I often wondered why Jesus left the comfort of Galilee to go down south to the chaos of Jerusalem. He had things worked out pretty well in the rural north. He had developed a loyal, if not quixotic following. He was able to teach, heal and challenge without repercussions. The Pharisees would occasionally give him a hard time, but they were more of a nuisance than anything else Neither the ultimate religious hierarchy nor the Roman authorities were overly worried about the impact Jesus was making, because it was locally contained, and they figured he wouldn’t take his message or his presence into the capital city, where he would be more of a threat.
They were wrong.
Jesus came into Jerusalem with considerable fanfare – a celebration which Western Christendom will recreate this Sunday, Palm Sunday. And while his followers, who cheered his arrival with hosannas, expected that Jesus would throw out the corrupt religious leaders along with the ruthless Roman army, Jesus did not have that expectation.
His power was not about rules and regiments, but about faith, hope and love. He had drawn on this invisible, abiding and divine power before – up in Galilee, but they were more like beta tests. The stakes were as high as could be imagined when he made the decision to enter into Jerusalem.
Jesus took an enormous risk. And the risk was not that he would die. It didn’t take a religious scholar to figure out that if you openly challenged religious intolerance, authoritarian military rule – not to mention human fickleness, the consequences would be immediate and brutal. That was not the risk. The risk was holding onto the faith that God would be with him through the life-ending ordeal, and that new life would be the gift on the other side.
As followers of Jesus, we are invited to join him in taking risks. Not life-threatening risks; Jesus has already done that for us. But taking the risk of stepping into a new way of living, and trusting that God will be with us as we do so. Having faith is perhaps the first risk we take – and we take it over and over again. Having faith that new life can come out of death, when we all we have are stories and signs, but no evidence that would stand up in a court of law. Taking the risk of believing that the power of love is greater than whatever power wealth or the world can wield. Taking the risk of giving love away, in the faith that God’s love will continue to be given to us, which just increases the quotient of love.
As I look around the diocese, I see a lot more people and congregations taking risks. Taking the risk to begin meetings or gatherings with Dwelling in the Word, or even include it in worship, a practice which invites creativity and imagination as we read scripture from a different angle from the one most of us have been taught. Taking the risk to listen – beyond gathering information, but to listen to a deeper story that everyone has, but needs to feel safe to share. Some people are engaged in the risk of listening to their neighbors – with a hospitality and openness that builds relationships. More and more I am hearing about people taking the risk of talking about their faith in a way that is less about their membership in a church and more about their relationship with the living Christ.
And I am hearing about more congregations taking the risk to claim that business as usual is no longer an option. This doesn’t mean they are abandoning the business of the organization; but they realize that their first purpose – as a community of believers, is to give the necessary space to learn about and support one another on the spiritual journey; a risk which results in a deeper commitment as well as not having the “business” dominate the conversation.
Jesus trusted that his risk would lead to new life. Not just for him, but for all of us. I am seeing more and more people following Jesus’ lead, taking risks into new practices, deeper faith and more abiding relationships, which leads to new dimensions of life, hope and freedom that become more available as we take the risk.
Illustration: Detail of "Entry into Jerusalem" by Pedro de Orrente [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (see full image).