On Holy Tuesday Jesus is publicly confronted by the religious and political leaders. We are told their goal is to trap him so they can rid themselves of him and his movement. The public conflicts escalate when Jesus publicly rebukes them with confrontational rhetoric and truth-telling, often referred to as the “seven woes.” Read them when you can (Matthew 23–the whole chapter for context). They aren’t pretty.
Palm Sunday’s unmistakable political and public declaration of a new kind of liberation was already too much for the political and religious leaders. Holy Monday’s protest in the Temple pushed them even more. But after Holy Tuesday’s theatrical public shaming, these leaders have had enough.
Jesus is too dangerous a threat to their power. They don’t want his Kingdom. They want their own. They don’t need his liberation. They are comfortable with their political arrangement. Jesus’ public displays of undermining their authority has to stop. Enough is enough.
Once again we’re reminded of how public declarations of a new kind of liberation threatens the principalities and powers accustomed to dictating its terms. This is a dangerous thing to do. And we know this to be true.
Today we remember the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. We remember that the more public his declaration of liberation became, the more of a threat he grew, and the more his enemy pursued him, resulting in his murder on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
In remembering Dr. King we remember Medgar Evans. We remember that the more public he made his fight for liberation from Jim Crow in Mississippi, the more his enemy pursued him, resulting in his murder in his driveway.
We remember the Freedom Riders of 1961, groups of White and African American activists whose declaration of liberation put on public display in the American South led to horrific violence against them.
Undermining the authority of power-mongering political regimes for the sake of liberation comes with a price. Dr. King knew it. Medgar Evers knew it. The Freedom Riders knew it. And Jesus knew it. He knew the weight of the suffering and violence he would carry. He also knew he would undermine the suffering and violence that coming Sunday, so he carried it anyway. For every one. For all of us.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we wouldn’t have taken part with them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors’ sins!”(Matthew 23:29-32)
My Lord and liberating King, thank you for the liberation you bring. Liberate my mind. Liberate my heart. Liberate my soul. Liberate my imagination to envision your desire for my life, my loved ones, my friends, my neighbors and even my enemies. Unbound my hands and feet so that I can follow you fully and freely into the good news of our liberation.