2017-4-9 "The Passion" Palm Sunday sermon from Matthew's Gospel

The story we just heard;… is commonly called ‘The Passion of Jesus Christ’.
The word ‘passion’ comes from the Latin, which can mean to experience extreme emotion, which is why we use it to talk about high levels of love or hate.
But the Latin translation for the word more specifically means to ‘experience suffering’.
Thus, the story is about Jesus extreme emotion of suffering.
A story of suffering that begins even before the horror of the cross.

First, Jesus’ followers, and Peter in particular, tell him that they will never desert him.
Yet, once he is confronted and arrested, they all do, with Peter being the worst example.
Jesus is betrayed in a larger sense by one of his trusted followers, Judas Iscariot.
That Judas ends up repenting and killing himself does not mitigate the pain Jesus felt.
Jesus is sent to the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas, who oversees a mockery of a trial.
Then finally Pilate, who wants to release Jesus, ends up caving in to political pressures.

These offenses and injustices are all forms of suffering even before the physical torture and abuse begins.
Eventually, Jesus is humiliated, beaten, and then crucified like a criminal.
What happened to Jesus was a total injustice by any reasonable standard given.
But more importantly, there is no doubt that he experienced excruciating suffering.

But let us not forget that Jesus himself was largely responsible for this.
Jesus made waves all along the way against the religious leadership he encountered.
He broke their rules,….insulted them as hypocrites,….and he even sometimes equated himself with God during his ministry.
Jesus then entered the holiest city of Jerusalem at its most sacred time of the year.
Once there, he continued to make trouble and leave himself open to what happened.

Its almost as if he planned the whole thing,…..which, of course, he did.
It was his calling to die for the sins of the many and then be resurrected after that.
All to show God’s love and forgiveness and mercy towards the living and the dead.
He was, in fact,…just doing what he was supposed to do,…doing his job, if you will.

When it came right down to it, there were lots of paradoxical opposites going on here.
And, of course, as paradoxes are…..they all end up working together.

The first, is that Jesus really did not want to do this terrible crucifixion thing.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we heard the agony and loneliness Jesus experienced.
He pleaded, not once, or twice, but three times to the Father to remove this task.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Jesus was frightened to death,….with good reason.

But that leads to the second thing going through Jesus’ mind during this time.
Here is where the attribute we seldom think of with Jesus shines through.
Here is where he shows just how brave and courageous he really was.
That in the face of what he knew was going to happen,…. he went ahead anyway.

When the guards came to arrest him,…..he did not resist and urged his followers not to.
When he was before authorities who held his life in their hands,…he gave no defense.
When he was abused and tortured and finally nailed to the cross,…no pleading came.

Mark Twain once said “Courage is mastery of fear,..not absence of fear”.
General Norman Schwarzkopf said “True courage is being afraid and going ahead and doing your job anyway”.
‘Doing your job anyway’,…. despite what terrible things might happen to you.

So while his followers gave up on him….Jesus did the job God gave him.
While others betray him,…..Jesus was faithful to the Father’s will.
While leaders exercised their political and religious power,….Jesus was submissive.
While soldiers mock his vulnerable weakness,…Jesus was braver than they’d ever be.

He overcame betrayal with faithfulness,..power with submission,…and fear with bravery.
To do such things in face of sure horror,…Jesus must have either been nuts,…
or he was certain of what he was doing and truly was who he said he was.

Maybe this idea of his courage will help us to honor him and have greater faith in him.
Seeing Jesus less a hapless victim and more a courageous person fighting against evil.
Defiantly facing injustice, political and religious tyranny, sinfulness, and even death. 
Not with weapons of power and might, but with a courage that ultimately trusted God.

In everyday life, we all suffer in various ways.
We are betrayed and forsaken, insulted and harmed by those with more power than us.
And we know that death will someday snuff out the life we have known.
In those instances in life, one can always fight with vigor against the forces of evil.
But in the end, Jesus shows us how to let go and put our faith in God.

Jesus knew the same fears and sufferings that we do, but he bravely acted in faith.
May we too be brave enough to face all our fears, but to entrust them to God the Father.