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Palm Sunday, Year B

Liturgy of the Palms:
Mark 11:1-11a - link to NRSV text
Psalm 118:19-29 - link to BCP text

Liturgy of the Word:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 - link to NRSV text
Philippians 2:5-11 - link to NRSV text
Mark (14:32-72) 15:1-39 (40-47) - link to NRSV text

When I was new to the Episcopal Church, I had a hard time with the Palm Sunday liturgy. In particular, I bristled when the congregation played the part of the crowd, calling out "Crucify him!" As far as I was concerned, Jesus was crucified by the power of empire and of the elites who owed their position of privilege to imperial power. That wasn't me, I thought -- I wouldn't have shouted such a thing, I'm not part of that crowd, and I didn't want to play the part; I just wanted to get back to studying the New Testament -- something I funded by doing technical writing.

It was a very good gig, that technical writing -- flexible hours and very good pay. And doing that was what got me thinking differently about the drama we enter on Palm Sunday. I started thinking about my technical writing job, and why it paid so well. I worked at Jet Propulsion Labs in southern California. Mostly I worked writing training materials for a software package teams at the labs used for collaboration. It wasn't exciting, but it seemed like a pretty innocent way to make a living.

Of course, as you might have guessed, a lot of projects at Jet Propulsion Labs involve propulsion and guidance systems. These are often used for scientific exploration and research, of which folks at the labs were (rightly) proud. But I found myself wondering one day whether our work was so well funded because of the other potential uses the system had. Satellites can be used to observe the weather or for surveillance of enemies. Propulsion and guidance systems work for missiles as well as for craft used to explore the solar system.

I started feeling uncomfortable. I didn't work on any technology used to make weapons; I worked on technology that helps people communicate and work with one another, whatever their project. It was no more my business if the workgroup was making weapons than it was their business if someone used their rocket to kill people rather than to gather knowledge. Or maybe it was my business -- after all, I was happy enough to take the money.

I wondered whether I should quit the job, maybe work more in parishes. It wouldn't pay anywhere near as much, but at least my hands would be clean ... or would they? What am I really accomplishing if I go to work in a parish where I ask other people to do work I think I'm too holy to touch so they can pledge the money that pays my salary?

I wear garments touched by hands from all over the world
35% cotton, 6% polyester, the journey             begins in Central America
In the cotton fields of El Salvador
In a province soaked in blood,
Pesticide-sprayed workers toil             in a broiling sun
Pulling cotton for two dollars             a day.
Then we move on up to another rung             -
Cargill A top-forty trading conglomerate,
takes the cotton through             the Panama Canal
Up the Eastern seaboard, coming to the US of A for             the first time
In South Carolina At the Burlington             mills
Joins a shipment of polyester filament
courtesy of the New Jersey             petro-chemical mills of Dupont
Dupont strands of filament begin
in the South American country of Venezuela
Where oil riggers bring             up oil from the earth for six dollars a day
Then Exxon, largest oil company             in the world,
Upgrades the product in the country             of Trinidad and Tobago
Then back into the Caribbean and             Atlantic Seas
To the factories of Dupont
On the way to the Burlington mills
In South Carolina
To meet the cotton from the blood-soaked             fields of El Salvador
In South Carolina
Burlington factories hum with the             business
of weaving oil and cotton into miles of fabric of Sears
Who takes this bounty back into             the Caribbean Sea
Headed for Haiti this time -
May she be one day soon free -
Far from the Port-au-Prince palace
Third world women toil doing piece             work to Sears specifications
For three dollars a day my sisters             make my blouse
It leaves the third world for the             last time
Coming back into the sea to be             sealed in plastic for me
This third world sister
And I go to the Sears department             store where I buy my blouse
On sale for 20% discount
Are my hands clean?
(Sweet Honey in the Rock, "Are My Hands Clean?" Live at Carnegie Hall)

There's a place -- a very important place -- for "following the money," paying close attention to what we buy and how we make a living so that we support the kind of justice-making to which God calls us. The impulse to do this so that MY hands can be "clean" is fundamentally misguided, though -- much as my balking at participation in the liturgy in Palm Sunday was.

It isn't about me, and in this world there's no way I can keep my hands clean. This world is so caught up in systems of war and exploitation, systems that preserve or increase the privilege of the rich at the expense of the poor, that there's no way I can "opt out" of it in such a way that my hands are clean. There's no way in this world.

That's why Jesus came -- not to clean my hands, but to change the world.

If all we were called to do was to keep our hands clean, we could try to do it by isolating ourselves -- don't interact with other people or their money, and you won't be entering into relationships that exploit. But Jesus didn't say, "avoid doing to others what you don't want done to you"; he said, "do to others as you would want them to do to you." We are called to a life of passionate and profound engagement with the world, relating to sisters and brothers everywhere in a way that helps us to live more deeply into our Baptismal Covenant to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

And we have an excellent model for how to do that in the person of Jesus, whose calling wasn't just to hang out with God in some pure and detached realm, but to plant the seeds of God's kingdom come, God's will done ON EARTH as it is in heaven. He did it with humor and theater, as when he staged a brilliant send-up of a Roman lord's triumphal procession into the city. Roman rulers and generals would trot in on a noble white charger, wearing gleaming armor and leading mighty armies forcing along a procession of humiliated captives and displays of the spoils of war. Jesus borrows a humble donkey and leads a procession of bedraggled fishermen and loose women laughing and dancing in some peasant street theater along the same route Pontius Pilate might have used in his procession of might. But a sense of humor is a mighty asset if what you're seeking is God's kingdom.

Such a sense of humor is a key ingredient in something that Jesus shows in our epistle and gospel readings for this Sunday -- a healthy sense of self. That's not a phrase I hear often to describe Jesus, but I think that the passage in Philippians 2 for this Sunday shows precisely that. Jesus knew who and whose he was. He lived in a way that was centered in his identity as God's beloved child, and so he didn't need recognition from the world to know who he was -- he could simply BE who he was in the world. That's a life of integrity as well as humor and joy.

And these are gifts we need to receive and experience on this road we travel following Jesus. This road leads to some very dark places -- dark places are what the light is for, after all. The crowd's cry of "crucify him!" is one of those dark places, and I've found that when I can enter into that place rather than trying to deny it's there, that's an opening for the light of Christ to transform it. It's the kind of experience that makes sense for me of Isaiah's vision of how God redeems suffering:

through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

My hands aren't clean, and that's a good thing, since I'm following someone who didn't mind dirtying his hands in deep engagement with the world -- sometimes playful, sometimes painful, but always transformative.

Thanks be to God!

April 6, 2006 in Holy Week, Isaiah, Justice, Mark, Year B | Permalink

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Comments

Thanks for this commentary. Far too many of the other resources I look at to help me prepare for preaching treated this Sunday as either Palm or Passion, either Victory or Death, and didn't see them as joined, a fork in the road, if you will. As I see it, the question on this Sunday is not 'What Would Jesus Do'...we already know that. The question is, 'Now what am I going to do?' Take the path of least resistance, the easy Palm-strewn one? Or do I follow the still small voice, even when it isn't lucrative, or popular, or well-lit, or comfortable? Thanks again, Dylan. By the way, great music choices.

Posted by: Rev Paige | Apr 7, 2006 12:39:07 PM

Nice one, Dylan!

Thanks so much.

Posted by: Rick+ | Apr 8, 2006 8:05:10 AM

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Palm Sunday, Year B

« Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B | Main | Maundy Thursday, Year B »

Palm Sunday, Year B

Liturgy of the Palms:
Mark 11:1-11a - link to NRSV text
Psalm 118:19-29 - link to BCP text

Liturgy of the Word:
Isaiah 52:13-53:12 - link to NRSV text
Philippians 2:5-11 - link to NRSV text
Mark (14:32-72) 15:1-39 (40-47) - link to NRSV text

When I was new to the Episcopal Church, I had a hard time with the Palm Sunday liturgy. In particular, I bristled when the congregation played the part of the crowd, calling out "Crucify him!" As far as I was concerned, Jesus was crucified by the power of empire and of the elites who owed their position of privilege to imperial power. That wasn't me, I thought -- I wouldn't have shouted such a thing, I'm not part of that crowd, and I didn't want to play the part; I just wanted to get back to studying the New Testament -- something I funded by doing technical writing.

It was a very good gig, that technical writing -- flexible hours and very good pay. And doing that was what got me thinking differently about the drama we enter on Palm Sunday. I started thinking about my technical writing job, and why it paid so well. I worked at Jet Propulsion Labs in southern California. Mostly I worked writing training materials for a software package teams at the labs used for collaboration. It wasn't exciting, but it seemed like a pretty innocent way to make a living.

Of course, as you might have guessed, a lot of projects at Jet Propulsion Labs involve propulsion and guidance systems. These are often used for scientific exploration and research, of which folks at the labs were (rightly) proud. But I found myself wondering one day whether our work was so well funded because of the other potential uses the system had. Satellites can be used to observe the weather or for surveillance of enemies. Propulsion and guidance systems work for missiles as well as for craft used to explore the solar system.

I started feeling uncomfortable. I didn't work on any technology used to make weapons; I worked on technology that helps people communicate and work with one another, whatever their project. It was no more my business if the workgroup was making weapons than it was their business if someone used their rocket to kill people rather than to gather knowledge. Or maybe it was my business -- after all, I was happy enough to take the money.

I wondered whether I should quit the job, maybe work more in parishes. It wouldn't pay anywhere near as much, but at least my hands would be clean ... or would they? What am I really accomplishing if I go to work in a parish where I ask other people to do work I think I'm too holy to touch so they can pledge the money that pays my salary?

I wear garments touched by hands from all over the world
35% cotton, 6% polyester, the journey             begins in Central America
In the cotton fields of El Salvador
In a province soaked in blood,
Pesticide-sprayed workers toil             in a broiling sun
Pulling cotton for two dollars             a day.
Then we move on up to another rung             -
Cargill A top-forty trading conglomerate,
takes the cotton through             the Panama Canal
Up the Eastern seaboard, coming to the US of A for             the first time
In South Carolina At the Burlington             mills
Joins a shipment of polyester filament
courtesy of the New Jersey             petro-chemical mills of Dupont
Dupont strands of filament begin
in the South American country of Venezuela
Where oil riggers bring             up oil from the earth for six dollars a day
Then Exxon, largest oil company             in the world,
Upgrades the product in the country             of Trinidad and Tobago
Then back into the Caribbean and             Atlantic Seas
To the factories of Dupont
On the way to the Burlington mills
In South Carolina
To meet the cotton from the blood-soaked             fields of El Salvador
In South Carolina
Burlington factories hum with the             business
of weaving oil and cotton into miles of fabric of Sears
Who takes this bounty back into             the Caribbean Sea
Headed for Haiti this time -
May she be one day soon free -
Far from the Port-au-Prince palace
Third world women toil doing piece             work to Sears specifications
For three dollars a day my sisters             make my blouse
It leaves the third world for the             last time
Coming back into the sea to be             sealed in plastic for me
This third world sister
And I go to the Sears department             store where I buy my blouse
On sale for 20% discount
Are my hands clean?
(Sweet Honey in the Rock, "Are My Hands Clean?" Live at Carnegie Hall)

There's a place -- a very important place -- for "following the money," paying close attention to what we buy and how we make a living so that we support the kind of justice-making to which God calls us. The impulse to do this so that MY hands can be "clean" is fundamentally misguided, though -- much as my balking at participation in the liturgy in Palm Sunday was.

It isn't about me, and in this world there's no way I can keep my hands clean. This world is so caught up in systems of war and exploitation, systems that preserve or increase the privilege of the rich at the expense of the poor, that there's no way I can "opt out" of it in such a way that my hands are clean. There's no way in this world.

That's why Jesus came -- not to clean my hands, but to change the world.

If all we were called to do was to keep our hands clean, we could try to do it by isolating ourselves -- don't interact with other people or their money, and you won't be entering into relationships that exploit. But Jesus didn't say, "avoid doing to others what you don't want done to you"; he said, "do to others as you would want them to do to you." We are called to a life of passionate and profound engagement with the world, relating to sisters and brothers everywhere in a way that helps us to live more deeply into our Baptismal Covenant to strive for justice and peace, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

And we have an excellent model for how to do that in the person of Jesus, whose calling wasn't just to hang out with God in some pure and detached realm, but to plant the seeds of God's kingdom come, God's will done ON EARTH as it is in heaven. He did it with humor and theater, as when he staged a brilliant send-up of a Roman lord's triumphal procession into the city. Roman rulers and generals would trot in on a noble white charger, wearing gleaming armor and leading mighty armies forcing along a procession of humiliated captives and displays of the spoils of war. Jesus borrows a humble donkey and leads a procession of bedraggled fishermen and loose women laughing and dancing in some peasant street theater along the same route Pontius Pilate might have used in his procession of might. But a sense of humor is a mighty asset if what you're seeking is God's kingdom.

Such a sense of humor is a key ingredient in something that Jesus shows in our epistle and gospel readings for this Sunday -- a healthy sense of self. That's not a phrase I hear often to describe Jesus, but I think that the passage in Philippians 2 for this Sunday shows precisely that. Jesus knew who and whose he was. He lived in a way that was centered in his identity as God's beloved child, and so he didn't need recognition from the world to know who he was -- he could simply BE who he was in the world. That's a life of integrity as well as humor and joy.

And these are gifts we need to receive and experience on this road we travel following Jesus. This road leads to some very dark places -- dark places are what the light is for, after all. The crowd's cry of "crucify him!" is one of those dark places, and I've found that when I can enter into that place rather than trying to deny it's there, that's an opening for the light of Christ to transform it. It's the kind of experience that makes sense for me of Isaiah's vision of how God redeems suffering:

through him the will of the LORD shall prosper.
Out of his anguish he shall see light;
he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.

My hands aren't clean, and that's a good thing, since I'm following someone who didn't mind dirtying his hands in deep engagement with the world -- sometimes playful, sometimes painful, but always transformative.

Thanks be to God!

April 6, 2006 in Holy Week, Isaiah, Justice, Mark, Year B | Permalink

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