by Eric Elnes.
At Countryside Church this year, some expressed concern that we would be continuing our series on Gifts of the Dark Wood on Palm Sunday. They were even more concerned to learn that we would be covering the Gift of Misfits. “Are we going to ignore the fact that it’s Palm Sunday?” some asked.
“Not in the slightest,” I answered. “Palm Sunday is, first and foremost, a celebration of Misfits.”
Joining my parishioners, you may ask, How so?
On Palm Sunday a Misfit is hailed as king.
Jesus isn’t part of the political or cultural establishment. He’s not even from a respectable area of Israel. Galilee? Galilee was considered the ancient Near Eastern equivalent of HILLBILLY land. It was a cultural backwater. And Nazareth, of Galilee? Even fellow Galileans looked down on Nazareth! In John’s Gospel, Philip (from Bethsaida, of Galilee) tells Nathanael (from Cana, of Galilee) that he thinks that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. What was Nathanael’s response?
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Even by HILLBILLIES it was considered HILLBILLY! Culturally, Jesus was a total Misfit.
Jesus was a Misfit with respect to religion as well. Some argue that Jesus was officially recognized as a rabbi, which would imply some degree of legitimacy. But clearly Jesus is an outsider, rabbi or not. Galilee was the place where priests and rabbis who were considered failures and underachievers were sent to. Consider the most backwater town you can think of. Some clergy serve such towns proudly, and of their own volition. And rightly they should! But clergy who are sent there under orders from a Bishop, for instance, or normally sent there for a reason – a reason that the Bishop thinks should NOT make the clergyperson proud.
If anyone had any inklings that Jesus was part of the religious establishment despite his Galilean connection, his turning over the tables of the Temple on Palm Sunday would have brought his Misfit status into stark relief. Is this the work of an insider?
So on Palm Sunday, a cultural, political and religious Misfit is hailed as king. And who was doing the hailing? Fellow misfits, of course! The folks who are waving palms or laying down their cloaks (depending on which gospel version you read) clearly fit the Misfit bill.
By declaring Jesus their king, the crowd is effectively thumbing their noses at Caesar and all of the local officials reigning in Palestine at the time. In shouting their Hosannas and declaring “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” they are clearly indicating that they take Jesus to be God’s Anointed One, the Messiah.
Yet had any of the religious officials of the day declared the HILLBILLY rabbi to be the Messiah? Not a single one. In fact, the priests who look on are mortified. They try to stop the crowd from declaring it. They consider it blasphemy to call Jesus the Messiah. In continuing to shout out, the crowd is effectively thumbing its nose at what was widely considered to be authentic, established, officially sanctioned, “traditional” religion.
A Misfit hailed as king by a misfit crowd while riding down the Mount of Olives seated not in a chariot gilded in gold, but on the back of a lowly donkey. That’s Palm Sunday. The ultimate exaltation of Misfits.
Okay, you say, that was then and this is now. Those people may have been misfits in Jesus’ day, and Jesus himself may have been a misfit back then, but in today’s world, Jesus isn’t a misfit. How could someone whom the largest world religion recognizes as king and the second largest religion (Islam) recognizes God’s holy prophet be considered a Misfit??
I could spend the next twenty minutes arguing that Jesus is a Misfit in his own religion, but for the sake of argument, let’s just assume the opposite – that in our day, and especially within Christianity, Jesus is now the ultimate insider.
But what about us?
If we dare to join the crowd on Palm Sunday and declare Jesus king and sing Hosannas to our Messiah, then we are the biggest Misfits of them all – convicted by our own declaration.
Skeptical? Consider the following.
What does a king demand of his subjects? Subservience. Obedience. Loyalty above any competing powers. And taxes. Large amounts of taxes. By some estimates, a king could command as much as 50-60% of his subjects income in Jesus’ day.
So if we are to declare Jesus king (not to mention DIVINE king), how many of us are honestly serving him as king?
Honestly, when it comes to deciding what you do this week, will you spend serious time praying, inquiring of the will of your king? Will you spend even five minutes each day praying about anything at all? Jesus regularly spent hours in prayer. Sometimes he even spent the night in prayer. What do you think he expects of you – as your king?
And what about those pesky taxes kings are always wanted? Does Jesus, as our king, expect anything financially of us? Finances have been a hot issue in our church lately. Has anyone asked what Jesus wants?
Jesus not only affirmed the biblical concept of tithing but went beyond it. He asked – no commanded – those who call him king to devote EVERYTHING to his service. 100% How much of EVERYTHING have you set at his feet? Have you even set ten percent there?
Can you imagine the response of a king whose subject stood before him and said, “I’m not going to pay your tax because it’s a hardship on me and the family?” or better, “I’m not going to pay anything but a small fraction your tax until you meet my needs.” “YOUR needs???” the king would say. Whose kingdom is this, anyway?
We could look to other areas, but it all begins to look the same: The second we call Jesus our king and do not show the loyalty and obedience a king demands, neither seeking the will of this king in any serious way, nor paying his taxes, nor devoting our families nor vocations to his service, this makes us misfits with respect to the very king and Kingdom we invoke!
Disloyalty to a king would cause of great anxiety and despair to any subject who stood in their presence at any time and place in world history. Yet across the country and around the world, Christians are entering sanctuaries dedicated to their king without the slightest tinge of guilt or anxiety – as if they are the king’s best, most loyal, obedient subjects.
If we were following any “regular” king, we would surely be thrown out of his presence – or into jail – or worse. But thankfully for us, we’ve sworn our allegiance not just to any king, but a Misfit one.
In the face of our disloyalty, disobedience and arrogance, THIS king, does something that no king has ever done before or since: He LOVES us. He LOVES us beyond our wildest imagination. He proves it by going so far as dying for us.
And what is God’s response to this Misfit king’s stranger-than-strange response to us? Well, you’ll just have to wait until Easter to find out, if you haven’t guessed already.