Holy Week brings into focus a number of Big Questions. Among the most searching is this: What do we want?
In particular, what do we want from God? From life?
The Gospel according to Mark opens the Jesus story with a shocking surprise:
“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’— ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’
“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins…. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”
The good news about Yeshua (“God saves”) Mashiah (“the Anointed One”), the Son of God, is supposed to be about Israel being rescued by the power of God from her enemies. It is supposed to be about Israel being restored to her ancient glory. It is supposed to be about Israel’s violent vindication, about Rome going down and a new King David taking the throne.
That’s what the excitement of the first Palm Sunday was all about: Jesus entering Jerusalem to make good on all those promises foretold by the great prophets, chief among them the very Isaiah that Mark quotes.
And yet: What a shocking surprise.
According to Mark, the messenger preparing the way of the Lord, the great John the Baptist, the last of the Old Testament prophets, tells his audience—not to grab their ploughshares and start beating them into swords, but to…repent. To ask God to forgive, not wreak vengeance, and to forgive them, the people of God themselves, not their oppressors.
And when John speaks of he will bring in the awesome Day of the Lord, the great Judge who will make everything right, John says not a word about armies and weapons, let alone the fiery angels of God swooping down in righteous fury—but about the Holy Spirit, the one who makes people…holy.
It gets worse. So much worse. And in the space of just one week.
Jesus goes from being lauded as the great Saviour of Israel on Palm Sunday to being jeered as a pathetic pretender on Good Friday. He is a mock King of the Jews, bloodied by Roman whips even as he is mocked by Jewish lips. He is revealed to be, in short, the Antichrist: the polar opposite of what Israel wanted in a Messiah.
In the logic of God, however, John and Jesus go about the right things in the right way at the right time. They know that first things must go first. There would be no point bringing in a new regime of righteousness and prosperity only to have unregenerate human beings do what we always do: corrupt it, pervert it, and destroy it.
No, we all must be made ready for the Kingdom to come so that when it does come, we can embrace it, enjoy it, and participate properly in it. That’s what Jesus’s First Coming was about. And that is the focus of Holy Week: making us new so we won’t wreck what’s coming next, in Jesus’s Second Coming.
The Jews of Jesus’s day understandably, but unhelpfully, were focused on their immediate problems. And their prayers were focused on God relieving them of those problems.
We are tempted to repeat their mistake today, aren’t we? To fill our prayers with petitions for relief of whatever is most bothering us now?
But bigger, more basic issues deserve our attention. Holy Week will help us focus on those, if we will let it.
Easter is coming. Let’s get ready.