Posts Tagged ‘Messiah’

Not the Messiah We Are Looking For

April 12, 2017

Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Jesus travels on a borrowed donkey, The crowds hail him as “Son of David” – meaning the king. The writer of the Gospel of Matthew tells us “the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ ”

Who is this indeed?

There were a variety of expectations in those days about what the Messiah would do and who the Messiah would be. Would he free Israel from Roman occupation? Would he be a great general? A king? A prophet?

Jesus however, was not the Messiah they were looking for. Military heros ride horses not donkeys.  They enter with armed soldiers. And of course Messiah’s don’t get themselves killed. Especially killed without a fight.

We shouldn’t be too hard on the crowds who didn’t understand what sort of Messiah Jesus was. We don’t understand either. We struggle with giving up our war horses. We struggle with giving up the thrill of military power. Jets flying overhead, tanks on parade, rows of  highly trained soldiers. We struggle with non violence. We are  afraid not to react to any provocation. We are afraid of being seen as weak.

This past week, we launched missiles into Syria. We have maneuvered war ships nearer to North Korea. We warn others not to “cross lines”.

Why did we do this?

Fear, I think.

Fear “they” will think the President is weak. Fear “they” will think the US is weak. We have been warned, this past year, that “they” are taking advantage of us, “they” are laughing at us, and “they” want to control us.

And so we fire missiles and maneuver war ships and sober faced officials give statements.

To what end?   Is the world safer this week? Has anything actually changed? Syrian leader Assad is still brutally killing his own people. Most of the rest of the Middle East is embattled. North Korea continues to dare the world to react to their missile tests.

We, like first century Israel, are confused about who the Messiah is and what the Messiah requires of us.

The Messiah we want, the one who wins wars and punishes enemies, is not the Messiah we have. The Messiah we have, rides a donkey, not a war horse. The Messiah we have does not strike back. The Messiah we have prays for enemies. The Messiah we have treats everyone with respect because they are a child of God, not because the earned it. The Messiah’s way is not the way we have always done things.

To follow this Messiah is hard. Perhaps even impossible.  Oh, I can follow for a day, especially if I don’t leave the house. But to follow when I encounter difficult people? Nearly impossible.

So if following the Messiah we have is so difficult for us as individuals, how much more difficult it is for nations.

What if we lose? What if the “bad guys” win? I don’t know. I don’t know what happens if we “lose”. But when so many suffer because of the status quo, can anyone really “win”? Are we willing to give up some security, possessions, privilege  so others can have more?

I have no idea what this looks like for me, for a city, for a nation. And it is more than a little scary to think about. I mean, exactly how much would I need to give up? How dangerous will this be?

But what we have now, the way we do things now, is scary too. Most of us have managed to isolate ourselves. Many of us can, for the most part, avoid seeing the suffering of others. We can take a break from the suffering of others. But suffering persists whether we look or not.

Following the Messiah we want has not and is not working. Perhaps it is past time to trust and follow the Messiah we are given. Riding a donkey, not a war horse. Loving our enemies, Blessing those who curse us. Sharing what we have with those who have less.

We have the Messiah, we have been given, Jesus. The question is can give up our false messiah and will we follow him?





Advent:Season of Contrasts and Angels

December 10, 2013
Advent Candles

Advent Candles (Photo credit: lapenn)

This Advent we’re exploring the contrasts in the nativity stories. (Last week’s post will give you a short introduction) Many churches focus on four traditional Advent themes. Peace, Joy, Love, Hope. But we seldom wonder why those themes are important. Why do we lift these up as a focal point? I think it is because so often the world is filled with the opposite condition. Discord rather than peace. Sorrow rather then joy. Hate rather than love. Despair rather the hope. All these condition are present, all though mostly in the context, in the nativity stories if we take the time to  read carefully.

This week we’re looking at the angels in Luke 2:8-14. It is such a familiar passage that often we don’t read it carefully. 

 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

The angel was, in a sense, bilingual. The words the angel used to describe Jesus were also words used in the Roman Emperor cult to talk about Caesar. “Savior” was used in the Hebrew Bible to describe God. But it was also used to describe Caesar. For example:

Since the providence that has divinely ordered our existence has applied her energy and zeal and has brought to life the most perfect good in Augustus, whom she filled with virtues for the benefit of mankind, bestowing him upon us and our descendants as a savior – he who put an end to war and will order peace, Caesar, who by his epiphany exceeded the hopes of those who prophesied good tidings [euaggelia], not only outdoing benefactors of the past, but also allowing no hope of greater benefactions in the future; and since the birthday of the god first brought to the world the good tidings [euaggelia] residing in him…For that reason, with good fortune and safety, the Greeks of Asia have decided that the New Year in all the cities should begin on 23rd September, the birthday of Augustus…   from The First Christmas, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, HarperOne, 2007, page 160 quoting the League of Asian Cities in 9 BCE.

With time the Roman emperor ceased being a mere human. After an emperor died, the Senate would declare them to be a divine being. Then the successor was a son of a god. Eventually emperors claimed divine status before death. Temples were built for and sacrifices  were made to the emperor.

“Lord” is also bilingual language. In the Hebrew Bible “Lord” referred to God. But the Romans also used that word to describe Caesar.

“Messiah” is, of course, a Jewish word for God’s anointed. By Jesus’ time the Messiah was expected, one way or another, to rescue Israel from Roman oppression and rule. Particularly the poor people were looking for a Messiah to deliver them.

So re read, with a little commentary, what the angel says to the shepherds: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you [shepherds, poor, marginalized people and not to the Roman elite] is born this day in the city of David [ Bethlehem, small town only important to Israel and not born in Rome the center of power] a Savior, who is the Messiah [the Savior of the world is NOT Caesar, it is God’s anointed one the Messiah], the Lord [ again NOT Caesar].

Roman emperors like to think of themselves as rulers of the entire world and they had the military might to enforce their rule. But the angels appear and they deliver God’s message to humans and God’s message is Caesar ( or any other human) is not Savior and Lord- I AM.

Things are not as they seem. God is at work in the world in unusual ways, so unusual we can miss or dismiss it.

But when an angels or the heavenly host show up, it is hard to miss or dismiss. And that heavenly host? That’s “bible talk” for angel army. God’s army shows up and the shepherds and the early followers of Jesus reading this knew all too well what armies do. They had plenty of experience with armies.  Armies kill, burn your home and crops, rape and enslave and crucify. So yes the shepherd were “sore afraid” (that’s King James Bible talk for terrified”). Everybody knew what armies do. Jewish history is full of encounters with armies that didn’t end well. Rome, Assyria, Babylon, etc, etc,…

But. But.

This army doesn’t kill.

This army sings.

And this army doesn’t sing about itself and its power and glory. This army sings about God.

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Dear reader, this is a glimpse of the kingdom of God. This is a glimpse of the reign of God, not the reign of Caesar, not the reign of fill in the blank dictator, emperor, great leader. This is the way the world is supposed to be.

Swords into plowshares

Armies into choirs

Imagine if the armies of the world, the armies now and every army that ever was, imagine them all singing together,

Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors.

That’s part ( and only just part) of what we wait for.

O come O come Emanuel and ransom captive Israel….  and the rest of us who are held captive – in a violent world.

Come Prince of Peace, come.

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