meditations on Holy Week (1): Jesus the radical

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week, the remembrance of Jesus’ last pre-resurrection week of life on earth. A full one-third of the four accounts of Jesus’ life (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, together making up half the New Testament) is solely dedicated to Holy Week. Its events make up our gospel, our good news (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). Without it there is no hope.

Something you’ll soon notice when you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John – particularly the accounts of Holy Week – is that Jesus was an absolute radical. People who have not read these books, Christians or not, often entertain ideas that he was nice, friendly, sociable, or polite. This is simply untrue. Respectable people would have been cautious about inviting him to dinner, and rightly so. He was less like a teddy bear and more like a roaring lion; less like a sympathetic therapist and more like a lightning storm.

“Palm Sunday” = Luke 19:28-48

If Jesus does not offend us, we are missing something. Read the gospels and you’ll soon see. In reality, Jesus is the most offensive man who ever lived. His names in this passage are Lord (verse 31), and King (verse 38). That means Lord and King of you, too. He is so worthy to be worshiped and adored that if humans fall silent, inanimate rocks will without hesitation take up the song (verse 40). His claim on your life is total. You owe him not a penny less than your entire existence; you were made for him (Colossians 1:16). He says: the standard is perfection. If you don’t meet the standard – and I am the Judge – you deserve nothing from me but “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I came to bring a sword, not peace (Matthew 10:34).

Imagine if you saw an impoverished-looking man parading through the center of Washington D.C. with a crowd of similarly unsophisticated people following him, singing and shouting things like “This is the glorious King of the world who comes from God.” What would happen? Politicians would get defensive and upset; the police would shut him down and throw him in a mental institution; headlines would laugh about the crazy homeless man who made a scene. If the man got a large enough following, our institutions would quickly get more aggressive. America (including many who now claim to know him) would react the same way to Jesus as Israel did 2,000 years ago, and it would be right to do so – unless, of course, it was true. If it was true, everything would be changed.

It’s little wonder, then, that the Pharisees got upset. He unabashedly demolished everything they stood for. He does the same to us as well, in our pride and self-sufficiency. But notice this: Jesus wept over rebellious humanity (verse 41). Even a cursory reading of the gospels reveals this, too: if Jesus does not attract us, we are missing something. Jesus lived with more passion – for life, for people, for God – than anyone else who ever lived. His emotions ran deeper, he felt them more profoundly, than any of us. Everything about him – his sermons, his conversations, his acts of power, his acts of humility, his prayers, his interactions with people, his whole personality – is stunning. It’s little wonder the people were “hanging on his words” (verse 48).

Come to the Bible expecting some Sunday-school-sanitized version of Jesus and you will be quickly forced to blush. He is not sanitized. He is not nice. He never accommodates to sin or lies, not once. Come to the Bible with a heart to learn and you will meet someone so much better, so much more worthy of your love: Christ the Lord, the King, the Servant, the Radical.

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