This week we observe Palm Sunday. We remember when Jesus entered Jerusalem and the crowd cheered. They yearned for a powerful figure who would overthrow the Roman government and create a new kin-dom of God for the Israelites who had been subjected to one empire or another for the better part of 600 years. As he rode into Jerusalem, the crowd greeted Jesus as the one who would fulfill their desires. It was a moment of triumph.
Many Christians have had similar expectations of Jesus. This continues to our day. Many Christians focus on Jesus as a triumphant figure. We crave a powerful Jesus who can come into our lives and make a triumphal mark. His return is embedded in the Nicene Creed which Christians around the world recite every Sunday "from thence he shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead."
Last year our family visited the Vatican and the Sistine Chapel. Much of the art portrayed a triumphant Jesus. The sculptures showed a powerful Jesus who is strong, muscular and almighty. The paintings depicted a majestic savior enthroned with angels all around him. Within the church and Christianity, many rejoice in depicting a powerful depiction of Jesus and God.
However, this is only one side of Jesus and one dimension of God. If we only focus on this side, we fail to see the Jesus of the gospels who taught at length regarding how we are to live and follow his lessons. If we continue to focus on triumphant, powerful Jesus, we see only the human constructions of Jesus becoming Christ and a part of the Trinity. We will fail to recognize the humanity of Jesus. We forget that Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35). Jesus prayed before his impending arrest and execution, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). Jesus loved the poor and was the poor. Jesus was born poor, lived poor and died poor.
Despite these and other examples, Christians often want to ignore or push aside the humanity of Jesus who cared for the poor. Rather we prefer to emphasize the triumphal Jesus of the Renaissance and later portrayed in many European paintings, stained glass windows, frescos and music.
However, we need to recognize the other side of Jesus who proclaimed his mission in the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free," (Luke 4:18). Jesus loves those who are the forsaken people. And Jesus wants us to do the same: feed the poor, care for our sisters and brothers who are sick, and visit our brothers and sisters in prison.
As we look around our society, we know who these people are. We know who are the ones who are lost, forgotten, or in prison. One person who keeps tugging at my heart is the Korean American missionary, Kenneth Bae who is in prison in North Korea. He has been charged and found guilty by the North Korean government of trying to overthrow that regime. He has been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in prison.
Kenneth Bae is a father, a husband, a son and a brother. He, like every other person, is a human whose life is worthy to be fought for. As his family continues to seek his freedom on humanitarian grounds we need to keep him in our prayers.
Jesus cared for people outcast by the powers and customs of his day. He crossed established lines to welcome and to love in practical, caring ways that transformed lives and challenged the status quo. Jesus invites us to do the same -- to remember we are all God's beloved children and to treat all people as our brothers and sisters, particularly those in need. We need to remember and live Jesus's words, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these of these brothers [and sisters] of mine, you did for me." (Matthew 25:40).