This is the week in the Christian calendar when we remember Jesus starting his week on “Palm Sunday” riding into Jerusalem as a form of political protest against the Roman empire’s own procession on the other side of the city who were reminding Israelites that even though they were celebrating Passover, a holy reminder that God had liberated them, that they should not get any grand ideas. However, the same crowd that celebrated Jesus as a conquering hero on Palm Sunday encouraged Rome to kill him on Friday. And of course they did. We do the same thing. We rally around a leader who says, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” We rally around a leader who says, “I am but a humble servant; it will take all of us to effect transformation and liberation.” And when s/he tries to let us lead, we call for his or her head.
Wearing my other hat, as Missional and Reconciliation Minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Northern California-Nevada, I contributed to this year’s Lenten devotional. My devotion showed up today. It was written over a month ago, so it may already seem dated. However, the overarching themes of hypermasculinity and Jesus’ alternative model remain true all these days later. So here it is, with a clarifying note that the devotional theme was evangelism, which literally translates from the Greek to “sharing Good News.” So when you see me talking about evangelism, I hope that you don’t think I’m going out to baptize the heathens but that you recognize that sharing Good News is what I try to do in every aspect of my life, very often without talking about God or Jesus, but sometimes doing exactly that. And now, back to my devotion:
A tender Christ in an aggressive world
Two issues are making the rounds of the cyberworld as I write this reflection. Baptist minister John Piper is stirring up controversy for wanting a masculine (and male hierarchy dominated) church to match his masculine Christ. And Christopher Hedges is blaming the Black Bloc (anarchists who believe in damaging property) for tearing apart Occupy Oakland.
On first glance, there’s not much in common between John Piper and the Black Bloc. Chris Hedges refers to the behavior of the Black Bloc as hypermasculine,” breaking windows indiscriminantly and calling it victory. John Piper on the other hand believes men need to take stronger “masculine” leadership to protect women and to lift up the “rugged” Christian life Jesus calls us to. His notion of masculine Christian leadership is about lifting heavy burdens and bearing lashes and receiving challenges without self pity.
But what unifies these two news-makers is this: underneath the violent rage, or underneath the compassionate but rugged manhood, is fear. Fear that this country’s widening economic gap will continue to crush the poor. Fear that women in ministry will diminish the value of men and take away the vital role they have held for so long.
When Jesus looked out at Jerusalem, he saw the Pharisees desperately trying to save their people through rigorous orthodoxy. He saw the zealots fighting against the oppressive Roman regime. And in reaching out to those hypermasculine groups, he didn’t respond to their anger. He responded to their fear. And he responded in an almost feminine way, mourning that he couldn’t gather them all to his breast like a hen with her brood. As a woman whose approach to life is a lot like John Piper’s description of “masculine ministry,” I see what Jesus has to teach me about evangelism. Jesus responds with tenderness and nurture. You’d think the Black Bloc and John Piper would both sneer at this approach. But in that moment and in that week, Jesus ministered through his vulnerability to those who could not admit how vulnerable they felt. May we evangelize with the same vulnerability.
Prayer: May we, like you, show vulnerability and love to those living in fear, whether they show it or not. Amen.