This is a continuation of sorts from my last post, continuing to consider the Christian response to things like SNL’s Jesus Uncrossed skit. I continue to focus on our response, not the skit itself.
In a few weeks thousands of Christians, especially in Sunday Schools, will cheerfully wave palm branches as part of their Palm Sunday celebrations. However, we’ve ripped the palms out of history, tearing them from their context, and as we do we’re forgetting their meaning within the story of Jesus.
The people who cheered for Jesus were looking for DJesus Uncrossed, not Jesus Christ.
You see, this was not the first time a Jewish king rode into Jerusalem surrounded by adoring throngs shouting Hosanna and waving palm branches. Several hundred years earlier Judas Maccabaeus led a bloody, violent rebellion against the blaspheming, pagan Seleucid oppressors. Maccabee (literally ‘The Hammer) responded to all the blasphemous Seleucids and their suppression of his people’s rights by literally going DJesus Uncrossed on his enemies. When he rode victoriously into Jerusalem it was after he had used his strength to hammer all opponents into submission, in a violence that considerably outpaced anything in the DJesus uncrossed video. And when he entered the city, he was greeted by its adoring inhabitants exultantly waving palm branches (1 Maccabees 13:51). The palm branch for the Jews wasn’t symbolic of Sunday School or pastel Easter dress; they were symbols a brutal conquest. Maccabee put them them on his banners, his home, and even on his money.
Centuries later, with the Seleucid armies replaced by Romans, the message of the crowds and their palm branches was clear: we want another Maccabee.
Jesus served his attackers. He forgave them. He was for them.
Jesus, and the early Christians, regularly faced offenses that weren’t grounded in comedy, but resulted in actual persecution. The opponents of Jesus and his followers didn’t laugh at them: they killed them. They taxed them, they refused to hire them, they did everything they could to make their life untenable.
The early Christians learned the most profound of lessons that every era of the church has had to relearn, and relearn, and relearn:
The Maccabees fought to liberate the people of God from the nations.
Jesus fought to liberate the people of God for the nations.
The so called ‘media elite’ of our day will never come close to being as offensive, oppressive, blasphemous, or dominant as the Romans who attacked Jesus and the church in its earliest days. But the message of Jesus, the message of Paul, the message of Peter and the others, was the constant reminder to follow the way of Jesus rather than the way of Maccabee.
To lay our life down for them, rather than demand they lay theirs down for us. No matter what the cost.
This radical message of peace is easily lost in the clamor of democratic process, capitalism, justice, and constitutional rights. It’s easier to miss the Messiah than you’d think; I fear that far too many of us are clamoring for Maccabee’s DJesus Uncrossed even as we look past the Jesus of the Cross standing right in front of us.
In the words of my friend Nathan Hamm:
“Every time we turn the Prince of Peace into a violent warrior god, we uncross Jesus. Every time we exchange the Jesus who taught us to love our enemies for a Jesus who hates our enemies and blesses our wars against them, we uncross Jesus. Every time we take up the sword instead of taking up the cross, we uncross Jesus.
Lord, have mercy.”