The Passion story is a tale as old as time, and for those of us who were born and raised Catholic, the reading of it each year at Palm Sunday mass can sound familiar, redundant, and…long. This year, a phrase floated to the surface which, for me, brought the story to life anew, and it’s this one:
“when the wood is dry”
Jesus was reflecting on the clear injustice of the secret arrest, sham trial and planned execution of the Son of God who presented no threat but only healing and salvation for humanity, and He told the weeping women who were following Him,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?”
When the wood was green, that is, when Jesus walked and taught in a small corner of the Middle East, the people who encountered Him there found forgiveness, healing, and relationship with God in a profound way which would transform the whole world. Still, the religious leaders of the day, in an effort to maintain their own power, silenced the voice of God in the most brutal way imaginable. When the wood was green, the people who had welcomed Jesus as a King days before, instead called for the release of Barabbas, an infamous murderer. When the wood was green, some of those who knew Jesus the best denied Him, betrayed Him, and when the wood was green, many of His disciples, focusing on their own safety, simply forgot the important things He had revealed to them just days before.
When the wood was green, much of humanity chose power, violence, greed, and control. When the wood was green, we let fear take the driver’s seat, went along with a jeering crowd, forgot the things of Heaven, and let our basest instincts prevail.
And now, when the wood is dry? I wonder if it is really all that different today.
Today, when the wood is dry, we still have religious leaders who prioritize their own power over the truth and freedom of the Gospel. Divided into our camps, we brutalize those who are different from us and silence voices that threaten the status quo. Here, where the wood is dry, our society routinely chooses Barabbas, in the form of violence, vulgarity, arrogance, and aggression. We choose Barabbas in our politics, in our churches, on social and other forms of media. We choose Barabbas over the engaging, welcoming, humble, self-sacrificial holiness that Jesus modeled, and we do it so often that even some in the American Church today represent a Jesus who actually seems more like Barabbas: selfish, loud, vulgar, divisive, fighting to ‘win’ a culture war that Jesus never told us to fight. We seem to have lost sight of who Jesus is in favor of one who fits our political issues or our branding. We’re following a God we’ve created instead of the One Who Is.
Today when the wood is dry, those who know Jesus well, those in His Church, easily forget Him and what He taught. We choose the way of worldly success over Heavenly things. We’re motivated by fear to keep our positions, to keep our power in the system that we were handed rather than working together to build the upside-down Kingdom that Jesus taught us.
The wood is dry, but humanity never seems to change. Sometimes I fear we’ve forgotten that the whole reason Jesus came was not to gain members in a club or to train people how to behave, but to level systems and transform people and to bring the freedom of the Good News to us all. The formula: we die, over and over again; to ourselves and our expectations as we give our lives over to God who will be resurrected and very much alive in us. Though we’ll never do it perfectly, the Church was meant to be a place of service and healing, as we remember Who Jesus is, what He taught, and how we’re meant to live as brothers and sisters in a family.
No, Easter’s not pastel colors and bunnies and candy, much as we love those things. Easter is the unexpected, sacrificial, fierce power of God over death by dying in every form. It’s countercultural freedom and an upside-down Way, and the only difference between then and now is that back when the wood was green, they knew it was true.