These days, virtually no one in the public eye speaks plainly and clearly. How long has it been since you last heard a politician answer a direct question with a direct answer – especially an answer of “yes” or “no?” Come to think of it, how long has it been since the last time a politician was asked a direct question, instead of a compound of an inquiry with hypothesis plus disputable tendentious assertion? My memory suggests no instances of either phenomenon these past twenty years.
Speaking plainly and clearly is the practice of one resolved to be understood. Loading statements with periphrases, conditional clauses, asides, and irrelevancies is the practice of one desperate to leave himself wiggle room, so he can back away from whatever interpretation of his words We the Unwashed might have reached. Politicians, almost all of whom are inherently dishonest, prefer the latter sort of speech.
But I’m not here to talk about politics or its practitioners. Not today.
The crowd assembled to greet the famous preacher upon his entrance to the city. Many were tremendously excited, not because of the preacher’s message, but because they believed him to be something he was not. Indeed, only a few in that throng had the faintest idea what the preacher had preached. Nevertheless, many hundreds assembled to witness his arrival. They carpeted his path with palm fronds, as if a king or a great noble had come to their city.
Over the week that followed, the preacher preached his message to all who would hear him. Some were uplifted by it, but many others were dismayed. The preacher was plainly not what they had expected…what they had hoped for. Disappointment made them bitter. They sought an outlet for their frustration…and what better outlet could there be than the preacher himself?
Those dismayed by the preacher’s message included some of the most powerful men in the city: its religious authorities. They pondered the swelling resentment of the crowds and decided to make use of it. They arrested the preacher on the pretext that he had set himself above the authorities of that place. They maneuvered the highest temporal official of the district into sentencing the preacher to death.
And so it was done.
But what was the message? Who heard it plainly and accepted it, other than the rag-tag band of disciples that accompanied the preacher into the city?
The message was clarity itself. It could not be misinterpreted, hedged, or distorted. Indeed, it could be summarized in a single word: Repent.
The people had lost their way. They’d done so by elevating ritual and trivia above the most fundamental of all things. Their religious leaders had encouraged them in this by multiplying and ramifying the “laws” until not even the most studious of the scholars could remember them all. Castes formed, and social strata arose, over who could remember and observe the greatest number of them. The highly placed abused the less elevated, while the lowest abused one another. A much later secular leader told us that “If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law,” and so it was in that time and place.
But no one likes to be chastised. No one likes to be told that he’s discarded the wheat and kept the chaff. And the religious leaders, who had “done a corner” in the creed they promulgated and the social divisions that resulted, were most displeased of all. So they engineered the preacher’s downfall. They breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that he had been put to death. A threat to their positions had been eliminated.
Fortunately, it didn’t “take.” But I’m jumping ahead to the end.
Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of the Christian Holy Week. As my Gentle Readers are surely aware, it culminates in the Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God Incarnate in human flesh. Jesus’s execution was the direct consequence of his message, the most important message ever pronounced to men:
“Here’s where the chili meets the cheese, my friend. One of my heroes was C. S. Lewis, a man who began as a skeptic, much like yourself. At the end of his journey, you know what he said? If Christianity is false, it’s of zero importance. But if it’s true, there’s nothing more important in the entire universe.” [From the recent movie The Case for Christ]
His message raised the love of God and neighbor above the pronouncements of “religious authorities.” They whose status rested upon the pronouncements of those “authorities” could not let it stand:
But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
That message got the Redeemer, who had entered Jerusalem to the cheers of a multitude, denounced, tortured, and executed…for preaching without a permit.
Enjoy your Palm Sunday.