Who is Jesus? Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins Palm Sunday 2017 Today begins Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. My question for you today, this Palm Sunday, this first day of Holy Week is, “Who is Jesus?” It’s an important question. Jesus has been so misused, his name so sullied, his character so […]
Who is Jesus?
Rev. Dr. Durrell Watkins
Palm Sunday 2017
Today begins Holy Week, the final days leading up to Easter. My question for you today, this Palm Sunday, this first day of Holy Week is, “Who is Jesus?”
It’s an important question. Jesus has been so misused, his name so sullied, his character so besmirched, that at mention of his name some people tremble, or rage, or their stomachs turn. Not because of the power of his holiness, but because of the hateful ways his name has been weaponized.
Some who have claimed the title of Christian have insisted that Jesus is the reason they demonize and dehumanize same-gender loving people. They say that it is for Jesus that they terrorize transgender and gender nonconforming people. They blame Jesus for their condemnation of religions about which they have very little knowledge or understanding. They praise Jesus while ignoring, blaming, or tormenting the sort of marginalized people Jesus appealed to most strongly. They claim that Jesus has saved them in some fashion, but there are countless others have sought salvation from the so-called saved. Jesus is the spear they use to wound, control, manipulate, vilify, or intimidate anyone whose life or love or faith or values differ from theirs. They have claimed ownership of Jesus and used him like a bulldozer to squash everything in their path that they find unsuitable.
But is the Jesus they have used like a wrecking ball the Jesus of Nazareth? The Jesus of the earliest Jesus movements? The Jesus we would find if we were to discover him for ourselves? Might there be another Jesus, a better Jesus that we might find and embrace today?
Palm Sunday offers us some possibilities. Let’s journey back to the last days of Jesus’ life.
During celebrations for a big holiday in a big city, Jesus comes riding into town. He’s just one of countless pilgrims. He’s not part of the official parade. He’s not a featured dignitary for the celebrations.
Instead, Jesus rides a silly little donkey through the back gate of town, greeted by the Riff Raff, the outcasts, the people who have been judged to be unworthy, the infirm, the poor, the lonely, the widowed, the orphaned…they’ve heard about this person who touches the untouchable and loves the unlovable and speaks hope to the hurting and they need to see him and hear him and experience him for themselves. They’ve heard what others have said…they need to know who he can be to them.
They erupt into a spontaneous street performance when they see him. Their hope and their curiosity and their excitement blends into camp revelry as often happens when oppressed communities begin to find their voice. And so, ridiculous as it seems, they hail him as if here were a prince or lord, as if here were riding a bejeweled steed and not a jack ass…in part they are applauding him, but they are also resisting the systems of domination and oppression by making fun of them, they are dreaming out loud for a better day where all people are valued and celebrated and affirmed. That’s why they shout “hosanna” which means, “rescue us!” As if a preacher on a donkey at the city’s back gate could. But who knows? In moments of outrageous hope, miracles do seem possible.
It is Jesus who has inspired this seditious, counter cultural, agit-prop performance. Of course people seeing this spectacle ask, “Who is he?”
And the crowds answer, “this is Jesus the prophet.” Or some said “he’s that prophet Jesus from Nazareth”…But I bet many things were said about Jesus that day. Such as…
This is Jesus the Prophet (who speaks for God reminding us that God’s will and word can be summed up as simply love God and love people)
This is Jesus the Healer (who somehow helps people who felt broken begin to feel whole)
This is Jesus the Prince of Peace (who when Peter wanted to attack Roman soldiers who were threatening Jesus, said to him, “put away your sword”)
This is Jesus the Redeemer who affirms the sacred value of all people (remember redeeming soda bottles?)…Claiming the sacred value of people is redeeming them. The woman at the well had been disrespected by a series of men, but Jesus knew their disrespect did not define her. He affirmed her, that is, he redeemed her.
This is Jesus the Messenger of God’s kin-dom (who says God’s realm is in your hands…Caesar has the military might, but the reign of God is in the hands of the suffering, the forgotten, the marginalized)
This is Jesus the Generous (give them something to eat! No questions asked)
This is Jesus the Storyteller (parables)
This is Jesus the Friend of outcasts (lepers, sex workers)
This is Jesus the Gender bender (compared himself to a mother hen)
This is Jesus the Child of God who reminds us we are all the children of God
This is Jesus the Mystic who knows God is always near and always hears us (I know that you always hear me)
This is Jesus the Refugee (Egypt)
This is Jesus the reminder that the Sacred can be found anywhere you look (We find the Sacred in Jesus’ life, Jesus whose ancestors include Moses – a murderer, David – a murderer, Tamar and Rahab – prostitutes…the one we call son of God comes from stock we would be tempted to look down upon…Jesus’ very DNA tells us there’s not a spot where God is not)
This is Jesus the Martyr (executed for empowering people and giving them hope)
This is Jesus the Homeless (nowhere to lay his head)
This is Jesus the humble (I came to serve, not to be served)
This is Jesus the Enemy of hypocrisy (the one who never made a mistake can cast the first stone)
This is Jesus who is comfortable with human touch (as we see his beloved disciple reclines on his chest)
This is Jesus the friend of gays (centurion’s lover healed)
This is Jesus whose love will never let us go (i will always be with you)
This is Jesus the joyful (first miracle tending bar at a party)
This is Jesus the feminist (Mary Magdalene apostle status, gospel of MM shows her to be the fave)
This is Jesus the Anointed (Christ)
Who is Jesus? There are so many more possible answers than we may have been led to believe.
That is why we will not let him be just a weapon for those whose hatreds and prejudices and violence and greed oppose everything he seems to have modeled in life.
This Holy Week, which Jesus will we call our own? I pray it will be whichever one helps us live with hope, and joy, and compassion, and generosity, whichever one reminds us that God is omnipresent, unconditional, all-inclusive, everlasting Love.
May the Jesus we embrace give us courage in the valleys, and hope to ascend the mountains, and joy at the peaks. That is what these days leading up to Easter offer us, and this is the good news.
© Durrell Watkins 2017
In the name of Jesus,
Who is to me what I need him to be,
I live in the power of hope,
I embrace the power of joy,
And I share the power of love.
And so it is.