‘I thought you were my friend!’
The discovery that someone you trusted has turned against you is a horrible feeling. Most of us will have experienced it at some stage in our lives. Many of us will have been through it on a larger scale, too, when a group of people whom we thought were ‘on our side’ takes against us and we find ourselves isolated.
I wonder how we responded.
Perhaps the first response was a desire for revenge. The visceral logic of ‘you hurt me so I’m going to hurt you’ is hard to shake. Our view of human nature may have been tarnished. We may have resolved never to trust again, becoming more cautious in our choice of friends and more guarded in what we share with them.
Palm Sunday is a good day to reflect on these things since it speaks volumes about the fickle nature of human loyalty. Jesus is at his most popular as he rides into Jerusalem surrounded by crowds shouting ‘Hosanna’. It’s the one clear ‘Superstar’ moment of his career. Yet in just a few days the crowd of fans will disappear, one of his closest supporters will betray him, another deny him, and he will hang, dying on a cross.
Remarkably, there are no petulant outbursts from Jesus, no vengeful feelings on show. Jesus’ understanding of human nature is as clear-sighted as it has ever been. His final words about those who have treated him so appallingly are a prayer: ‘Father, forgive.’
Indeed, there is a strange, subliminal sense throughout all this that only Jesus understands what is really happening. He is the victim, yes, but also the principal actor. While others are thrown into chaos by fear, ambition, jealousy, bordeom, expediency and the changing moods of the crowds, by the time he is arrested Jesus appears almost aloof. For him, the turbulence comes earlier, in prayer in the garden: ‘take this cup away from me’, then ‘not my will, but yours be done’.
And here, I think, is the key to our own understanding and engagement with this Sunday and the Holy Week that follows it. For Jesus, there is really only one battle to be fought. It isn’t a battle for the approval of the crowds. It isn’t a fight for survival or prestige or wealth or power. It isn’t about getting revenge on those who abandon or betray him. It is the battle within, between the very real and human desire to be spared the horrors that lie ahead of him, and the knowledge that there is no other path that can accomplish the Father’s will to save and redeem the world.
May God bless you all,