Lectionary Readings for Palm Sunday. Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 31:9-16, Phil2:5-11, Matt. 26:14-278:66, Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29, Matt 21:1-11
I'm amazed at how much more than basics are expected from our public schools. On top of equipping children with knowledge, schools work to teach respect, citizenship, teamwork, health, and more. Teachers are expected to handle (and solve) behavioural problems. Schools have extra activities to keep students constructively busy and out of trouble. But even at 6 hours or more each day, it's not enough. Homework has to happen, and above all, parents and communities are needed to successfully educate and develop a child's potential.
It's interesting to compare what we expect of school to what we expect of church. One hour each Sunday isn't enough. It's not enough to know the Bible, it can't provide the amount of teaching and reflection it takes to keep faith growing, and it doesn't offer the space for practical application and correction that is needed to hone ideas and skills.Homework has to happen, and above all, parents and communities are needed for any of us to successfully grow and develop our faith potential.
One hour is certainly not enough this time of year, when we are contemplating the climax of the Christian story. There has to be some homework this week if we want to learn and grow from the story.
The Matthew reading is long, reflecting the importance of the Passion story being heard in its entirety. Chances are, most churches aren't going to read all this, and pastors aren't going to try to preach all this on any one Sunday. For our one-hour worship services, we have to focus more tightly.and depend on (and encourage) people to dig in outside of Sunday morning.
Reading through the whole Passion story in Matthew, I noticed a few things I don't see when I have to focus on small bits on a Sunday morning. I noticed that two of my favourite bits of the story, where Jesus heals the slave's chopped off ear, and when a criminal dying beside Jesus confesses, these parts are both missing from Matthew's account. They are also missing from Mark and John. Only Luke "softens" the story with the healing and the last minute salvation. Matthew leaves us contemplating failure. Here, nothing is fixed until Easter.
Matthew also deals the most harshly with Judas. Judas repents, throws his payment back at the priests, and then kills himself. In the other gospels, he simply isn't mentioned after the betrayal.
The rest of the disciples don't perform much better than Judas. They all fall asleep in the garden when Jesus needs them, they run away when he is arrested, and Peter verbally denies Jesus even after being warned that he would do it! Reading the whole story emphasizes the multiple failures of all the disciples. They only stick close to Jesus when everything is going well, when the palms wave and the table is set. When things get challenging, they bail. The impact is sobering, humanity fails. We fail.
Our failure is the note that sounds at the cross, and it leaves us yearning for Easter, waiting for the hope that Jesus' triumph kindles. The biggest difference I see between Judas and the rest of the failures, is that the rest of the disciples stick around for the whole story.
I hope we can encourage each other to stick with the whole story this week, to hear it in its entirety so we are ready for Easter morning and the impossibly real hope that comes even after we fail.