I have been hooked on the presidential nominating process this time around
The Day of Misunderstanding
I have been hooked on the presidential nominating process this time around. I know, I know, you couldn't be less interested in politics. But as we celebrate Christianity's Sunday of gross misunderstanding, the one with palms waving, I am struck again by the contrast, the rather stark contrast, between the rabbi on a jackass and the aspirant nominee at the podium... or as I watched the other night, the candidate in the center of the auditorium, turning this way and that, the better to address voters face to face, but looking more than a little (sounding it too!) like the emcee of the Greatest Show on Earth.
It's the stock in trade of preachers to trash politicians. That's not my intent in this essay. To make a run for the presidency requires an ego larger than most of us can imagine. Just to enter the political arena means setting aside any personal expectation of consistent virtue. Politics is the business of the doable. Moral absolutes may sound great in party platforms, but they inevitably end up adulterated in the legislature... and of necessity, because my absolute isn't always or even often the same as yours. Democracy, as the founders of the United States envisioned it, takes into account the imperfections of humanity, even if those competing for high office are unwilling to admit theirs (imperfections, that is).
Outsized egos and all, we can thank God (see Romans 13) that anyone goes for the Oval Office, knowing as they surely must, the prying into the personal, the consequent slander, and, through it all, the acceleration of the aging process.
It's a tough job and somebody has to do it.
That, of course, is what the crowd assumes on Palm Sunday as the procession enters Jerusalem with Jesus astride a young donkey. Hope is in the air. A new birth of liberty, please God. A kinder gentler reign is about to begin; good Lord, deliver us. The populace wants a savior in the mold of King David. Someone who can slay the Goliath of Roman occupation. Someone who can lift the economy from stagnation and heavy taxation. Someone who can make their lives appreciably better. That's what the palm-waving and the Hosannas are all about, the same things that fill the minds and hearts of those along the entry to the hall, reaching out, eager to touch, if ever so lightly, the outstretched hand of the Senator from (you take your pick).
What strikes me about the rabbi on a jackass is how little interested he is in pleasing the crowd. The inner circle of his political advisers are positively engorged with glorious possibilities for him... and them. But he, possessed, I assume, by the terrible and yet wonderful mission ahead of him, "rides on," as the hymn puts it, "rides on in majesty." The religious authorities tell him to silence the cheering of his admirers. The rabbi confounds them with a reference to shouting stones. And, on this day of gross misunderstanding, Jesus' stony putdown of the Pharisees further inflames the expectations of the crowd, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."
It's a cheer unmitigated by thoughts of the coming Friday.
In fact, there would be no parade and no Palm Sunday if the first century conventioneers were to really get it, that the man on the donkey would soon be the man on a cross. It doesn't play to our bias to optimism. Who wins nomination to the Oval Office? The candidate who promises a New Deal. The candidate who proposes a New Frontier. The candidate who says he believes it is Morning in America. The candidate who leads us in the chant, "Yes, we can!"? The throng on Passion Sunday embraces the Easter message, New Life, but hasn't a clue as to how it will happen... or the pain, the anguish, the awful cost: two crossed beams of wood and the execution of not just a good man but, in my book (of course!), the best.
Here is where the campaign for the presidency and Palm Sunday intersect. Those vying for that office inspire and are themselves inspired by the rhetoric of new possibilities. Whatever their faults, the three potential presidents in 2009 are sincere, each of them, no matter the suspicions about motivations already raised and sure to be raised before November 4th. On the other hand, don't for a minute believe the politician who insists that his motives are purer than the driven snow of New Hampshire and the fields of golden grain of Iowa. Ambition is at best an ambiguous virtue, but a virtue candidates for office had better have an ocean of to tide them over through the ebb and flow of a campaign.
How else could any intelligent human being (except one with "vaulting ambition") enter the elective fray? I mean, in my lifetime alone, I have witnessed presidents who have been shot at, wounded, assassinated, impeached, laughed at, and forced to stand down from another election. Once they pictured the pastor's home as a fish bowl. The White House is worse, a fish tank like the one at the New York City Aquarium featuring a beluga. Uneasy should lie the head that wears the crown.
Of course, any candidate that admits to second thoughts could never be elected.
But that's not the worry filling the mind of the young rabbi astride a donkey. He's principally concerned to getting to the place where he can pronounce the benediction five days later: "It is finished." That is, the kingdom of God, the new dispensation of God's grace, the cost of which he alone in the parade has calculated... on this day of gross misunderstanding. Reconciliation, between heaven and earth, between nations, between brothers and sisters, between me and me, comes at a steep price.
Thank God that SomeOne is willing not only to pay the price but wise enough to perceive that the future leads not through oval offices but up a cross-crowned hill.