mini-homily preached at Church of the Ascension, Silver Spring, MD
in the midst of Luke’s Passion Narrative
by Josh Hosler, Seminarian
Sunday of the Passion: Palm Sunday/ March 24, 2013
Judas decided not to tell Jesus he had sharpened his sword and brought it along. It seemed like Jesus might object, and Judas really needed him not to object. After all, Jesus had tens of thousands of devoted followers in town for the Passover feast. If he asked them to, they’d rise up and take the city from the Romans. Then they could buckle down for the real fight! There would be a siege, of course, but if Jesus could feed 5000 people with five loaves of bread, that wouldn’t be a problem. Before the year was out, the Jews would have their country back, and their Messiah as King! So Judas kept his sword carefully stowed, and he waited.
On the Sunday before the Passover, the gang rode into town. People started laying palm branches at the feet of the donkey. It was the weirdest demonstration you’ve ever seen, because there was no dissent within the ranks. No troublemakers, no conflicting agendas, no need to reach for Judas to reach for his sword. The people adored Jesus. They were ready to make him king; it was as if they were waiting for a cue. Jesus’ little stunt against the money-changers wasn’t it, though. It did upset a lot of people, what with Jesus running around smashing things and shouting, “God is not for sale!” But the authorities didn’t make for him then because they were so shocked. They actually allowed him to stay in the temple and teach. Teach? Was this revolution ever going to happen?
See, Judas worried that demonstrations of humility and minor acts of vandalism might not have the intended effect. It was then that he realized he should have been not just the treasurer, but also the PR and marketing guy. He had friends among the Pharisee higher-ups, and he always had the big picture in mind. Jesus needed a handler, and Judas would have been the best person for the job. For one thing, he could have converted all those rambling parables of the Kingdom of God into useful sound bites. Judas was a do-er … he couldn’t stop doing. But Jesus didn’t want Judas to do anything like that. So in the end, Judas took his game elsewhere. And everything unraveled pretty quickly after that.
Did Jesus knew how all this would shake out? It’s hard to say. But here’s one thing Judas just didn’t understand: that week that Jesus rode into town, trashed the temple, told his final parables, and called his friends together for a meal … that was the beginning of the end of religion. That might sound confusing, so let me clarify. By “the end of religion,” I don’t mean the end of communities of faith. We will always need places like this where we can worship God and organize to help the poor, who are still with us. We need to keep practicing, because at our best, we help reveal little pockets of the Kingdom of God. When the Kingdom comes, it slips in quietly, through the back gate. But it can never come into being until we’ve put away our swords.
We also need to get together to keep telling the parables—those rambling stories that can’t be reduced to sound bites. There was no way for Jesus to give us his message directly, as if God were some sort of mathematical formula. So through his stories, Jesus planted seeds in our imaginations. He left pearls, treasures for us to find … but we don’t find them when we don’t want to look. Jesus mixed his yeast into the dough. Will we let the dough rise? He invited us to go fishing, and he showed us how much sustenance we could catch if only we were hungry enough. Are we hungry enough? Are we paying attention?
If Judas had been paying attention, he would have seen that Jesus didn’t just tell parables. In the end, first by giving us bread and wine and then by submitting to everything that happened afterward, he became a parable.
And so it ends at the beginning. The end of religion means the end of oppressive, arbitrary rules and the beginning of a deeper relationship that put the rules into greater perspective. It means the end of dogmatically dictated sacrifices at the expense of the needy. It means the end of the anemic systems we create to try to “get right with God,” like: “God, if you do this for me, I’ll never do such-and-such again.” And arguments about who’s in and who’s out. And even the fear of death. Jesus’ time among us was a little taste of the day when there will be no dissent or oppression, because we’ll all learn to relax into God’s love and relax into loving each other. On that day, we’ll all understand that God truly has given us everything we need. I wonder if Judas understands that now? I hope so. I hope he finally came around—even through despair and on the other side of the grave, I hope he found the arms of his friend Jesus warm and welcoming.