Through Misunderstandings

man in white crew neck shirt with a stop hand gesture

Palm Sunday – 10th April 2022

Lenten Series – “Walking with Christ”

Just under 80 years ago, a crowd gathered on a humid August day to commence what was to be an unparalleled event for its time. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, police officers, and soldiers gathered for an event so spectacular, so colossal, it almost seemed to come out of a fairy tale rather than real life. Some six continents and 49 countries were represented, with most guests, especially the athletes wearing clothing with their own home flag represented, either on their person, or as they waved their flag for the crowd to see.

But the most obvious flag, the most conspicuous flag that day, was by far, the Swastika. It was draped anywhere and everywhere there was room. For this was the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. And while most of the athletes were present, the main attraction that day was not the athletes who would compete for medals, but the one who would preside over them, Adolf Hitler.

At 3:18 p.m., according to the author Daniel James Brown, “Adolf Hitler left the chancellery in central Berlin, standing upright in his Mercedes limousine, his right arm lifted in the Nazi salute. Tens of thousands of Hitler Youth, storm troopers, and helmeted military guards lined his route from the Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten and out to the Reich’s sport field. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary German citizens had massed along the way, leaning from windows and waving flags or standing twelve or more deep along the street, again using periscopes to get a glimpse of Hitler.

Now, as his limousine passed, they extended their right arms in the Nazi salute, their faces upturned, ecstatic, screaming in pulsing waves as he rode by, “Heil! Heil! Heil!” At the Maifeld, where the U.S. Olympic team members stood, the athletes began to hear the distant sound of crowds cheering, the noise slowly swelling and growing nearer, then loudspeakers blaring, “He is coming! He is coming”. “He is coming! He is Coming!” Chilling words aren’t they?

And I would argue not just because we know what leadership under Hitler would bring to the modern world, but also, the messianic overtones that we hear in the shouts of Hail! And He is coming. I could not help but compare this scene to the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday…the day Jesus entered into the Holy City, not standing on a Mercedes, or even the ancient world’s equivalent, the chariot, but rather he came on a donkey. (Daniel Brown)

On Palm Sunday, we recognise that event where multitudes proclaimed Christ as King just days before demanding his crucifixion. We celebrate the journey of Jesus taking him from his years of public service to this point in history. And we celebrate the path he chose, a path of obedience, yes, but one of misunderstandings. Today our Lenten journey comes to a climax as we continue Walking with Christ through Misunderstandings.

Misunderstandings of Ministry

The scene played out every year by children waving palm leaves keeps the historic event alive. After 31/2 years of public ministry, Jesus entered Jerusalem as humanity’s Saviour. However, the parade given him was for Israel’s Messiah. They were looking for political victory to free their occupation. Jesus was looking to offer atonement for the world’s sin.

Jesus’ intent was not a secret—and yet it appeared to be unknown. Public opinion is fickle because it is reliant on talking points fed them from manipulative individuals. What happened to Jesus is happening today. Cancel culture is not new. Jesus would be cancelled in the ultimate way by week’s end with the loss of his life. But on this day, the crowd bought into the media feed that Jesus was coming to overthrow the Roman government. Even among his own disciples there was thinking Jesus was going to stage a military-like coup.

With the lens of hindsight, we now understand Jesus’ ministry was focused on making the Father visible and present. Jesus attempted to move the mask people see when looking for God. Isaiah explained Jesus did that by servitude. The Servant is a teacher only because he listened to God first and conveyed all he learned. In humility, he removed himself from the view so that we see only God.

The path of Jesus led to the cross but it was a path of obedience. It was the Way that led us to see the Father. It was the means by which we can now worship God in spirit and in truth. God does not hide behind a mask. God’s face shines brightly through the life, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But oh how the humanity of Jesus suffered! His entire life and ministry was misunderstood.

One of the most painful experiences we can endure is to have our integrity attacked, especially when we have gone out of our way to do what is right. (Michael Andrus).

When our integrity is attacked it is often through what Michael Andrus labels as assumicide. Assumicide is a slang term used to describe what happens when you make a false assumption about someone or portray them in the worst possible light.

Few things hurt more than being misunderstood by our close friends. The closer they are to us, the greater the pain. When that happens we discover a lot about ourselves. How we respond when we’ve been misunderstood tells a great deal about the depth of our Christian faith. (Ray Pritchard)

Jesus suffered the greatest cost as he paid for others false assumptions of him with his life. Yet Jesus responded with humility and meekness. It reminds me of the practice among many who start their Lenten journey through an ashen cross being placed on their forehead. Those ashes are created from the burnt palms of the previous Palm Sunday. The palms waved in anticipation of Christ’s coming are burned and to ashes. They are used next year to start the next season of Lent. They are reminders that:

New beginnings invariably come from old false things that are allowed to die. Richard Rohr

Misunderstandings of Mission

Can you imagine our Lord’s situation? Not only was his message misunderstood, his very mission was misunderstood. The very reason he arrived in Jerusalem was totally misconstrued. His mission, to be the Saviour of the world, was totally misunderstood not by the crowds, but by his very own disciples.

The sham trial reveals an unjust execution of Jesus. We see many who had opportunity to embrace the truth about Jesus. The Jewish elders rejected him. Pilate dismissed him. Herod played with him. The tears of Jesus’ followers clouded their vision to see judgement was being passed on Jerusalem when their King was condemned. The crowd jeered him. But also sadly, Peter denied him, the disciples fled from him, and Jesus was left alone to endure sufferings he did not deserve.

Have you ever gone through a crisis in life abandoned by family? Have you ever been victim to an abrupt, one-sided verdict by friends to sever a friendship over a simple misunderstanding that left you confused and dismayed?

Psalm 118 sings of the rejected stone becoming the chief cornerstone. It calls for a blessing on one who comes in the Lord’s name. With hindsight, we see Jesus in those verses. We see his selfless work of obedience. We see one who was misunderstood, slandered, and crucified, yet rose from the dead victoriously. We give thanks to God and extol God for Jesus removed the mask hiding God’s presence from us. When we see Jesus, we see God.

People do not like trauma. When they watch you enter into a horrible situation, they just cannot go through it with you because they don’t want to share in the trauma. Which means ultimately, they are not your true friend. A true friend remains “through thick and thin.” Ultimately, your journeys are different. We all have our own pilgrimages to travel.

Job, like Jesus, had friends that questioned and misunderstood the situation. Yet Job, like Jesus, forgave his friends. Don’t judge others because they judged you unjustly. Allow yourself to grieve.

Being misunderstood is suffering a loss of relationship. That takes time to heal. Grieve without guilt. “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) and so too can you. Find someone safe to process your grief. Don’t beat yourself up. Jesus loves you and gave himself for you so that you could have eternal life. You can have an abundant life and joy restored. And part of that new life is new friends that nature you.

That is the beauty of Church. That is the marvel of collective worship that cannot be found staying home and watching your screen as if you are in church. Jesus has created a new Body. There is an heavenly kingdom accessible on earth.

The passage from Philippians amplifies the shout of Jesus for us to see the Father. The thought-provoking message connects Jesus’ obedience with his divinity. Though his path led to death on a cross, yet we bring glory to God the Father when we confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord.

There is healing in the fact that our misunderstandings are building blocks for divinity. God uses those situations to help us find healing. They empower us to become better persons. Misunderstandings enable us to fellowship more fully with Jesus Christ.

That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Philippians 3:10 (ESV)

Published by St Johns Papatoetoe

Presbyterian Church, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe, Auckland, New Zealand belonging to Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ).

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