For the past three years Jesus has shared his life and ministry
with his disciples—a small group of simple but committed
men who have enjoyed intimate company and fellowship with
Jesus and witnessed his miracles firsthand. They have followed
him faithfully—if at times questioningly—every step of the way.
Yet if we were to read today’s passage in isolation, without any
previous knowledge of the story, we would not only doubt that
these men were his disciples but also that they belonged to his
most intimate circle of friends. Judas sells him out for thirty
pieces of silver. With a kiss! Peter, who promises he will never
fail Jesus, disowns him. Again. And again. In Gethsemane, in
what could possibly be described as Jesus’ darkest hour, when
he needs the love and support of his friends most, they fail him.
They fall asleep. Twice! These men, Jesus’ closest companions
who have been with him all the way, now betray him, disappoint
him, disown him, and desert him.
The words of the text speak for themselves. They are heartbreaking.
”What will you give me if I betray him?” ”Truly I tell
you, one of you will betray me.” ”This very night, before the
cock crows, you will deny me three times.” ”Could you not stay
awake with me one hour?” ”Put your sword back into its place.”
”Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.”
How well do the words of the text speak for us? We differ
little from the Christ-followers of first-century Palestine. Our
faith can be just as fickle, our loyalty just as conditional and our
following just as hesitant. Lent is a good time to remember that.
Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner. May the power of your unfailing love teach me your ways. Amen.
These texts raise questions about who truly welcomes Jesus and under what circumstances. Isaiah 50 recalls the hostility that inevitably follows servanthood. A moment of acceptance, even welcome, will not hide from the servant the fact of the rejection to come. Psalm 118 claims that the city and the victory and the “one who comes” all belong to God. Any victory declared by human beings is bound to vanish as quickly as the day itself. The Philippians hymn asserts Jesus’ own determination to be obedient even to death and God’s conse- quent exaltation of Jesus above all creation. Even in the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ entry is one of meekness and humility rather than of power and pride.
• Read Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29. How do you rejoice in “the day that the LORD has made”?
• Read Isaiah 50:4-9a. The writer notes that for Isaiah, suffer- ing does not signal divine indifference but plays a part in the world’s bigger story. When have you interpreted your suffering as part of a bigger story?
• Read Philippians 2:5-11. What earthly traits of Jesus’ are evident in your daily living? Do you see yourself living a countercultural lifestyle?
• Read Matthew 21:1-11. Where are you in the Palm Sunday story? How do you respond to Jesus as he enters?
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