“Desire and Obsession”

Psalm 51:1-17, 2 Samuel 11:1-26, Matthew 5:27-30; 21:1-11

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan's book about that last week of Jesus' life (fittingly called "The Last Week") begins the way we usually begin that week in our church life--with Palm Sunday.  Jesus enters Jerusalem from the east, at the beginning of the Passover festival (when the Jews celebrate Moses leading them from their slavery in Egypt--the biggest commemoration in their faith practice) to the cheering of the excited and energized crowd.  It's almost like he's a conquering king, and it is likely that some of the crowd were cheering because that's how they saw him--as the one who would restore their rightful place as a free and sovereign nation, no longer occupied and ruled over by Rome. That he was riding a donkey was a fulfillment of a prophecy from their scriptures, from Zechariah 9:9: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey".  The stage seems to be set for a conquering king.

At the same time, another procession enters Jerusalem from the west.  Since it is Passover, and many many more faithful and devout Jews will be in their holy city of Jerusalem for the week-long festival, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, enters, accompanied by soldiers, and cavalry, and all of the trappings that demonstrate power.  They are there to "keep the peace"--to remind the Jews that even though they are permitted to celebrate this festival of their religious heritage--a festival commemorating their freedom from an oppressive government--that they shouldn't get any bright ideas about seeking to gain their freedom this time.

"Lust" is not just a sexual thing, although it often is, and that is often the kind of lust that derails people (it led to Bill Clinton's impeachment).  There is also the lust for power, and the desire run amuck to assert power and gain power at all costs, no matter who is hurt and who becomes "collateral damage".  To "define" lust as Frederick Buechner did--as "the craving for salt of a person who is dying of thirst"--gets at the sheer mania of this obsession.  Why, if one is dying of thirst, would one crave salt? Because the desire for what one lusts after is all out of proportion to good sense, clear thinking, and even physical health.  

The Roman Empire had a lust for power--hence the desire to conquer the world.  And the Roman Empire is no longer ruling over the world, nor could it even be called an empire in 2018.  Although their desire for their freedom from Rome made sense, and although they saw rightly this action of Jesus as the action of their conquering King, they too were caught up in desire for power--they wanted what Rome had.  What Jesus, their King demonstrated in this act was the very opposite of lust--that desire which seeks to dominate others in whatever way. "Triumphant and victorious is he" was celebrated--"humble and riding on a donkey" seemed to have been ignored.  And when the rest of the week involved Jesus NOT seeking to assert power, and dominance, it became clear that he was not going to overthrow the power of Rome. He went to his death--at the hands of Rome--meekly, submissively, demonstrating forgiveness for those who clearly treated him horribly in every possible way.  His way was clearly not a lust for power.

But his way was--and is--the way of a kingdom, and of a king--the King of all creation, and the Kingdom of God.  A king who rules in hearts and changes them--who doesn't conquer by coercion but by love.  A king whose giving of his life is for the life of the world; a king whose defeat and death triumphed over death itself, and gives that triumph to all who choose to receive it.  Rather than lust for power and influence and dominance over others, Jesus models--and teaches--love for God and neighbor, which is stronger than death, and certainly produces more willing alliances.  

Palm Sunday is indeed about lust--and the love that is more powerful, even when it doesn't look like it.