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Reflections on the Sunday lectionary readings

How Does Growth Happen?

Isaiah 50:4-9a  •  Psalm 31:9-16  •  Philippians 2:5-11  •  Luke 19:21-46, 22:14-23:56

 

A lot can happen between a Sunday and a Thursday. Palm Sunday, where this week's story begins, is a festive parade-like affair. Everyone (except a few grumbling Pharisees, worried as always about what the Romans would think) is enjoying the day. Jesus is riding a donkey, and the crowds are celebrating while they follow him into Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.

 

By Thursday, Jesus and his small group of loyal disciples are in hiding to observe the Passover. Gone are the crowds and gone are the accolades. Jesus remains firm, however, in his loyalty both to God and to his disciples. He says that he has been looking forward to sharing this meal with them, ending the meal by telling them to remember him whenever they eat together.

 

All of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one may know the feeling of loss that can come at the holidays, and particularly at a holiday meal. All of us may also know the feeling of gratitude and closeness that one may feel at these times, towards the person who has died, and also towards everyone gathered in the room. In some way, it is almost as though the loved one, or his or her spirit, is somehow captured in the room, and is still part of the group.

 

These two days, the one involving crowds at a parade and the other involving an intimate group of friends gathered for a holiday meal, are two different sides of what happens when human beings get together. The parade is somewhat like spectators at a sporting event, with everyone joining in the fun and chaos of cheering for their team and jeering at the opposing side, without having to be there in any way for each other after the event is over. The groupthink of a parade or a sporting event does little to stir individual growth.  The holiday meal is very different: an intimate setting of people who know each other well and are responsible to one another.

 

In an intimate setting, each person has a chance to know the others and to be known by the others. It is in this setting that Jesus remains calm and clear about who he is, and what he is going to do. For any of us, it is only in relationships that we can come to know ourselves and what we stand for.  The one constant in the story from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday is Jesus, firm in his resolve to be true to himself and his beliefs, come what may.

 

Jesus died for being himself. He died for his loyalty to God, which led him to taking a principled stand on many issues. He would not keep silent when religious leaders put heavy loads on the people, claiming it to be God's rule. He would heal on the Sabbath. He would not condone an armed insurrection against the civil authorities, instead preaching a message of peace on earth. He insisted on love for God and for one's neighbor – a radical idea, then and now.

 

Peter, on the other hand, while declaring his loyalty to Jesus, is unable to act on the idea, denying him three times. It is hard to fault him, with the chance of his own crucifixion possibly on his mind. Under the smallest of pressures to conform to the group, it is easy to lose one's supposed principles. Consistently taking a position within one's family or community can help to deeply and thoroughly embed one's best thinking into one's self.

 

This week's reflection:

 

Luke 22:26-27 But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

 

Morning: What are the principles I wish to live out today? How are they different from the world's expectations? From the way the world, or my friends, family, and colleagues, may see things? How can I stay connected to them while operating from my own principles?

 

Evening: How did my principles show up in my life today? What difficulties did I have in staying true to myself?

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