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A Messiah of Contradictions

Holy week begins today. It is a week that should disturb us, break us out of our complacency, our detachment, our illusions. If you dare to walk all of it, you will find yourself confronted with life itself and all that life brings in its unvarnished reality: life and death, love and hate, despair and hope, celebration and mourning, power and helplessness, loyalty and betrayal, passion and fear, selfishness and sacrifice.

The journey takes us from palms, to foot-washing, to communion, to prayer, to betraya,l to prison, to beating, crucifixion, death and finally resurrection. Each Gospel tells the story a bit differently, and there is much scholarly debate about what happened and what didn't. However, whether these stories are literally true or not is beside the point. The point is, how do these stories help us understand who Jesus was, and what he was about? And how does his path help transform us spiritually?

The celebration of Palm Sunday brings to mind the words of a Christmas song:  “We’re looking for a king… the new Messiah”

And Jesus gave them a Messiah, but he was a Messiah of contradictions.

In the Gospel of John (and only in the Gospel of John) we find an interesting sequence of events, intentionally laid out by John to have imact, to show us exactly who Jesus was and what his “take home” message was.  

You see, the Festival of Passover was coming, the celebration of the Hebrews freedom from captivity in Israel. Thousands of Jews made a pilgrimage every year to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate this feast. What a perfect day to stage a processional into the city!

Keep in mind that the Jews weren't the only ones coming into the city. It was standard practice for Roman governors to be in Jerusalem with their soldiers for any major Jewish festival to keep the peace. So, there would have been a significant presence of Roman authority, just like we see a police presence at any large rally, or protest, in the states.

We know that Jesus was an amazing spiritual leader, but he was also politically savvy, and either had a great marketing person on his team, or he himself knew how to hook the people. And he hooked them with a donkey! Good Jewish folks would immediately see the reference to the words of the prophet Zechariah who proclaimed a triumphant, victorious, yet humble king would someday ride into Jerusalem and have the power to end war and destroy the instruments of war.

It seems the masses mostly ignored the humble part and saw only Majesty, Savior, Prince of Peace, Lord of Lords, King of Kings… all the titles used for Caesar! They were so very ready for a kingly messiah to take the place of Caesar, overthrowing the great Roman Empire and freeing the people from oppression.

But if the donkey was the hook, only a few select people were there to see the punch line… Jesus washing the feet of his disciples!

Aside from some cryptic conversation about his upcoming death, this is the very next event in the Gospel of John. From palms to footwashing.  It’s one thing to imply humility by riding into town on a donkey’s colt instead of a war horse, but it is quite another to perform an act of humility that no one can ignore or misinterpret.

And there is no question washing feet took a great amount of humility (and maybe a strong stomach). I know some folks have food fetishes, but seriously, feet are not the most attractive parts of our bodies. They are prone to warts, bunions, callouses, blisters and fungus! People walked around on dirt roads in sandals. It’s easy today to wash the dust off our feet, but in Jesus’ time it took a basin of water and a servant if available, or you washed your own feet. 

Anyway, Jesus’ washed his disciples’ feet – much to Peter’s dismay – and then made to spell it out for them just in case they missed his point. “Do you understand what I have done for you? You called me “Teacher,” and “Sovereign” – and rightly, for so I am. If I, then … have washed your feet, you should wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:12-14) And this includes doing this for people you are not on good terms with, remember, even Judas had his feet washed.

This type of humility makes an impact. It joins us instead of dividing us. It acknowledges our shared humanity. It is an act of compassion and acceptance, and has the ability to touch us, and move us. This is who Jesus was, this is what he was about, and this is the spiriutal message for us that has the power to transform our lives.

Love & Light!