If Jesus were to arrive in Victoria today, how do you think it would be?
Would he zoom in with a group of bikers, with crowds rubber-necking and shaking their heads as he went by?
Would he show up in a battered old VW bus with his disciples hanging out the windows or riding bicycles alongside and a peace sign tattooed on his forearm?
Would he catch the ferry in from the mainland, and hitchhike into town, arriving without fanfare or much notice?
Or would he start a parade down Government Street surrounded by disciples and crowds who just like to be part of a parade, whatever it is? Maybe there’d be some children, cheering him on, while their parents desperately try to hang on to them so they don’t get lost in the crowd. Where would you be, would you even notice, if Jesus arrived today?
If you were among the onlookers, how would you react? Just another protest in a government town – don’t mind them. Or would you wonder what’s going on? Would you ask? Would to try to hear what he’s saying?
Where do you think he would go? Would he stride up the Legislature steps and give a speech? Would he take a detour to Glad Tidings or Christ Church Cathedral and toss around the offering plates – maybe tip over a pulpit or communion table or even smash a paypoint machine ? What do you think he would say if he entered a house of worship today, in Victoria, in Langford, right here?
After the procession and the protest where would he go? Would he and his disciples head on down to Our Place or Rainbow Kitchen for a hot meal? Or would they stay a little ways out of town, maybe at Gordon United, for Community Dinner night. And if they showed up here, how would they be welcomed? Would they get a place to sleep, or end up camping in the bush? Would someone offer to have them all stay over, sleeping on floor and couch and spare-room bed wherever they could find room?
When I read the story of this day in Matthew’s Gospel, those are the things I wonder about. I don’t wonder about what that day was like back then – goodness knows enough movies have been made re-enacting that scene for us to have some idea what it might have been like. I wonder what it would be like now. I wonder whether I would notice he was here. I wonder whether I would be one of the cheering crowd, or one of the disinterested onlookers, or one of the people offended and outraged by his incursion into our special place, our sacred or secular temples. Maybe I’d be all three – disinterested at first, then intrigued by what I’m hearing and seeing, and then angry and shocked that this guy I was beginning to believe in would behave in such a destructive manner!
We want our heroes to be squeaky clean – and at the first sight of something we don’t like or don’t approve, we can be downright vicious in our disappointment. Certainly, that’s what happened to Jesus – a few days after this story we hear today. The crowds turned, and the palms were ground underfoot, and the children’s voices were silenced, and the mob and the occupying military and the powers who didn’t want their way challenged took over.
It makes me wonder, too, about the other prophets who come our way: people whom we might laud and cheer at first, until their message or their actions hit too close to our wallets, our lifestyles, or our values. Maybe you can think about some people like that. I know I can. Sometimes it’s sheer fatigue that makes us turn away. “Not more bad news!” We think to ourselves. Or, “What can I do about it? The problem’s so big!” or “But that’s the other side of the world; I’ve got my own problems to look after.”
The thing about Jesus though is, he’s not bringing bad news – at least it’s not bad news for most of the people. It’s bad news for a few, who have set up their whole lives around a certain understanding of who God is and how we should worship God, not to mention those who only worship their own power and the power of those stronger than them. For them – maybe for us sometimes too?- , the upside-down, power-in rather than power-over, justice not ritual, mercy not punishment, world that Jesus is proclaiming probably does sound like bad news. But it’s really good news for them too – because God’s love encompasses all, the lowly and the powerful, the unjust and the just, the stickler and the slacker, the sinner and the saint.
Jesus will soon teach us all – each one of us – a lesson about kenosis – self-emptying. The more self we have, the more wealth we have, the more security we have, the more power we have – the more we are asked to give away. That’s why the good news comes harder for some than for others. For those at the bottom, to be lifted up is tremendous news! For those near the top, to have to take a few steps, or many steps, down the ladder and meet our brothers and sisters in the middle of God’s merciful kingdom – well, that might be a little harder.
I want to invite you this week to pay just a little more attention to the parades and protests and speeches that happen so often in our city. I want you to listen to what they are saying, and whether perhaps you might hear the voice of Jesus in their words and in their actions. Then think about this day in the life of Jesus, and ask yourself, in relation to Jesus, on that day long ago, where would I want to place myself? And given that, where will I place myself in relation to these other voices, some of whom may be speaking words that Jesus wants us to hear? Is there some of Jesus’ good news, some of the Gospel, being spoken? And how will you and I respond?