This isn’t a journal entry, not a typical one. It’s more of a… reflection, I guess is the right word.
We’ve been doing a Bible study at the South Street Cafe (Wednesday evenings at 5:30, and all are welcome) for the past few weeks, and I’ve basically been basing in on the lectionary. So I was reading the lectionary for the coming of the Wise Men for the study on the Epiphany two weeks ago, and last week I was reading the lectionary on the baptism of Jesus. Check this out:
2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” 3 When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. [Mt. 2:1-4, NRSV]
When the Wise Men approached Herod, he was terrified that someone was coming to supplant him, to take his power and authority, and to expose him for the fraud he was. But, interestingly, the passage doesn’t say “and the priests and scribes were also frightened” or “his sycophants were also scared.” No, it says that Herod was frightened, and all of Jerusalem with him.
Yeah, Herod was a psychopath who had his own sons murdered so that they wouldn’t steal his power. Rational leadership wasn’t exactly I his wheelhouse. So maybe they were afraid just because they were within arm’s reach of an angry madman.
But maybe it was something else. Maybe they were afraid because, like so many of us, they were afraid of change, of disturbance and disruption. Maybe they were afraid because they were comfortable.
OK, so a week later I was reading about the Baptism of Jesus, and I read this:
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. [Mk 1:4-5, NRSV]
How interesting! Just a week ago, all of Jerusalem was afraid with Herod, terrified of change, afraid of whatever they were afraid of… now, well, OK, so this is probably 30 years later, but from a literary standpoint it’s a close juxtaposition… anyway, now, they’re coming out to see John, to hear his preaching about repentance, about how one is coming soon who is mightier than him, and about how they need to repent, and they confess their sins.
We’re a changeable race. We grow and adapt, yes, and at our best we mature. But we also regress, and run, and hide, and rebel against the things that make us uncomfortable or uncertain.
When the wind blows one way we celebrate. When it changes we mourn, or scream, or rant and rave.
What an interesting parallel these two passages are to something that would happen just a few short years after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan. There would come a day, close to the Passover, when Jesus would enter Jerusalem itself on the back of a donkey, and a great crowd gathered praising him as the Son of David, and calling Hosanna in the highest! And the Gospel tells us that the whole city (again, all of Jerusalem) was in turmoil at the coming of the prophet Jesus of Nazareth.
And just a short week later the changeable crowd would change from yelling “Hosanna!” to yelling “Crucify him!”
As tragic as this is, it’s part of human nature. It’s part of who we are, and, I suppose, how we are built. I guess the good news here is that, even though it’s part of our nature, this doesn’t have to own us.
Both John and Jesus came to the people proclaiming the need to repent. To change their lives. To walk a new way, on a new path. Not just to change the way they acted, but how they viewed living. How they reacted to live and neighbor. Both John the Baptist and Jesus, and truth be told the prophets from antiquity, they all proclaimed a message of repentance, change, life-altering renewal.
And the reason they proclaimed it… is because we can do it.
It’s hard, yes, it’s a challenge, and there are many people who surround us who will mock us and criticize us, and say, why should you be or act in a certain way when the world doesn’t exist or act in that way; why should you be better than those next to you, when they won’t return the favor. It’s hard to swim against the current of social isolationism.
But we can do it. And we should do it. Because if one throws enough rocks into any current, the current will change, even if it’s only a little bit. And if there’s one thing we know about human beings, it’s that we can, and we do, change. So it might as well be for the better.