Finding our way back.
When Julius Caesar defeated the Gauls, he was hailed as a great leader. When he led his troops to victory in Britain, the Romans sang his praises. But when he crossed the Rubicon and entered Rome, many of the people turned on him. Suddenly he was making demands that would affect the average Roman, especially those in power, and they liked the status quo. When Caesar was assassinated on the Senate floor, many who shortly before had sung his praises were now rejoicing over the death of a tyrant.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover in the year 30 A.D., he encountered pilgrims on the road to the festival, singing songs of the season. One of the songs they sang was Psalm 118, which included the line, “O Lord, save us!” or “Hosanna!” After living for years under a repressive regime, they were looking for a deliverer, and they saw a possible savior in the person of Jesus. As they lay their palm branches and cloaks on the ground before him, perhaps they thought that this itinerant preacher would preach a message of revolution and lead troops into battle against the hated Romans. However, only a few days later, many of the same people hurled insults at Jesus as he hung on the cross. What caused the change of heart? Now Julius Caesar was not much like Christ, but maybe we can say that, like Caesar a few decades earlier, Jesus demanded something that the crowd wasn’t willing to give.
The common people wanted revolution, and they were aware that it might cost them their lives, but Jesus demanded something more costly: a complete change of attitude toward life. Enemies were to be loved, not hated. God demanded not token sacrifice a few times a year, but total commitment every day. Jesus declared that what mattered was loving God with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind, as well as loving one’s neighbor. Those in power would have none if Jesus’ words were followed literally. The common people would have to dedicate themselves to serving others if Jesus’ law were implemented. So first the religious leaders turned on Jesus, then the common people, then his disciples, then finally, from the cross He cries out. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cried from the cross.
It’s a question that we his followers should direct to ourselves as well, when we refuse to follow Jesus down the difficult roads of life. “I called you to love your enemies, why have you forsaken me?” “I called you to be peacemakers–why have you forsaken me?” “I called you to abandon family, friends, and country to follow me–why have you forsaken me?” We all have forsaken Jesus, but like Peter, there’s hope for redemption. Even Judas could have repented after his betrayal of Jesus, but he was too ashamed. When we reflect on how far our attitudes and actions are from those of Jesus, will we weep like Peter and return to Jesus? Or will we feel remorse like Judas, but refuse to ask forgiveness, abandoning Jesus forever? Or will we thump our chests with self-righteousness and say that we’ve been following Jesus all along? It is this last group that has betrayed Jesus in ways that Judas never could. God, cleanse us of self-righteousness, and give us the courage to seek forgiveness and find our way back to the path of the cross.