You and I are inundated by narratives day and night. We are implored to spend our time, money, and allegiance in response to them. Their goads come at us through the mail, and via emails, radio, TV, and social media. Here are only a few of their associated rallying cries:
“Today Only!” “Act Now!” “Call Now!” “Last day to act!” “Crisis into opportunity!” “Doing nothing is not an option!” “Let’s get it done this year.” “We must move beyond climate talk to climate action.” . . . And there is, of course, The Great Reset’s pervasive “Build Back Better!” (bidding us to become the bricks and mortar of the Globalist’s Tower of Babel.)
The pressure to surrender and conform to narratives can be as manipulative as it is intense. The pressure is especially persuasive when a long-standing narrative fuels pressure to have a defining moment enacted. To wit, Palm Sunday and the so-called “triumphal entry”.
In terms of the gospel according to Mark, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, though taking on a “triumphal” and precursive tone, was anti-climactic. There was no takeover, no ousting of Roman rule, and no fire coming down upon the unrighteous.
Jesus entered Jerusalem, went into the temple, and looked all around. It was already getting late, and he returned to Bethany with the twelve. (Mk. 11: 11)
Those who had lined the road up to Jerusalem and had shouted “Hosanna in the Highest” did so out of the highest hopes. Along with the palm branches, they held expectations of a “Messianic Apocalypse”:
. . . for the heavens and the earth will listen to His [God’s] messiah . . . [and all w]hich is in them shall not turn away from the commandments of the Holy Ones. Strengthen yourselves, O you who seek the Lord, in his service! Will you not find the Lord in this, all those who hope in their heart? . . .
These words, from the Qumran text 4Q521 dubbed “Messianic Apocalypse”, were written some 100 years before Jesus. I wonder. Did the people go home that night and ask each other “What’s up with that guy? Why doesn’t he get with the program?” They would have had their reasons for asking.
Second Temple period Jews were experiencing a cultural crisis. Under the rule of a Seleucid (Greek-Syrian) king named Antiochus IV Epiphanes (“god manifest”), that began in 175 BC, the Jews had been under tremendous pressure to conform to Hellenistic culture.
(Note: the apocalyptic visions recorded in the latter chapters of Daniel (7-12) were written in response to the ongoing Jewish persecutions (167-164 BCE) by Mr. “god manifest”. The chapters can be dated toward the end of the Maccabean revolt (see below).
Antiochus did all he could to push his cultural narrative onto the Jews. He plundered the temple, erected an altar for Zeus Olympus in the Jerusalem temple and sacrificed to Greek gods. Traditional practices of Judaism were outlawed.
Many Jews at that time were greatly concerned about the growing assimilation to Hellenism and its gods. While some Jews went along with the cultural change, others revolted against it.
The Maccabean revolt was the armed resistance. Mattathias, a priest, and his sons Judas Maccabeus, Jonathon, Simon, John, and Eleazar led the resistance. Under Simon, Judea and Jerusalem achieved political independence for a time – the yoke of the Gentiles was removed from Israel (1 Maccabees 13:41-42)
After purifying the temple of foreign elements, Simon led a procession of those playing musical instruments and hymn singers waving palm branches into the temple. This much abbreviated version of second temple times sets the stage for Palm Sunday. You get a feel for what the people were thinking about Jesus.
Jesus entered a Jerusalem under Roman rule. The accounts of the Maccabean revolt, Simon’s “triumphal entry”, and the Messianic Apocalypse stoked imaginations that day. The crowd wanted Jesus to be the fulfillment of their Messianic hopes.
Jesus had encountered similar pressure to conform to the long-standing narrative – the advent of the Messiah – several times before.
When Jesus began to teach his disciples something new – there’s big trouble in store for the son of man – Peter did not hear Jesus conforming to the ‘popular’ messiah narrative. Sure, there had been trouble before. But this? . . .
There’s big trouble in store for the son of man. The elders, the chief priests, and the scribes are going to reject him. He will be killed – and after three days he’ll be raised. He said this all quite explicitly. (Mk. 8: 31-32)
Moments before Jesus said this, Peter had boldly declared Jesus to be the Messiah (Mk. 8:29). Clinging to a notion of the messiah as a formidable political and spiritual power and projecting onto Jesus that notion, Peter rebuked Jesus for saying things that took the wind out of the narrative he and others had been floating.
Jesus forcefully replied to Peter’s cross purposes:
Get behind me, Accuser! You’re thinking human thoughts, not God’s thoughts.
The renunciation of man’s narrative brings to mind Mark 1: 13. There, we read that Jesus went into the desert for forty days and was tested by Satan’s narrative.
Satan wanted Jesus to be the Messiah – a compromised, self-promoting, and self-advancing Messiah. He wanted the Jesus to be the Messiah the people wanted and not the Messiah the people needed.
Jesus had a growing number of people following him. Why not take advantage of the populist surge and clean house and become a hero? As before, there would be processions honoring a conquering hero. “‘C’mon, fulfill your destiny! The time is ripe.” “Act now!” “Build back better!”
Good Friday and Easter. We find out Jesus’ Cross Purpose. We find out why, though dealing with enormous opposition, he did not surrender to the pressure or conform to narratives and to cross-purposes. We are admonished to carry on the same way by considering his example:
We must look ahead, to Jesus. He is the one who carved out the path for faith, and he’s the one who brought it to completion.
He knew that there was joy spread out and waiting for him. That’s why he endured the cross, making light of its shame, and now has taken his seat at the right hand of God’s throne. He put up with enormous opposition from sinners. Weigh up in your minds just how severe it was; then you won’t find yourselves getting weary and worn out. -Hebrews 12: 2-3
Next, we’ll look at the gospel record of Jesus countering narratives and settling debates using “God’s thoughts”. We’ll also take a look at conformity.