For those of you closet Christians, this is a quite notable week in our faith. It all began yesterday as we celebrated Palm Sunday, the reenactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. From today to Wednesday we study the teachings of Jesus in the temple. Then on Thursday we gather together for a “Maundy” or “New Commandment” Service where we wash feet and sing about love. Friday night we descend into darkness as we extinguish candles during a Tenebrae service. On Saturday we wait. And then on Sunday the party gets going!
If you are a Christian, this is our week. It is our time to fast, to pray, to meditate and to attend the special services and to long for the salvation that only Christ can bring. The goal of Holy Week is to give ourselves over again to the story that we believe changed the world.
But there is another story happening Friday that my news feed won’t shut up about. It is the epic showdown between Batman and Superman. And don’t get me wrong, I am kind of excited for Batman Vs. Superman, or BvS as us cool kids are calling it now. And like most cool kids I am more excited for the “B” than for the “S.” I fell in love with the Batman mythos through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, whose stunning second act, “The Dark Knight,” is considered one of the best movies ever made.
The closing act of that movie gave us an iconic line about heroes as Commissioner Gordon tells his recently rescued son, “Batman is the hero we need but not the one we deserve right now.” That line, right up there with the best of all movie lines, still resonates today. Sometimes our hero doesn’t look the way we want the hero to look. Sometimes the hero we need is not the one we want or deserve. Sometimes the conquering king is actually a crucified criminal. Sometimes the way, the truth and the life is a carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere.
That can be quite unsettling. As a pastor friend and New Testament scholar once reminded me, “The good news doesn’t sound like good news to some people.”
In Mark 11, after Jesus’ triumphal entry, those in established authority roles get nervous. To them Jesus is not gospel. He is threat. He threatens to steal their followers. He threatens to expose their arrogance and ignorance. He threatens their long held beliefs. He threatens their prejudices and power. And they are not cool with that, In fact, to them he just might be the kid in the crowd who yells, “Wait, that emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”
So the chief priests go to Jesus and ask, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things? Who gave you this authority?” (Mark 11:28).
Jesus is rather coy. He asks them a question about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a very clever question because there is not a right answer. I imagine they stuttered and stammered as they weighed their lack of options before spitting out, “Um, we don’t know.”
But then Jesus tells them a parable about the misuse of authority. Like most parables it points out to the Chief Priests that they had asked the wrong question. They wanted to know the source of authority. Jesus wanted them to know about the misuse of authority. Jesus told them about a vineyard owner who sent several messengers to collect his share of the profits. They beat and killed all of the messengers who were sent until the owner finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed. Then Jesus closes the parable with, “But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10-11).
This is not good news to those in authority. Jesus is not the hero they want at this point and the gospel has become threat. The stone we builders rejected has become the stone that holds the entire building up. That tells the world we don’t know much about building after all.
In the same way the gospel reminds us that we are not all that great about religion. The prophet the theologians and pastors and good church people rejected has become the savior of the world. The vigilante the police force is trying to capture has become the symbol of justice in our city. The ingredient the expert chefs threw out is now on the menu of every restaurant in America.
One of the reasons we take great care in telling the Easter story during Holy Week every year is because we need constant reminder that we are the foolish builders, the misguided theologians, the over zealous police force, the lousy cooks. Yes, we don’t want the world to know it. Like most people, I would prefer if you all believed I knew what I was talking about.
But in the end our salvation can only come by accepting the truth that the hero we rejected, the one we crucified has become and will always be the savior of the world.
We should not be like those chief priests who immediately wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot. Instead we should accept the truth of our errors for what it is and turn towards Jesus the author of eternal life. Only by admitting our ignorance and arrogance and repenting towards the truth can we enter into the glorious Easter morning.
Dear heavenly father, help me to accept the cornerstone and grant me newness of life this Holy Monday morning.