The season of Holy Week is a reason for contemplation. After Palm Sunday follows the universal celebration of the passion of Christ, in what is also known as Silent Week. Christians everywhere consider the humiliation and rejection of the Lord Jesus in the week that preceded his resurrection from the dead. Within a week public opinion turned from enthusiasm and celebration into condemnation. The power-brokers in religion and politics rejected Jesus as a failed prophet. Were they right to do so?
Take Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist preacher. He was successful and preached for five thousand people every Sunday. That is what we want to. Or even better: Billy Graham. He had a hugely effective organisation with technical equipment that most national broadcasters could only dream of at the time. Graham preached to millions, made movies and sold books. He was the spiritual counsel to many American presidents and was respected in all churches. It paid so be seen with Billy Graham.
You cannot say the same about Jesus. According to the theologians at the time he was no good. The initial crows that he drew walked away when his real message became clear (John 6:67), which was considered far-fetched, if not preposterous. Jesus’s organisation consisted of mostly unlearned people of low social class. No prayer-breakfast with Jesus in Rome, or Jerusalem for that matter. The fact that it was the financial expert, the treasurer, who betrayed Jesus to the authorities, shows that something must have been rotten in the state of Palestine. Even his most faithful followers deserted during Holy Week. Left without any supporters, Jesus was ridiculed, spat at, beaten and, finally, with loss of control of even his own bodily functions, tortured to death in public on a cross. Not just and ill deserved, but a failed career as a prophet it seems.
People who treat the Christian faith in this way, are not able to keep Holy Week. The sacred has disappeared, because man does everything. We are in control of our own religion. We cannot be troubled by the Divine silence, because we are occupied with the sound in the religious market below. Also our life balances in between “Hosanna” and “Crucify,” depending on whether Jesus supports our decisions and plans.
These are ancient considerations. The early Church was confronted by Greek philosophers who said that Jesus should have had more success. Celsus objected that Jesus went contrary to the Greek ideals concerning men of the gods. Instead of kings, professors and financiers, he attracted fishermen, women and Bogans. Porphyry insisted that after his resurrection Jesus should have shown himself to important people, like King Herod, governor Pilate and the Jewish Sanhedrin.
Making ourselves gods after our own image and likeness; it is a problem of all times and places. Romulus, founder of Rome, changed the opinion of the gods for them so that he could become king. We also like to decide God’s view for him. Holy Week shows that God’s value system and hours are very different, at best (cf. Isaiah 55:9).
The final Judgement will not consider salary, fame or exit polls. Only one Opinion shall count. A cup of fresh water for a thirsty soul will count for more than making career as Chaplain to the Queen (Matthew 10:42).
When I served as a chaplain in health care, an elderly lady who had completed a centennial, often quoted from the words of Our Lord: “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)
Jesus did not come to meet human standards for success, but to do the will of his Father (Psalm 40:8-9), especially in Holy Week. As Son of God he was more qualified, more just and more educated than any person on earth. Apart from humiliating and unjust, it must have been extremely frustrating. No justice and pragmatism with the authorities, while hypocrisy and lies triumphed in religion. Has the world changed in any way, I am tempted to ask if I observe what church leaders and politicians continue to do; and often in God’s name?
The theologians were so blinded by their own ideas that they were prepared to have the Son of God, incarnate, killed. Nietzsche was right after all. “Gott ist tot! Und wir haben ihn getötet!” It is in fact, quite easy to banish the concept of God from our thinking or adapt him to our ideals and values.
In Holy Week we are drawn, with awe, to the unspeakable love and goodness of God. He responds to the worst wickedness of men, with the Best he has to offer.
Had it been up to us, we might have started the judgement on Jerusalem not in AD70, but on Palm Sunday. With Peter we reject humiliation, suffering and death on a cross as inferior theology (Matthew 16:22): “You should not think that way, Lord!” But then again, the Door to the Father would have failed to open.
Fortunately we are not in control of the Christian faith. True religion is not made below, but Above.