The stories this week are ancient. They're the same ones every year -- we've heard them so many times. Can there still be something new in them? One of the ways I know that scripture is inspired by God is that there always is something new: I keep seeing new things in it, each time I read. But this makes sense -- the God, who created and still creates, continually makes new meaning in the world.
This year it is misunderstanding I see everywhere, from the annunciation to the very end, and even beyond. People just don't get it in scripture, much more often than they do. They don't listen, don't do what they say they will do. They fail to rise above self-interest and short-term political advantage. They betray their ideals. They can't fight their own weariness. Hardly anobody in the story looks very good.
Except Jesus, of course. This is the time of his greatest trial, and the way in which he conducts himself during it will live for centuries, even in the memories of those who do not follow him -- every student of literature knows what a Christ figure is. All his life leading up to this moment is seen through its lens, which is why I have been so taken with the theme of misunderstanding this year -- for I see that his life up to now has not been one of seamless serenity. That he has often been at odds with those who love him, and quite often brusque with them. I see a pungency in the interactions the gospel writers record that is at odds with the sweetness we too automatically assume is there when we think of him. "Gentle Jesus,meek and mild" began a song we learned when I was a girl, but maybe that must have been some other Jesus. The one I have seen in my reading this year was irritating at times. He could be stern and demanding. He could be sarcastic. Here's a shattering thought: he may not always have been likeable.
But then I think of our bland niceness. Of the smiles behind which we sometimes conceal our contempt of others. I think of the white lies with which we veil our more unpleasant truths, of how angry we can get when someone has the temerity to name one of them out loud. Of how kind we can be to the people we know, and how oblivious we can be to the need of people we don't. Maybe being likeable isn't everything.
The politics of life together can be a bitter brew. People of conscience care deeply about things that matter, and they don't always agree. Fireworks can result. In this regard, the Christ we will see after Easter -- risen, but still scarred -- holds out something new: a peace that contains all the pain of our collisions, including the final struggle that ends in death. One that holds every one of our misunderstandings and failures in a resolution beyond our capacity to see from here, or even to imagine.