What Kind of Messiah
By Charles Rush
March 24, 2002
Matthew 27: 15-31
received these by email this week…
How can a
stranger tell if two people are married?
You just gotta guess. See whether they're yelling at the same kids. --Derrick,
What would you do on a first date that was turning sour?
I'd run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and
make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns. --Craig, age 9
When is it okay to kiss someone?
When they're rich. --Pam, age 7
How would you make a marriage work?
Tell your wife that she looks pretty even if she looks like
a truck. --Devlin, age 7
How do you decide who to marry?
You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if
you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should
keep the chips and dip coming. --Alan, age 10. No person really decides before
they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you
get to find out later who you're stuck with. --Kirsten, age 10.
is kind of like that isn’t it. For almost everyone, no matter what you thought
you were getting into, what you actually got into is not quite what you
expected. For most of us there comes a moment when we have to make a break
through on that front.
I recall one couple that married right after they graduated from law school.
Their first several years were consumed by work as young attorneys on corporate
staffs. But several years later they started talking about having a family but
they didn’t get pregnant. It was no big deal at first because they were pretty
full, but at some point they went to see the doctor, then the fertility
specialist, then the very expensive trips to the fertility clinic, still
was a very difficult thing for them to talk about and they both had a lot more
emotions about it than either of them realized they were capable of having…
feelings of inadequacy that filled otherwise enormously successful people,
feelings of despair, irrational thoughts that they might be abandoned,
difficulty generating a basic joy for living, sometimes an undifferentiated
anxiety. They were there for each other but things definitely weren’t clicking.
More time passes.
day, this woman has a meeting, regarding a charity fund raiser event. She meets
another woman for coffee on a Saturday morning at the local coffee joint. They
talk about this and that. The woman she is meeting is about ten or twelve years
older, quite harried, with a lot of things going on. In the course of the
conversation she describes a catastrophe of her sixteen year-old daughter
figuring out at 5 p.m. that her shoes don’t match her dress for a formal dance,
and calling every one that she knows to get some mauve shoes, size 6B, shoes
appearing at the last minute… They walk outside, the older woman gets in her car
and drives off. She has a decal on the back that says Georgetown or Gettysburg,
where her oldest son is in school.
younger woman watched her drive away, got in her car, went home to an empty
house. Before she got out of the car her arms just felt leaden, her legs just
numb. She walked in the front door, straight over to her room, fell on her bed,
rolled up in a ball and started to cry for a future that she would not have and
a person that she would not become. She cried so hard, she didn’t know she could
feel that much… all over a stupid decal. She cried so much at one point she
almost scared herself. Ms. Accomplished, Ms. Control can’t plan this one thing…
and she wanted it so much now.
husband showed up a couple hours later. She was still puffy and he was worried
about what this meant. She told him the story of her morning. And then she
said, “I think it’s okay now… I had a vision, an unconscious vision, of who I
was going to become and what I was going to be like, and what we were going to
be like… and all of a sudden I realized, it was never going to happen. I have
to let it go.”
husband, among many other things that he said, responded, “And now we let go of
these visions and futures that other people gave to us and we forced on
ourselves, we can create our future and it is going to be ours.” Over time,
they worked through it and they adopted some beautiful kids, who won’t go to
Georgetown or Gettysburg… I like to kid them, they will probably go straight to
You get to these moments
and you have to make a decision. Eventually, they were able to work it on
through to the point that they are not only happier, but truth be told, a lot
more solid for having given up the inherited dreams a previous generation
forged for them, and finding their own new dream together. Great marriages are
blessed like that.
I would suggest that
Jesus forces us to a break through moment too, in a different way, a spiritual
way. The people welcome him to Jerusalem, the spiritual and social hero but he
leaves with quite a different agenda.
said that every era gets the hero that it needs in his book “ A Hero with a
Thousand Faces”. The book gives dozens of different examples from religions the
thought they knew what they wanted out of a Hero. Partly, they wanted then,
like quite a few want now, a new Joshua figure. Joshua is the hero of the
period of the conquest, a figure who is remembered for his moral earnestness
and consistency. He would brook no compromise with evil and he would brook no
syncretism with the people that lived around him. He went through the Promised
Land killing all those who worshipped the gods of Baal and caused the people to
have wishy-washy religious ideas about incorporating the best of every
tradition into one spiritual amalgam of their own making. Joshua would not have
attended Christ Church. He would not have liked your kind. But he had the great
virtue of clarity, though most people later recognized it as an adolescent,
mirky virtue. Someone reported to me that our women’s retreat last weekend had
to share the retreat center with some Christian Bikers. (Did Julie set that
up?) Anyway, these Christian Bikers had a bumper sticker on one of their Harley
Davidson’s that said “Truth, not Tolerance.” Joshua would have liked that.
Eradicate all those compromised people, all those dissidents, all those who
disagree with you. I suspect that the Israeli’s today secretly harbor this
desire. It is not the higher option but it does make sense when you no longer
believe that virtue is attainable in your lifetime and you just want a
cessation of violent conflict.
majority hoped for a savior like David, someone that would combine goodness and
power. They wanted someone that would ‘make straight the rough places’ and
‘mete out justice for the poor’. Someone strong enough to run out the hated
Romans and allow for the day when Jerusalem was so sought after that, in the
words of Isaiah, “people would flow from every nation unto its gates.” They
wanted an end to their oppression, a day when, in the words of the prophets,
“every man shall sit under his fig tree”, when they would “build houses and
inhabit them,” when they would “live to see their children’s children born.”
They wanted someone who would end the system of bribery, the legal chicanery of
being an occupied people, when justice would prevail across the land.
When the people
were cheering Jesus on his entrance into Jerusalem, that is the image they had
in their minds. That is what they wanted out of a hero Messiah, someone who
would not only throw off the hated Romans and restore their independence and
their reputation, they wanted goodness and power to kiss. And I think that is
what was behind the disciples when tipped off the authorities as to his
whereabouts. I imagine that enough of them were so convinced that Jesus would
rise to the occasion and assume the role of political/military/vindicator that
they thought they were priming the pump, so to speak. They thought they were
provoking a conflict where Jesus would show his true colors. This imagined
future ran deep. But it didn’t happen.
Instead he is
tried, convicted. He doesn’t fight back. He is unjustly killed. Cynical power
still rules the day. Compromised priests still run the Temple. The world
remains morally ambiguous, requiring us to make proximate judgments and weigh
relative merits. This is not what the disciples wanted and it is not what we
One by one they
slink away into the night, just trying to avoid any suspicion. None of them
shows up to testify on Jesus’ behalf. None of them plans a daring jail break.
None of them goes through the crowd trying to whip up popular support on Jesus’
behalf, seeking a pardon from Pilate. The dream that they had of the Messianic
rule wasn’t coming to pass. They were afraid and despairing. Probably they
could not get themselves to move any more than we can when our dreams come
crashing down around us. I suspect they were paralyzed with pity.
events that make up Holy Week, the spot light moves into ever constricting
focus from the great crowd, the disciples, to the women following Jesus,
eventually narrowing on Jesus all alone on the cross. We don’t get Messianic
triumph. What we get instead is almost a whisper, the last words of Jesus on
the cross, heard only by two thieves on his left and his right and the guard
posted to watch them all die. He says, “Father, forgive them, they know not
what they do.” We don’t get the hero that we wanted, just the savior that
we need. Throughout his teaching, even through his unjust trial and
death, Jesus embodied the spiritual power of forgiveness and the fellowship of
reconciliation. Christians later came to say that the Christ interceded on our
behalf, interposing himself for all of us. They recognized the deep spiritual
power of forgiveness that leads to reconciliation. They understood the power of
making the first step, forgetting about the very vital things that are at stake
and making the first step by dropping those things and keeping the focus on
healing the relationship. They got it.
Dorothy, Scarecrow, the
Tin Man, and the Lion come looking for Oz to grant them things that seem
impossible for them to have. Brains, a heart that feels, courage, and the path
home. When they finally find the great Oz, he billows bluster at them, cowering
them all into hushed fear. But the dog Toto is not impressed with the bluster
and pulls the curtain back, off stage, to reveal a little man pulling levers,
speaking into an amplifier. “Never mind that man behind the curtain” bellows
Oz. But Toto won’t let go of his leg. Turns out they don’t get Oz, they just
get a mayor from Kansas. But what a wonderful man he turned out to be, once he
embraced his compassionate humane side.
Each of them tell him what they want
and his response is so wonderful. He says to the Lion, who comes asking for
courage. “Why where I come from there are men who fight wars and they haven’t
any more courage than you have. But there’s one thing they have that you don’t
have. A medal of honor. I hereby bestow upon you the medal of bravery.”
Whereupon the Lion dances around and says, “put up your dukes, put up your
full of wistful longing, pleads for a way to go home. And the Good Witch from
the East says to her, “Oh Dorothy, you’ve always been able to go home.” This
season, as we reflect on the profound realities of betrayal, injustice,
brokenness and the spiritual power of forgiveness, may we too remember the way
home. May we too recover our simple, but deep humanity, and take the first step
towards reconciliation in love. And may God’s love be with you.
See Hero with a Thousand Faces
(Princeton University Press, 2nd edition, third printing, 1971), p. 316.
© 2002 .
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