Sermon: "A Contrast of Minds"
Sermon.03.28.21.Palm Sunday B
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
Liturgy of the Palms: Mark 11.1-11; Psalm 118.1-2, 19-29
Liturgy of the Word: Isaiah 50.4-9a; Psalm 31.9-16; Philippians 2.5-11; Mark 14.1 – 15.47
Last Sunday we considered the question, “What does it mean to see Jesus?” In the gospel reading, some Greeks who had gone up to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover approached Philip and said, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” When we truly see Jesus, we see him on the cross and in the resurrection; we see Jesus in a way that is life changing. Consequently, others should be able to see Jesus reflected in our actions and in our life.
The readings for the third Sunday of Lent included the Ten Commandments. In that sermon, I noted the root of violence is found in desire and our propensity to imitate others. We all too easily become jealous of others’ possessions or abilities. The last commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20.17; NRSV). Jealousy leads to covetousness. As we noted, the word translated as “covet” is the Hebrew “hamad” which means “to desire, to long for.” The New Jerusalem Bible Commentary (NJBC) “suggests that conspire is a better translation” (Haslam: http://www.montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/blnt3m.shtml ). When we conspire, we actively plot ways to obtain what we desire. We further noted an observation concerning the Ten Commandments: They are “remarkably sophisticated … so sophisticated … in fact, that in its final injunction it forbids not only rivalrous and violent behavior but the covetousness that gives rise to rivalry and violence” (Gil Bailie: http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-b/lent3b/ ).
The Palm Sunday service not only depicts, but asks us to participate in the depiction of, two very different minds. We begin the service with cries of “Hosanna, glory is he who comes in the name of the Lord” and soon thereafter we are shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” I do not know about you, but as for me, I find that disturbing! Let’s further examine these states of mind.
Today’s gospel reading begins by noting “the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Mark 14.1b; NRSV). A bit later, before the account of the Passover meal with the disciples, we are informed “Judas Iscariot … went to the chief priests in order to betray Jesus to them. When they heard it, they were greatly pleased, and promised to give him money. So he began to look for an opportunity to betray him” (Mark 14.10-11; NRSV). During the meal, Jesus noted that one of the disciples would betray him. After the meal, Jesus and the disciples retired to Gethsemane. Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to draw apart with him and to keep watch while he went on to pray. While Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14.36; NRSV), Peter, James, and John fell asleep. In the meantime, due to Judas’ betrayal, the chief priests, scribes, and elders were inciting a mob.
When Jesus returned from praying a third time, only to find Peter, James, and John sleeping, he said, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest. Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14.41-42; NRSV). Judas had arrived, “and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priest, the scribes and the elders” (Mark 14.43; NRSV).
Jesus was taken before the high priest, Caiaphas, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. He was charged with blasphemy, a crime punishable by death. But bear in mind, the outcome of the trial was pre-determined. Let’s read a few verses from the Gospel of John -- Jesus had just raised Lazarus from the dead:
Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what he had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to put him to death (John 11.45-52; NRSV).
The court may have been a legitimate court. Nonetheless, it had trumped-up charges, trumped-up witnesses, and a trumped-up verdict! This fact was not lost on Pontius Pilate, who, as Mark tells us, “realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over” (Mark 15 .10: NRSV).
Instead of releasing the king of the Jews, the crowd clamored for Barabbas to be released; they further demanded that Jesus be crucified. Thus, we read, “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified” (Mark 15.6; NRSV).
The story of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion is a study in the contrast of minds. On one hand, we have the mind of Jesus who prayed, ““Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want” (Mark 14.36; NRSV). On the other hand, we have the minds of Caiaphas, the chief priests, the scribes, the elders, and Pontius Pilate, to say nothing of the madness of the mind of the mob they had galvanized. Their minds were filled with jealousy, just as Pilate realized, and with the desire to please the mob. Although they coveted Jesus’ adulation, gifts, and abilities, they feared losing their own wealth, power, and prestige.
In the lesson from Philippians, St. Paul tells us, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.5-8; NRSV). Paul stresses the mind of Christ for he has something specific in mind for the Church of Philippi – namely the evidence of Christ’s love lived out in community. Before characterizing the mind of Christ and encouraging them to have the same mind that was in Christ, Paul wrote: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Philippians 2.1-4; NRSV).
Our Lord Jesus Christ did not look to his own interests – interests expressed in his prayer, “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” He looked to the interests of the Father (“yet, not what I want, but what you want”), and in so doing, he assured us the victory can also be ours. Rejecting our own worldly interests, rejecting the madness of the crowd, is part of our own crucifixion; it is part of picking up our cross and following Jesus. But let us remember, the mind of Christ is well worth the sacrifice, for we find new life in Christ Jesus, our Lord.