Yesterday Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, at the pinnacle of his public ministry, and we know that on Friday he will be crucified on the Cross but what are the days in between all about? In church yesterday our rector said that Easter week proclaims – “This is what my kingdom looks like”. All that happens during this week is one aspect of ushering in the kingdom of God.
Its a statement I struggled with as I read this morning’s scripture- the story of Jesus overturning the tables and throwing the money lenders out of the Temple and the story of the cursed fig tree. If Jesus wanted to show the kingdom during this week surely he could have done a few more miracles, raised some people from the dead and fed the entire population of Jerusalem with miracle food. That is probably what his followers were expecting and it would certainly have maintained his place as the most popular man in town. Instead Jesus seems to have deliberately taken actions that would make him unpopular.
I have always wondered why these two stories are so intimately entwined. But as I thought about what the kingdom represents it seemed obvious. The people that followed Jesus were expecting Jesus’ miracles to continue and probably anticipated even more miraculous provision for their physical needs. – Maybe they expected Jesus to make the fig tree flourish and miraculously come into fruit – in a way that would provide for them for the rest of their lives. But he did the exact opposite and I suspect that hidden in the story of the cursed fig tree is the clear statement “My kingdom is not of this world”
And then he confronted the powers of darkness – starting with the corruption and distortion that had crept into the Temple, the place that was meant to have worship of God at its centre. And the message is clear – “This is not what my kingdom looks like either.” And the religious leaders of the day immediately determined to kill him because they had deceived the people into believing this was what God’s kingdom looked like.
Nothing speaks more truly of the upside down nature of God’s kingdom than this last week of Jesus life. At the centre is the celebration of the Passover feast and the preview of that wonderful banquet feast of abundance that will greet all of us in God’s kingdom. But around it swirl the conflict of God’s kingdom clashing with a world that does not want to see God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven – even often within the church. Corruption, greed, injustice avarice, the will to dominate all come into play against the Son of God.
But Jesus stands firm and moves with confidence along the path God has set out before him, proclaiming for all the hear – the old days and old ways that held us in bondage are ending; the new days, the new ways of thinking and living that are the hallmark of God’s kingdom are already here – and they break in upon us every time corruption within the church is confronted and overcome, every time injustice against the poor and oppressed is uncovered and rectified and every time prisoners are brought into freedom.
This week is the greatest challenge any of us can face. It forces us to recognize that changing from one way of life to another takes vision, commitment and discipline. Our vision of a world in which all of God’s creation is made whole, reconciled and redeemed is only bought at the price of great sacrifice – sacrifice that calls us to another kind of life, the fulfillment of which does not lie in this life. Not for Jesus, not for us or for the church.
Just as for Jesus, committing ourselves to this kind of life requires sacrifice. It means we will be misunderstood, often ridiculed, sometimes spat upon and even killed. But at the end of all this suffering we will see for ourselves what so transfigured the women at the tomb, and transformed the frighted disciples, there is life in death that is beyond our wildest dreams and imaginings.