things are confessions of our failure to ride the donkey.  Just like the guy who asks, “Who is my neighbour”, we spark a parable about good Samaritans and the idea that citizens of the kingdom do not have enemies but only possible future friends.

Jesus sits in paradox to the kingdoms of this world and requires us to ask what is so special about our kingdom that it needs protecting with missiles and warships and sabre rattling rhetoric.

Donald Trump’s election (and the Brexit vote here for that matter) wasn’t because of racists, economic left behinds or alt right fanatics; though they are all factors.

What brought him to power were three national myths:

  1. Scarcity: There is only a limited amount of rights and opportunity and wealth to go around. If everyone has the same rights and access to opportunity it somehow takes away from me.
  1. Scapegoating: who are the people doing this to me? Corporations, blacks, women, illegals, gays. “We’ve been pretty tolerant of what they’ve wanted so far and now they want to take more. Well, the line is drawn here.” I genuinely believe people without a consciously racist or sexist bone in their bodies bought into this because it wasn’t about isms; it was about survival in a time of scarcity.
  1. Infinity is possible: We can consume in unlimited volumes and it will be keep coming. Yes, that seems to contradict myth one but it works on the following logic: there is infinity but my access to it is being blocked by all these other people who keep asking to have what I have in the same amount. There is infinity for me as long as there isn’t for others. White voters voted in their droves to restore their access to infinity because the scarcity was caused by people who they felt shouldn’t be in a position to cause it in the first place.

Jesus, the King on a donkey, didn’t believe these myths and neither did his mother. When she found out she was carrying him in her womb she sang the Magnificat which contains these phrases:

 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.   Luke 1

The Gospel of Matthew tells about the adult Jesus sitting on a hill with a bunch of others while telling them  how his kingship would turn the world upside down. The people who mattered were the meek, the mourning, the peaceful, the pure, the persecuted and those who wanted to be righteous. Jesus tells them if power is the starting point then we’re looking in the wrong place. If you want a kingdom guaranteed to create poverty, conflict and joylessness then follow the one with the proper parade and honour guard.

Jesus, the King on the Donkey, is a ridiculous figure in a ridiculous procession declaring a ridiculous Kingdom of love and a sacrifice. His power doesn’t teach the world a lesson, but instead saves it. His parade does not lead to higher poll ratings but rather to a cross.  This is a procession about our heart’s desire: palm fronds or tomahawks.  You can’t have both.





Not one of Us

Leaving that region, they travelled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there,for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.

After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. Anyone who is not against us is for us. If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded.   Mark 9

Earlier this week, I spoke about this passage at a midweek communion. It was hastily chosen and I talked about it off the top of my head.  As I read it I discovered it wasn’t the passage I thought I was choosing (feel free to shake your head in disappointment).

How good it is when God short circuits us in order to teach us something other than what we already know. What I found was a passage where Jesus escapes the gospel writer’s agenda and spin. He says something which is  hard for us qualify by saying, “well of course, what he really meant to say was…”.

We find these rogue passages around the issues that Jesus spoke the most about: power, money and relationship. No one makes official church doctrine around them and no one uses them as foundations for excluding others from the fellowship of a church congregation or the communion table.

Passages like this end up being aspirational conversations about what the Kingdom of God will be like.  They never, however, make it into our official conversations about who is in and who is out without a “but” somewhere in the sentence.

For his disciples the journey with Jesus seems to be about victory and success and the right order of things.  They are his friends and friends get benefits when other friends come to power.  While we often criticise the disciples for not believing enough, it is clear that they believe enough of Jesus’ message to begin counting their chickens before they’re hatched.

The intensity of the current debates in the Church of England have less to do about the gospel and more to do with who gets to direct the Church. While we pay lip service to passages like this one from Mark, we are told who are really disciples by the churches with the largest congregations, the most giving and shiniest clergy.  We are told that they are so successful because they are the most faithful. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.

And yet, I keep coming back to the inconvenient Jesus who has a knack for making me less comfortable with my own relative wealth and accommodation with the systems of the world by saying stuff like this. The one whose gospel left him friendless at his darkest time.

First, he brings out a child. A child in Jesus’ culture has nothing to offer except their potential. They have no status or traction or juice. He might as well have brought out a widow or an orphan. No one aspires to be these things. They are powerless.

Second, he rebukes them over the censure of someone who is not one of us.  Jesus points out that if someone is doing stuff in his name, and it bears the sort of fruit Jesus bears, then how can they not be one of his?  It seems to me that Jesus, in dealing with people who regularly don’t get what he is on about, is agreeable to us doing our best to bear good fruit despite our failings and corruptions.

All too often we are happy telling others they can’t be one us even though the name of Jesus is on their lips and their lives bear fruit.  Jesus assesses us on the fruit of our lives rather than personal piety and following the rules.  You can be a great evangelist, pastor, worship group leader and righteous dude or dudette, but if you lack the fruit that leads to justice and love then you’ve got nothing.

The apostle Paul writes that we work out our salvation with fear and trembling because following Jesus takes us to territory that was previously and is unchartered for us.  That’s why Jesus pointed out that to see clearly in this new land, we should make sure the planks have been removed from our eyes.  It’s also why he refused to give disciples the power to judge other disciples (or anyone else for that matter).

Rather than spending time deciding what our status will be and how we decide who can or cannot be a disciple, we should spend more of our valuable time asking Jesus why he let us be one.