Jesus’ Last Week
The World As it Should Be
March 25, 2018 (Palm Sunday)
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana
Text: Matthew 21-27
For a moment, a brief moment on the streets of Jerusalem, we glimpse the world as it should be.
In the world as it is, victorious rulers ride into conquered cities astride a great war horse, or maybe riding a tank. Their mighty army flanks them, chariots and armor bearers, spear handlers and archers – or a miles long collection of armored vehicles and infantry in humvees, attack helicopters and fighter jets overhead.
In the world as it should be victorious rulers ride in on a colt, surrounded not by the weapons of war but by those who benefit from peace – the poor, the lame, the blind, the children, the seekers, the dreamers, the women.
In the world as it is, the victorious ruler marches into the city’s most holy sacred space and either destroys it – to show power – or co-opts it – to show control.
In the world as it should be, the victorious ruler rides his donkey into the sacred space and owns it for those who most need God’s presence in their lives. He lets in the lame, and heals them. He lets in the blind and brings light to their eyes. He lets in the children and allows them to dance, to play, to shout, to sing, to rejoice in a world filled with God’s favor, a world momentarily liberated from millennia of how it is, a world becoming how it should be.
Jesus leaves the temple as peacefully as he came – and the world as it is begins reasserting its ugly self. Yet Jesus never waivers. As the world as it is closes in around him, Jesus maintains a peaceful presence in the temple, he offers some of his most powerful teaching on care of the poor, the stranger, the sick and the imprisoned, consistently demonstrates humility and commands his disciples to love at the expense of everything else.
To love at the expense of everything else. To love as your betrayer kisses you in the garden. To love as a mob threatens your disciples with clubs, sticks, stone and swords. To love as you are whipped and spat upon. To love as the “world as it is” frees the murderous terrorist who embodies their values and places the one who humbly rode a donkey in peace, the one who embodied the world as it should be, on a cross.
Under the snow the flowerbed along my driveway slowly returns to life. The daffodils poke their noses through the snow. The phlox begins to green and the coneflowers send up new shoots. A few crocuses have put forth feeble blooms. The world as it should be slowly returns to life.
As the snow melts other patches of green also appear in the flowerbed – new shoots where, to my knowledge, I’ve planted no plants. I welcome some of these shoots – some of the plants I’ve planted have sent out runners over the winter, expanding the world as it should be. But I watch carefully, because other shoots represent the world as it is, aggressive weeds and grasses seeking to choke and strangle the existing plants.
In the weeks ahead I will put on my boots and my worn jeans and kneel in the mud to nurture a world that should be and seek to transform the world as it is. In the garden as in life this struggle remains constant. It can be all to easy to give up, to acquiesce, to let the weeds choke out the beauty; to comfort ourselves in the real hope of beauty to come. Or we can proclaim the weeds to be the garden, to proclaim the world as it is to be the world as it should be.
Jesus never acquiesces. He never gives in. He goes to the cross knowing what all gardeners know. Over time, if tended, if nurtured, the phlox creates a mat so strong, so beautiful no weeds can penetrate. Over time, if tended, the coneflowers put down roots so deep no weed can choke them and Blackeyed Susans, once established, will smother everything in their path. When we love at the expense of all else, the world as it is withers and dies. The world as it should be becomes real, becomes impossible to destroy.