So… onward, to Jerusalem, where the week begins with Jesus’ riding in triumphantly, lauded by crowds, and goes horribly, horribly wrong, ending with his brutal crucifixion. Jesus had been saying for some time that he must go to Jerusalem, where he will be arrested, tried and executed. Earlier, Pharisees had warned him to avoid Jerusalem, because Herod wanted to kill him. Jesus responded,
“Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’
The people of Israel had a funny relationship to their prophets. They revered them – and frequently sought to have them killed because they didn’t like their messages. Those messages veered between, “You’d better, or else…” or “It’s too late; you’re in trouble..” Amidst those, however, we can hear another kind of message from God: “I love you. I want so much for us to be together. If you might only do what you promised, honor me, honor each other…” But the people never could. How could they relate to such a fearsome God?
Philip Yancey offers an analogy to the incarnation in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew – he talks about how the fish in his fish tank regarded him with terror, even though he fed them faithfully, and kept their water clean and chemically balanced. His interventions seemed to them like destruction, and they fled to their hiding places whenever he came near. “To my fish I was a deity. I was too large for them, too incomprehensible.” He thought one day, “I would have to become a fish and ‘speak’ to them in a language they could understand.”
Only, it turned out that even when God came among us in a form like ours, those who were deeply invested in the old ways, who had gained power by fostering people’s fear of God, weren’t any more receptive. This prophet, too, must be silenced, eliminated.
How do you think you would have regarded Jesus in his earthly time? Would you have been drawn to his miracles and messages, or put off? Would you have gone to him for healing or forgiveness? Would you have been unsettled by the threat to good order he represented, or thrilled that at last deliverance from oppression might be at hand? With what aspect of Jesus do you most easily connect? Least?
Knowing how we most naturally connect to Jesus can help us strengthen the relationship, and balance it. And there’s no wrong answer, even if we identify with the Pharisees. We know Jesus forgave them too.