Yes, I know, All Fools’ Day was last Sunday, but I am referring to a lifetime engagement.
Last Sunday, after I had distributed the palm crosses, I suggested that we might all become Fools for God. Nervous glances were exchanged. Like a court jester, I played fast-and-loose with the lectionary and chose some ‘foolish’ readings, one of them describing David disrobed before his slave girls wearing just his ephod [2 Samuel 6:20]. Restless shifting in the pews.
I then told the story of St Francis of Assisi. The saint had become a self-confessed ‘fool for God.’ He had a life transforming experience as a result of a startling vision of Christ on the Cross. He had been born into a wealthy merchant family. By all accounts he was a bit of a lad dreaming of medieval chivalry and going on crusades. After receiving the vision he began to seek God in solitude and prayer. He took some of his father’s best cloth and sold it in the marketplace, distributing the money to the poor. His father was not best pleased and hauled him before the Bishop in Assisi. There St Francis made the dramatic act of stripping himself naked, as a mark of complete renunciation of his family and the ways of the world.
By now the exit was being surveyed for proximity, so I reverted to the story of Palm Sunday.
Three processions entered Jerusalem. One was an imperial procession, led by Pontius Pilate, the representative of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. A joyful scene of music, dance and songs expressing confidence, security and happiness in the Empire. The second, the royal retinue of Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee in full fig. The high priest Caiaphas and the temple authorities were there to greet them in their sacred vestments standing underneath the great golden eagle above the temple’s western entrance.
They had a difficult task. Their obligation was to the city of Rome, to the cult of the Emperor. The uncomfortable truth was that the name of God had become subservient to the domination system. The Temple was both the house of the God of the Jews on earth and the institutional seat of submission to Rome headed by a different god. It was a delicate balancing act managing this clash of theologies. Slavish fools keeping a wary eye on the public square.
Meanwhile, the third procession was a peasant crowd. The cloaks they were strewing on the ground were not expensive cloaks of finest wool, worn by the elite, the 1%. They were tired rags, smeared with toil and wearing the smell of the 99%. The procession was led by a charismatic leader. A liberator riding in from the Mount of Olives, completing a journey that had begun in the wilderness. A fool for God, acting the fool, mocking the political narrative of the other street processions after the tradition of the prophet Zechariah,
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. [Zechariah 9:9]
Which procession are we in? Are we free individuals having rights to ʻlife, liberty, and the pursuit of happinessʼ? Living in a society of freedom and choice? But is too much choice liberating? Have we become fools feeling the beat from the tambourine, jiving and believing that we are having the time of our lives –
Friday night and the lights are low
Looking out for the place to go
Where they play the right music, getting in the swing
You come in to look for a King
[apologies to Benny Anderson, Stig Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus et al]
But which King? And will we follow if he asks us to be Fools for God? If we value job, money, reputation, prestige and acceptance of the crowd over and above our spiritual lives then we are in the wrong procession. We are deaf to the music of the radical Messiah, who is ushering in the Kingdom of God, where all are called but none will be “in the depths of the grave.” [Proverbs 10:18]