PALM SUNDAY OF THE LORD’S PASSION – “That’s No Lie”
March 28, 2010
Luke 19: 28-40, Isaiah 50:4-7, Psalm 22:8-9, 17-20, 23-24, Philippians 2:6-11, Luke 23:1-49
Our annual 40 day retreat has ended. Now we start a Holy Week a time to commemorate the paschal event, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We reflect on how these events affect our lives and all that goes on around us.
This sacred time begins in the wake of the passage of the Health Care Reform bill. That historic event took place at the end of Sunshine Week, a national initiative to move the public, you and me, away from accepting government secrecy. If you watched the House debate last Sunday or the Senate proceedings during the week, if you tuned into Fox News or MSNBC, if you listened to talk radio, you might ask yourself two questions. Who is telling the truth and who is lying?
While the big news in our country focussed on the Health Care Reform bill, news from across the globe rocked the church in Europe and Great Britain. Words like pedophilia, transparency, secrecy, power and control found their way into headlines in Germany, Ireland and the Vatican. Talk of lies and cover-ups spread quickly.
Our government speaks about transparency yet meetings are held behind closed doors. Our church talks about transparency yet secrecy still reigns in high places. Transparency even with one another — between spouses, partners, children, and parents is often elusive. Consider how often any one of us might lie to advance our own agendas.
Let us not be naive. Human beings have always tried to get the upper hand over one another at whatever cost. Even the disciples in today’s gospel were trying to outdo one another. One of the most mean-spirited ways to do so is to discredit the other party, to vilify that group or person’s name, to lie rather than tell the truth.
All of these situations remind us how hard it is to know what is true today. Is telling what is true a lost virtue? Do we live in a culture where lying has become an acceptable norm or tactic? And, you are asking by now, what does any of this have to do with Passion Sunday?
We can’t be fooled. The passion and death of Jesus was a political event. The religious and government leaders did not know how to deal with a Jewish prophet who was stirring up trouble by exposing the falsehoods perpetrated on the people by their own leaders. They had to find a way to discredit him and get rid of him.
In the passion of John Jesus is interrogated but he does not lie. His accusers said he blasphemed, opposed paying taxes and started revolutions. These allegations were false. The crowd was asked to choose between Jesus and Barabbas. Frightened by the authorities they selected a violent, murderous thief over Jesus. When asked if he was a disciple of Jesus, Peter became afraid, he lied and said no. The crowd watching Jesus die on the cross mocked him, scoffed at him for impersonating the messiah. Somewhere along the line they were misled. The people including the disciples had no idea about who he really was; that he was interested in their welfare; that he wanted them to have better lives untainted by lies, power, control and greed. In this gospel story they rejected Jesus. They rejected the one we believe to be the truth.
The paradox of today’s liturgy is apparent in everyday life. Goodness and evil live side by side. Truth and lies come out of the same mouths. Words like moral behavior and rationalization have become synonymous. The crown of thorns, the whips, the cross are all intertwined with the empty tomb. We stretch out the holy days but Jesus’ death was his resurrection. At the same time he reached the lowest point in his life, somehow the Spirit did not leave him. He rose up again.
Dying at the hands of the rulers he broke the cunning bonds of deceit and dishonesty. Some say his death was inevitable, part of the plan. If he knew this in advance the human side of him might have tried to wiggle out of it. But, Jesus wasn’t a wimp, he had a purpose. He was not afraid to tell the truth; he remained faithful to his convictions in the face of humiliating lies and a torturous death. Jesus was totally transparent which made him vulnerable. Maybe that is why some people do not want to be transparent, because it exposes them, it tells the truth about them.
The ways in which we are engaged with the wrongs in society and our church provides sparks in the night. We still have to sort through the muddle, the lies, the half truths, the scare tactics that deny vulnerable people a right to live in peace with justice. In our psalm today we asked God not to abandon us. Maybe we are the ones who abandon God like those in the gospel today.
We are called to live our lives by seeking and telling the truth, by holding each other accountable, by respecting one another even as we disagree, by treating each other in a civil manner. Jesus did all of these things to his final breath when he cried out to God, “Into your hands I commend my spirit!” And, that’s no lie.