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Lectionary Living

Who's your daddy? (Matthew 21: 1-11)

Ever have your boss tell you to do something and you are the one who ends out looking stupid? Well it happened to the Nats’ catcher, ‘Pudge’ Rodriguez, last Tuesday. Some back story: Rodriguez is a forty-year-old catcher, and catchers (built solid and low to the ground) are as slow as molasses. Rodriguez was on first, he’d hit a solid single, and Ryan Zimmerman was at bat. So far so good for the Nats. There were no outs, it was the top of the third, and it looked like they had a chance to score early in the game. Here enters the manager, who calls for the hit and run. This means that Pudge needs to take a big lead and get to second, and that Zimmerman (good for the long ball, but not so much for reliably placing the well-hit grounder) has to hit the next pitch, which turns out to be up and away. So Zimmerman swings and misses, Rodriguez, on his way to second, is tagged out, looking for all the world like an out-of-shape guy who stupidly tried and failed to steal second. The Nats lose the early chance to score and eventually lose the game (7-2); my guess is that the demoralizing effect of the manager decision in the third inning was the beginning of the sorry end that night.
It’s demoralizing to try hard at something and then come up short due to poor leadership. That’s what all the excitement was about on what we now call Palm Sunday – the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, mocking the many previous processions of leaders into the town with their fine chariots. People were so excited that they put down palm branches and cloaks before him. Here finally was a leader who would make all things right, with whom they would not look stupid but successful, and Israel would become the light of the world, fulfilling its true destiny.
Well they were 100% right and 100% wrong. They were completely wrong in their assessment that Jesus would insure their success. By Friday of the same week, their leader would be dead on a cross, the most humiliating and painful death the authorities could inflict. The people who had been so excited to see him would abandon him during the trial so that by the crucifixion, only a small group of women (who had less to fear from the authorities, who did not consider them a threat) would be there at the foot of the cross. Jerusalem was a trap; Jesus and his followers looked more than stupid, they were complete failures; death on a cross was a sorry end that night.
The story, though, is a lot like the Nats story Tuesday night. Jesus only looked like a loser. God was calling the play, and Jesus was true to God, and true to himself. Even under the pressure of the week – knowing what was coming, for he was not stupid – and through the garden of Gethsemane, the arrest, the beating, and the mock trial, Jesus stood firm. He spent the week reviewing with his disciples the basic tenets of the faith: love one another, serve one another, and forgive one another. He clearly articulated his position to the judge, Pontius Pilate, that his kingdom was not of this world. He stayed calm in spite of the increasing chaos and impending darkness, clear in his mind about what he was there for, and what God had given him to do.
So the Palm Sunday crowd, in the long run, had it right. This was the leader that they had been looking for. He is the light of the world, and he is making all things right, in this world and the next. The challenge to us is to see it, believe it, and live it: following the call of a manager who may tell us to do some odd things.
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