Download or listen to Palm Sunday, “The Whole World” (John 12:12-43)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look: the whole world has gone after Him.” That’s what the Pharisees say to one another when they see the crowds surrounding Jesus on the day He enters Jerusalem on a donkey. You are accomplishing nothing, trying to kill this man. The more we do, the more people follow Him. It’s no good trying to question Him, test Him, catch Him in a lie or in an awkward position. He always avoids us. The whole world has gone after Him. And it must have seemed like it that day, with the crowds lining the street, pressing in on Him, with their branches and their clothing on the street. It must have seemed like the whole world was going after Him, with the shouts and the messianic hope in their eyes. Well, it may have seemed like it on that day, but the Pharisees were poor prophets about what would happen that coming week. The way things worked out, very few of this crowd were left by Friday. By then, there wouldn’t be any more shouts of “Hosanna! Save us now!” There would only be shouts of “Crucify Him!” No more crowds gathered around Him—not even His disciples—but only His mother and the beloved disciple standing near His cross. No more palms or cloaks spread on the road; only a way of sorrows: a man carrying His own cross out of the city. The whole world has gone after Him? Hardly.
But that’s precisely the point. The world that has not gone after Him; the world that is so fickle and faint-hearted; the world that would shout save us now, but be unable to understand how the saving would take place; the world which was made by Him, but does not know its Maker; this is the world that He loves. Unaccountably, immeasurably, unreasonably: this is the world that God loved, and He loved it by sending His Son to be crucified in it. The world cannot account for it: the world only knows of triumphal processions, celebrations, the glory of kings entering city gates, and coming to reclaim with vengeance what was taken from them. The world can understand the stunted joy of longing for a savior from the troubles of this life. Which of us doesn’t want to be free of our concerns, struggles, difficulties, financial problems, family problems, and worries? But a king who doesn’t conquer with weapons and armies? A king who rides a donkey? A king who hides Himself from those who do not believe His outlandish claim to be God Himself? A king who willingly rides on to die? In the contradiction of lowly pomp? This is unaccountable to the world. It simply does not fit.
The world cannot measure the love of God: it is not parceled out; it is not given according to merit or worth; it is given to enemies and rebels; sinners and criminals; to those the world has cause to hate: the weak, the infant, the helpless, the useless, those who are confined to hospital beds, wheelchairs, and nursing homes. There’s no measuring the sort of love that comes from heaven to earth, from God to man, from the only Holy One to the multitude of the unholy. You cannot measure the love that raises the dead. The world can understand love that is given and returned; love that is given to those who deserve it; love that makes the lover feel good. But love that is given when there’s nothing in it for the Lover? When the Lover needs nothing, and the beloved can give nothing? Love that is given again and again and again, year after year after year, even when the beloved continually abuses the gifts of the Lover and then seeks out other lovers? This is love the world does not know how to measure.
This love is unreasonable to the world. It is not proportional, it is not testable or repeatable, it does not fit any conventional or rational system of logic. There’s only one logic to this love and it is foolishness to the world. The world thinks it understands; it says that love is accepting people just the way they are. It says that love never makes anyone feel bad about anything, because there’s nothing to feel bad about. If anything says you’re not the best, the smartest, unique and special, it’s not love. Anything that doesn’t improve you, advance you, increase your self-esteem is not love. This is why it can’t make sense of the Gospel. The Gospel isn’t about making you feel good and special and unique; it’s not about better self-esteem or telling you to follow your dreams or to be the best you can be. The Gospel is death to all of that. The only thing that matters is Christ and whether you are dead with Him and raised to life with Him. St. John says that the Love of God is God in flesh dying on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins (1 John 4:10). And what kind of love is that? What is reasonable about that? It’s overkill (no pun intended). God just loves you, and He doesn’t need a sacrifice to love you. Maybe not; but we need that sacrifice to keep us from defining God’s love according to our own logic and reason. And our reason and logic says that God must love me; He must accept me. I am good, I am worth it, I am special and unique—and God knows it. But that image has been destroyed, and we will always remake God in our own image. The only thing that’s left is for a new creation to start, in which selfishness, self-improvement, self-esteem, and self-love have no place. Everything of the old is put to death on the cross, and the new creation has room for only one Image: Jesus, God and Man. It is in His Image that you are recreated, and the lost image is restored.
Unaccountable, immeasurable, unreasonable. But the only Love there is. The only place for the Greeks to see Jesus is when He is lifted up from the earth. It is only from the cross that Christ draws all people to Himself. Only as He is lifted up and cast down dead into the earth. A single grain that dies to bear much fruit. And it is in that death that the judgment of this world is delivered for all eternity. Everything in this world, all its accounting, measuring, and reasoning, is judged and put to death. None of it fits any more. The ruler of this world is cast out, and those who will not have Jesus for their Lord will have that cast out ruler for their lord. The judgment of this world has been passed, and Christ is the life of the new world, gathering His own, calling them out of the world. The world cannot see Him, cannot know Him, cannot hear Him. The world has deaf ears, blind eyes, hard hearts; but those whom the Lord calls out of the world see, understand, turn, and He heals them. This is the week that sums up our entire lives: a hidden triumph, a death, and a resurrection. You belong to Christ, not to this world, so His life is your life. What happens to Him will happen to you. So listen this week; watch this week; follow Him as He speaks to you and feeds you and dies for you and rises for you. This is everything! And one day it will finally be true: the whole world, the whole creation, will follow after Him, out of death and into life.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/11/14