The Third Third

The Good News (?) of Palm Sunday

It was Palm Sunday.  Time for the Good News:  *The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Matthew 27: 1-54* was read by parishioners standing in the chancel, speaking the various parts.  The congregation played the crowd as directed, shouting *“Barabbas!”  “Let him be crucified!”  “Let him be crucified!”  “His blood be on us and on our children!”* My mind wandered.  (After 63 Palm Sundays, I know the story, after all.)  And then it settled on the idea of political discourse in the first century, A.D., when this text is presumed to have been written.  If you pay attention to the subtext, it’s an interesting, albeit disturbing, echo of political discourse today.  We’re told “the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd” to ask for the release of the convicted criminal Barabbas and the crucifixion of Jesus.  So, when Pilate asks whom he should release in accordance with local custom, the crowd dutifully yells, “Barabbas.”  He asks then what he should do with Jesus, and the crowd, as prompted, says “Crucify him!” Pilate persists, “But what evil has he done?” and the crowd does not answer; it stays on message: “Crucify him!”

I thought I might be watching Fox News.  Or Jon Stewart.  You know, when the people who represent us – in Washington, in our state capitals – don’t answer the critical questions, but merely repeat the text provided to them by party leaders.  With the power of the Roman Empire at stake, there was no time or place for meaningful discourse; the chief priests and elders felt they had to strike; they had to win.  Again, the parallels are uncomfortable.  The Republicans, believing themselves anointed by the electorate in 2010, seem to feel compelled to strike now at all they despise about a government that serves any interests but their own.  They sense the power structure from which they derive their identity, their status, their fortunes, their meaning, may be at risk; and rather than entertain any new paradigm, any new ideas, any shared, collaborative solutions to the enormous challenges we are confronting, they crucify it all with a simple-minded mantra like “We’ve got to live within our means.”   If they lose their grasp on power (and history says they will), it won’t be because their political strategy failed; rather, it will be because our fragile economy, relentless joblessness, endangered environment, huge debt, intractable poverty, flawed educational system, broken health care system,  growing chasm between the rich and the poor, the specter of injustice, and wars on multiple fronts require more than frenzied crowds and simple sound-bites, more than politics as usual.


As depressing as these thoughts were, coming to me as they did in church, where I might have hoped to derive some peace, I drew some comfort from the fact that our politics today are not singularly polemical and misguided; it may have always been thus.  On the other hand, if, over the course of 2000 years we have learned nothing about fruitful political discourse, well, then, that’s not very Good News at all.

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