Jesus – troublemaker, rabble-rouser, agitator

Palm Sunday – 2015

Mark 14:1-15-27

Marian Free

In the name of God risk taker, trouble-maker, agitator. Amen.

The last decade has seen the rise of all kinds of popularist movements. We have witnessed reactions against dictatorial governments in the Arab world and against unpopular governments such as in Myanmar. In Hong Kong people took to the streets to challenge the direct influence of China in local affairs. Elsewhere we have seen protests break out in India as a consequence of the gang rape of a young woman and in Afghanistan women have risked their lives protesting the lynching of a young woman in the presence of police officers. In the United States there have been riots in response to the apparently needless slaying of young black men (and also when two police officers were murdered). I’m sure that you can all think of many other examples.

The response of governments and law and order agencies to such events depends on a number of things – how much they feel that they or the stability of their country is threatened, how much international pressure is brought to bear on the situation, whether or not they think they can wait out the protests, and whether they think that the reactions of the crowds might be justified.

Too often, movements that are violently suppressed prove in hindsight to have spoken the truth. Too often, those who challenge the establishment give their lives for a cause that later is proven to be both right and just. The problem for all of us (not just our governments) is that agitators make us feel uncomfortable, they challenge the status quo, they make us question ourselves and our motives, they unsettle our notions of right and wrong and they threaten our lifestyle.

The government and law enforcement agencies might be the forces that contain protest and rebellion, but every citizen, by their silence or failure to act, is complicit in the repression (sometimes violent) of those who challenge the established way of seeing the world. Often it is only in retrospect that many of us are able to see that those who fought for change were in fact fighting for the greater good and that the world is better for their courage and their ability to both see and tell the truth. The list of such people is endless. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Steve Biko and countless others saw clearly the evils of their time and were not afraid to name them. Each of them was seen as a threat to the establishment and the established way of life and each paid for their vision and their courage with their lives.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem his actions, and those of the crowds, caused consternation among the religious leader of the time. After all they were responsible for keeping the peace. The privileges that the Jews enjoyed and their freedom to practice their religion were dependent on submission to the rule of Rome. Jesus’ actions seemed designed to provoke a reaction from the crowds, and the crowds, filled with expectation at his coming, were throwing caution to the wind. It really is little surprise that his actions brought him into a direct collision with the authorities and that those same authorities conspired together to find some way to rid themselves of him.

Jesus challenged the willingness of the religious leaders to submit to Rome, he condemned the corruption of the Temple cult and he took the side of those who were marginalised and excluded. He saw that things could be different; that the ancient Hebrew faith could be practiced with integrity and that the community in which he lived could be more inclusive, more tolerant and more loving. Such changes were too threatening to those who were used to their positions of privilege and power.

Jesus saw clearly how things could be and was not afraid to name it, no matter the cost. His clear-sightedness and courage were confronting and unsettling and in the end both the ruling authorities and the crowds rejected his message and saw him put to death. Jesus was not a good man, a comfortable man, a man who was easy to be around. He was an agitator and a rabble-rouser who, because he was a risk to the stability of the state, was put to death.

The lessons of two thousand years ago continue to challenge us.

Can we tell the difference between troublemakers and truth-tellers? Do we respond to the voice of the prophets or do we suppress and reject those voices that cause us disquiet? Are we able to tell the difference between trouble-makers and truth-tellers or are complicit in the rejection and repression of truth? Are we willing to stand with Jesus – to the death if required – or will we, like the fickle crowds, turn against him when the cost of following becomes too high?

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