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By: Trygve Johnson
One of the lessons I have learned in ministry is the difference between what people want, and what they need.
In this sketch by Otto Dix, we see Jesus entering Jerusalem. It is a familiar scene, usually rehearsed on Palm Sunday, with happy children in their Sunday best waving palm branches down the center aisle of the sanctuary. This particular scene is inspired by Matthew 21:10. 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
In the background, you can see the cheering crowd. The faces look excited, vocal, with palm branches waving in adulation. In the background is the energy of anticipation. Jesus has come – the great prophet, who heals, does wonders, and is whispered to be the promised Messiah – the one to come and restore the fortunes of Zion and put the world to rights! The Prophet is in Jerusalem!
But Jesus face looks different. His eyes are down with his head turned away from the cheering throng. He wears a sense of sadness as he rides the colt passed the excited crowd. And I see in his face the expression of a sober resolution.
In the picture he carries with him nothing. Yet, he seems to be carrying everything. The weight of the world resting on his shoulders. He carries with him God’s love for the world. He carries with him the hope for all humanity. Hope for all the people in your community and in your congregation. Hope for those who don’t like and those who don’t like you. He carries with him the gravity of grace. This hope is the one true need for the world.
Maybe that is how you are feeling as you prepare to go to church or lead worship this morning? You will carry nothing into the sanctuary with you, but yet, like Jesus you will be carrying the weight of your people. Maybe you feel the pressure to create excitement, give the crowds what they want, a Jesus who has come to fix their problems. Just remember that Jesus enters Jerusalem not to satisfy the expectations of our wants and desires, but rather to do the work on the cross that will give us what we most need. The need to have a life with God again through the total forgiveness of our sins!
In this, Otto Dix captures the conflict between what the crowd wants and what they need. We are the crowd. The Jesus of the crowd is who we often want to meet in worship. We want Jesus to be a folk hero. We want him to be the political prophet, a sage who gives answers to our problems, or the revolutionary who will seize power and help make Israel great again.
But Jesus face tells us a different story. His expression suggests an alternative path to glory. This is the narrow path to the cross. Were self-sacrifice becomes the means of cosmic salvation. Jesus knows what the crowd needs from him is not just a prophet, or a politico, but a priest. They need, we need, is a Jesus who can mediate between God and humanity for a final reconciliation. The crowd wants Jesus to be the lion of heaven, but what the crowd needs is for Jesus to become the lamb of God.
Jesus face reminds me that my job today is not to give people what they want, but point them to who they need – to Jesus, our high priest, who on the cross takes away the sin of the world. What we need is to journey with Jesus into his death. For the death of Jesus leads us into the death of our sin! This is the logic of lent, where sin itself is crucified on the cross. In Lent, it is fitting to be reminded that Jesus journey to the cross is not therapeutic, it is evangelical – meaning it is good-news – for all people, at all times, and in all places.
So as you journey with Jesus into worship this morning, refuse to be seduced into giving into what we want from Jesus, in order that you may be free to follow the narrow path towards what we most need!