This past Sunday was Palm Sunday, the Christian holiday that ushers in Holy Week. It celebrates the “triumphal entry” of Jesus into Jerusalem (Mk 11:1-11). Seen with the insight of hindsight, though, this is one of the oddest “triumphal entries” one could imagine. It is the triumphal kick-off for what will be the death of the Son of God.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the common “courtroom” analogy for the Gospel. You’ve surely heard it: You are standing before a judge. You are guilty. The punishment is death. It is a right and just penalty for your crimes. But then Jesus comes in and freely offers to take your punishment for you on your behalf so you can be set free. Will you accept this gracious offer?
Many an atheist has pointed out the logical flaws in this analogy, but I think there are even bigger issues I have with it. Really, it only works if the parties involved in this switch are seen as equals. A pure man for a guilty man — seems like an even trade, right? But how does the death of this one man absolve the sins of a multitude? How is this even just?
I think this analogy can only make sense if two things are changed. First, this innocent guest in the courtroom can’t simply take on the punishment. He must take on the entire guilt of the guilty man. The court must be acting as if it truly is condemning the guilty (and not just symbolically).
Secondly, the innocent person, cannot merely be “another man”. He must be greater. He must be truer. He must transcend simple humanity and finitude. Imagine that it was Beauty Itself walking in and saying “I am the guilty one, condemn me.” Imagine the Innocent was whatever would cause you–the Guilty–to plead “let it not be!”; to beg that the condemnation still be poured out on you rather than destroy all that embodies Goodness, Truth, Love, and Light. Indeed, it was Beauty itself tasting the blade that was meant for you. In this is found a shocking truth:
Jesus Christ is of more worth than a thousand humanities.
And it is the object of that worth that gave of himself for a multitude. It is that Being that became, of all things, human. And He became that which finds its own life and being in Him, entering into Jerusalem receiving the palms and praises of a world that would kill Him. And He knew it. And yet He still entered. Thus making this entry triumphal.
But not just for Him.
For us, as well.
He triumphantly entered into humanity itself and so restored the dignity of our lost humanity. He showed us that His creation and His creatures can contain the Divine. Indeed, that is its end, it’s telos. We are of far more worth than we could possibly imagine — of enough worth that the Son of God died in order to save us. But we have forsaken our right place as priests of this world, in order to build other kingdoms to ourselves, and so living devalued existences — “sub-natural” lives.
Return to your humanity. Live the restored existence of “natural humanity” — humanity as it was intended to be lived: communing with the Divine; embracing our “boundness”.
Life is finitude. And the finite can still taste the Divine, because the Divine tasted the finite and triumphed in restoring its original design.
Jesus entered into Jerusalem that day as a King because we are not kings. We are mortals. As it is now, we die like cattle because we fancied ourselves gods. But we are humans — beautiful, dignified, valuable, and finite. As creatures we are bound, and the sooner we learn this is a gift and our glory, the sooner we can taste the gifts of Time, Space, and Embodiment and use them to live life and enjoy life rather than try and consume and suck life from every event, place, and person around us. Recognizing the dignity, goodness, and beauty inherent in all those things, we can taste the World to come where all things and people will be enjoyed for what they are and not for what they can give. What was our manipulation can become our exultation.
And our freedom starts on Palm Sunday. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey,” saying “because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope.” (Zech 9:9,11-12)
“It is only when human beings see themselves simply as human beings, no longer as gods, that they are in a position to perceive the wholly other nature of God. It is only when we cease to be unhappy supermen and pathetic mini-gods and permit ourselves to become human beings through and through again that we let God be God.”