... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Palm/Passion Sunday Year C
Message March 24, 2013

Hope: Tempters by three


Some of us here this morning – maybe all – might recall those times as students when exams weeks began. For some weeks leading up to that week there were reminders by the teachers that we ought to prepare – most usually shrugged those off as teaching doing due diligence. However the final week of classes often as not became a time of the surreal as it dawned that within the next 7-10 days the year would be over, exams completed and one’s standing determined. That week marked a transition from the denial to the dread from the apathy to the anxiety. The following days would be filled with cramming, late nights, little sleep and guilt ridden –“why didn’t I do this weeks ago?” sentiments. Today is that transition. The weeks of Lent have been the warning period for preparation, the next 6 days will see the trials and by this time next week it will be completed.

As we celebrate the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem we are keenly aware that this is also the beginning of the dreadful events which will culminate on the cross at Golgotha. We are familiar with the Passion story – we have heard it many times. Yet every reading brings something new. Most people would probably prefer the Passion narrative as reported by Matthew Mark or John as portraying more of the dramatic more of the ethos, of horror or more of Jesus’ cry of dereliction. Luke’s rendering is more subdued, less emotional and less gut wrenching. Despite this it remains very theological offering great insights into who Jesus is and what He does.

From the scene in the upper Room with his disciples to the taking down of his body from the cross, Luke shows Jesus as being not only above sin and in control, but offering the world an alternative to the sin-filled present.

In the Upper Room at supper, Jesus quells a dispute among the disciples as they jockey to see who is the greatest among them. He offers an alternative to greatness by turning the world’s view upside down. The greatest must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves” True greatness and true leadership doesn’t come from strength or superior knowledge or from age: it comes from how one relates to those around you. Most people despite all the hoopla of the sports world – the Grey Cup, the Stanley Cut or so on cannot tell you who won what trophy 20 or 30 years ago. However, ask them about a favourite teacher and they can recall some grade year and what was so memorable. Yes, people will remember the great leaders for their gifts, great scientists for their discoveries, great heroes for their deeds of valour. But these remembered fondly and with deep emotion are those who helped nurtured and gave of themselves to help others.

Luke shows Jesus, despite all that is about to unfold to be the nurturer the teacher the servant and the innocent one who is obedient to God’s will. Whether at the assembly of the Sanhedrin or at the palace of Herod, Jesus’ deportment remains as a model of one completely in control. The chief priests and scribes are the ones who never quite get it. They are seen as hot headed, quick to jump to conclusions and slow to get things right. The temporal leaders Pilate and Herod, while seeing Jesus’ innocence and acknowledging that, still cannot surmount the desire of the multitudes. By his very presence and demeanour Jesus has extended an alternative and Pilate seems about to avail of that; but at the brink of change he fails, capitulates to the will of the people and falls back into sameness of the past.

Humanity even in the presence of the divine cannot change itself and so God must act to do for us what we cannot do ourselves. And so Jesus’ ministry must continue to the end: and it ends as it began by his being tempted in three spheres of his being – his weakness, his strength and his desires. And as in the beginning in the wilderness so at the close – Jesus remains faithful.

As Jesus was tempted by the devil at the outset just after his baptism, he is likewise tempted on the wilderness of the cross. This time the devil is seen in the person of the leaders (religious leaders of the day), the soldiers and one of the criminals. The leaders mocking Jesus state, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also said, “If you are the king of the Jews save yourself! And one of the criminal derided him saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” Jesus’ strength was his relationship to God as Messiah and the religious leaders tempted him in that strength just as Satan had tempted Jesus to jump off the pinnacle and be saved by the angels. The soldiers in their scoffing tempted Jesus in his weakness – King of the Jews just as Satan had tempted him to turn stone to bread. Jesus had indeed asked to lead but it wasn’t as a regal leader but as a servant. The final temptation by the criminal was in the desire Jesus’ mission had been to save the world – to have the world come to him – save yourself and us was the final goal, but not as either Satan or the criminal would have it.

And while this shows the frailty of the human condition and the sinful state all is not lost! Luke counters these temptations with a glimmer of hope – 3 glimpses in fact, one from a religious leader one from a soldier and one from a criminal. Luke’s sense of balance is one element we have against our propensity to jump to blame whole segments for the actions of a few. The last temptation by one of the criminals is immediately countered by the rebuke by the other criminal – do you not fear God?” Then turning to Jesus asks him to remember him. All is not lost – someone has seen through the veil and realizes who Jesus is! The second temptation by the soldiers is now countered by the second statement of realization by the centurion, “Certainly this man was innocent!” This statement hearkens back to Pilate’s declaration of Jesus as being ‘not guilty’ and highlighting the guilt of humanity but the promise that the guilt might yet be overcome by Divine assistance. The third statement of Jesus’ identity and rebuttal of the temptation comes from one of the religious leaders – the righteous man Joseph from Arimathea. This statement was by action not words. He took the body and placed it in a tomb. Those who were crucified were never placed in a tomb or grave – those resting places were for the rich and innocent. Joseph by his action proclaimed Jesus rich and innocent. And so Luke leaves us with our sin, but a kernel of hope and a spark for the possibility of the alternative to be kindled.