Monday, April 2, 2007

Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ chose to suffer pain before going up to joy, and crucifixion before entering into glory, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find this path to be the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

The Gospel reading for Monday in Holy Week is from John 12. The Three-Year series includes the first eleven verses, which includes only the events in Bethany. The One-Year historic series includes the first 23, bringing us to the meeting of Jesus with the Greeks. Technically, this Gospel is part of the Palm Sunday gospel, if the John account is used.

In John 11 Jesus had miraculously raised Lazarus, declaring himself the "Resurrection and the Life." This is the third recorded raising from the dead in his ministry, and intentionally carried out at this critical moment. He is on the verge of going to his death. Thus, it is a foreshadowing of the Easter resurrection to come in one week.

However, this miracle also serves to create two opposite reactions to Jesus. On the one hand there is a surge in His popularity among the Jews. Some were purely curiosity seekers. But many, we are told, "believed in Him." The religious leaders, on the other hand, have seen this growing popularity and they panic. What if the Romans learn of this and interpret it as open rebellion? What if they retaliate and destroy their Temple and nation? The rabbi must die!

To this point there have been multiple attempts to arrest and assassinate Jesus. This sentiment did not evolve over night, and has been brewing for three years. However, with the Feast in Jerusalem bringing in record crowds to the city, and the presence of Roman troops and leaders, toleration of Jesus has reached its limit. He is an unacceptable risk to the status quo. Spies are recruited to track Jesus. The final plans for his execution are taking shape.

Meanwhile, Jesus spends a restful day in Bethany dining with his friends Mary, Martha and newly raised Lazarus. At the dinner Mary took an expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus' feet. Judas protests the supposed 'waste' of this costly nard when it could have been sold and supposedly given to the poor. Here we have another foreshadowing of what is to come. Judas greed becomes evident again, a greed that will serve as a catalyst to the eventual betrayal to the religious leaders later in the week. And this is done in stark contrast to Mary's actions, which unknown to her, becomes a sign of the anointing of his body for burial.

Following this time in Bethany, the crowds that heard of Jesus' miracle, streamed in to meet him at the city gate in Jerusalem. They were pilgrims to the Feast of Passover, one of the three feasts that required a pilgrimage to the Holy City. Breaking from his avoidance of public appearances even as recently as the end of chapter of 11, Jesus now comes into the city openly and in royal fashion. The pilgrims chant "Hosanna" and call upon him as the "King of Israel." It heightens the fears of the leaders, but it also sends a clear signal to all: Israel's true King has arrived, but not as one to conquer the occupying Romans, but as the Prince of Peace. Palm branches are enthusiastically waved as symbols of victory. Even as Jesus marches to his suffering and death he does so on a triumphant note. This will not be a defeat, no matter now others will view it. This is the victor's parade in anticipation of the defeat of sin, death and the devil himself.

It is clear that despite the leader's resolve to quiet him and keep him away, the people still come out to find him and be with him. The Greeks inquire of Phillip: "Sir, we want to see Jesus!" The power of his presence, the living Word of God, draws "all men unto himself." Again we see the future when the resurrected Savior will send his disciples "to all nations" to baptized and teach.

Terrible agony and pain and suffer looms heavy on the horizon, and Jesus is aware. He is troubled as he thinks of its approach. But it is not a time of fear or defeat. The account for this day ends in triumph: "The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified," Jesus proclaims.

There are still mixed reactions to the coming King even today. With the holy days upon us, major news magazines typically run special articles that gather together liberal scholars to call into questions the truths of the scriptures. There seems to be in our time a concerted effort to tarnish the Faith through popular movies and books, to confuse the gullible and uninformed. Yet the faithful still come to Jerusalem. The Greeks still seek to see him. And no matter what his evil enemies plan to do, they cannot rob the cross of its power to save, or keep him from his victorious resurrection three days to come. The time has come again for the Son of Man to be glorified. But we glory this week in the cross, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. Yet for us it is and always will be God's power and God's wisdom.

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