For People with bishop Rob Wright

King of Palms and Curses

Bishop Rob Wright For People Album
For People
King of Palms and Curses

About the episode

Have we fashioned a Jesus who mirrors our own ideologies, unwittingly reshaping God to endorse our political agendas? On Palm Sunday, the same people that would shout “Hosanna”, an exclamation of praise, and the same mob that should shout “crucify him!” a few days later.

In this episode Melissa and Bishop Wright have a conversation about Palm Sunday, it’s relevancy to our world today, and how it keeps us honests as people of faith. They dissect the story of Palm Sunday, drawing parallels between the fickleness of ancient crowds and today’s volatile public opinion. As we peel back the layers of our own convictions, we confront the unsettling reality that true discipleship may be at odds with the allure of making Christ into our own image.  Listen in for the full conversation.

Before listening, read For Faith.


Bishop Wright: 0:00

What I think Palm Sunday says to us is that we have to accept Jesus the way he is and if we want to follow Jesus, then we have to follow the Jesus of Matthew, mark, luke and John, and not the one that we want to conjure up for ourselves. So, to be a friend, I think we’ve got to resist with everything that we can the temptation to make Jesus in our image Look. Being a friend of Jesus is to be perpetually off balance.

Melissa: 0:40

Welcome to For People with Bishop Rob Wright. I’m your host, Melissa Rau, and this is a conversation inspired by For Faith, a weekly devotion sent out every Friday. You can find a link to this week’s For Faith and a link to subscribe in the episode’s description. Good day, Bishop.

Bishop Wright: 0:56

Good day, good day.

Melissa: 0:58

You base this week’s For Faith devotion off of the Gospel of Mark’s recounting of the events we call Palm Sunday, and it’s, I guess, in the Gospel’s 14th chapter. I have to admit, bishop, I like all your devotions, and yet this one in particular for me was fire.

Bishop Wright: 1:20

And this is just my truth.

Melissa: 1:22

Well, I feel like it’s a confession too Like this is my truth, but your best devotions for me are often the hardest to discuss and prepare for, because I feel like you left a proverbial microphone, like beside the period of your last sentence.

Bishop Wright: 1:37

It was a microphone drop.

Melissa: 1:38

Yeah, man, you asked a provocative question. First you said what kind of friend are we to Jesus? But then you wrote maybe friendship with Jesus looks like us Simply refusing the temptation to make him an hour image. So it’s Palm Sunday and I know that that’s what this is all about, and it’s about the whims of human beings so easily swayed one way or another and we can be hot and then cold the next with cancel culture and all that stuff. What’s hitting you this year?

Bishop Wright: 2:14

Well, this year, my God. Well, first of all, let’s take them into the story and then we can zoom out. So the story for folks, as you may know, is that. So Jesus is now clear. He’s Ternus face to Jerusalem. He knows that he has to go to the very heart of religious and governmental power. He chooses to go there on a donkey rather than a stallion or a beautifully arrayed, you know chariot. He comes as a warrior, humble and vulnerable.

Bishop Wright: 2:53

The people see the move. They lay down palm branches and wave palm branches and and garments and cry out Hosanna, which is really just. We praise you, we adore you, we adore what we think you are, which is you’re. You’re going to ride in the town and you’re going to get this. You’re going to get this, this joint, together. You’re going to straighten out things, you’re going to make material changes in the world. And you know, to some degree I believe they were thinking that you know we’re in and they’re out. Vote the vote, the bums out and we’re in, and now there’ll be prosperity for everybody.

Bishop Wright: 3:34

It’s just that Jesus does King the way that Jesus wants to do King, and and and. So that’s Palm Sunday and the very group, the very group that shouts Hosanna one minute in a very, in very short order in the gospel story, will be a part of the group that it cries out, crucify him. And so you know. I want to just notice that mobs are fickle. I want to notice you asked me what’s hitting me. I want to, I want to notice that I feel like we live right now in sort of a mob, sort of socioeconomic reality. There’s the usses and the thems, those who are in, those who are out, it’s partisan politics. It’s on every side. It’s the internet and how we are abusing one another verbally across the internet, based on all kinds of isms. And so you know, here’s Jesus deciding to hold steady and be principled and be king the way he wants to be king, and inevitably that disappoints his base, and I think that’s where the problem, that’s where the problem starts.

Melissa: 4:55

Yeah well, you also highlight the very real challenges of Christian nationalism, and I know it kind of feels weird to me I just got to say it talking about Christian nationalism in the same time that we’re talking about Palm Sunday, and yet here we are.

Bishop Wright: 5:12

Well, I’ll tell you how it got there right. So they wanted to crucify him because I believe you know it’s a fair rendering that because Jesus was determined to be Messiah the way in which he wanted to be Messiah. He therefore disappointed some people and he didn’t take power. He didn’t use power in the way that people would have preferred him, may have preferred him to use power and so crucify him. Let’s get rid of him.

Bishop Wright: 5:44

And when I talk about Christian nationalism, how I get there is that every time I think we take a sledgehammer to the Jesus of Matthew, mark, luke and John, we are in effect one with those who say crucify him. And so when we make Jesus an American, we make Jesus a member of a particular political party. When we claim Jesus exclusively for whatever our group is, we are in effect saying crucify him. We are the one that actually came and replace him with the one who votes like us, lives where we live, talks like us, votes like us, right. And so I think what I love about the Palm Sunday story is that it keeps us honest. The first, I think it acknowledges that we have been those people who, out one side of our mouth, have said Hosanna and out the other side of our mouth have been indifferent to Jesus or, worse, maybe even abandoned Jesus because Jesus didn’t show up in our life. God hasn’t showed up in our life, god hasn’t answered our particular prayers in the way in which we wanted them answered, and so crucify him, basically, and let us either abandon the entire enterprise or begin to do what Thomas Jefferson did, and that is, begin to make of Holy scripture and of Jesus something that helps us feel better about the choices that we are making, which are different and a departure from the way in which Jesus actually taught and lived, died and rose again. So that’s what I mean, and there’s a real danger in Christian nationalism, because I mean, think about this potent mix of government and political party and also throw a couple of scoops of nebulous ideas and misguided ideas about who Jesus was and is, and you have really a toxic, toxic drink.

Bishop Wright: 7:57

And sadly, I think, because of fear that I find on every side and uncertainty about our future and abiding, the sense of scarcity in our land about various resources, I think we are sort of being boiled down to the least common denominator and our worst angels, and so what I think Palm Sunday says to us is that we have to accept Jesus the way he is. And if we wanna follow Jesus, then we have to follow the Jesus of Matthew, mark, luke and John, and not the one that we wanna conjure up for ourselves. And so what’s that old joke? God made us in God’s image. And then, as we go along, we’ve returned the favor right, we make, we make, yeah, and I think so.

Bishop Wright: 8:52

To be a friend because that’s how I end the meditation To be a friend, I think we’ve gotta resist with everything that we can the temptation to make Jesus in our image. Look, being a friend of Jesus is to be perpetually off balance. There’s no resting in some way. So I understand the impulse to take the edge off Jesus, because it can be wearisome. He’s always pushing us to share, always pushing us to bless those who curse us, always pressing us to do conflict in a particular way, always pressing us to do money in a particular way, and his stories won’t go away. They live in our hearts, they live in our minds, they dance in our imaginations, and so and so he’s an irritant Jesus is an inconvenient truth, so to speak, you know. And so he was then and he remains so.

Melissa: 9:52

Yeah, friends, we’re gonna be right back after a short break. Welcome back, bishop. Just before break I was thinking that the phrase vote faithfully, because I have a sticker on my laptop that says vote faithfully. And so how do we hold that intention? How do we show up and actually listen and discern what Jesus? Would have us do.

Bishop Wright: 10:43

It’s so tough, it’s such a good question and so hard to really live out. I mean, we can be high-minded over this podcast all we want but the truth of the matter is that the rubber has to hit the road, and if we’re talking about presidential politics now or any politics for that matter we have, we, the voters are flawed human beings, and we have two or more candidates on the ballot that are also flawed human beings. I think Jesus is not a one-issue kind of fella Right, and so what worries me sometimes is I see that people are willing to vote for candidates, or why, based on one issue, and then they sort of see in that particular issue the sum total of who Jesus is. I’m not sure that’s how that works. Look, we’ve got to make the best decision we’ve got to make, but we’ve also got to use Matthew, mark, luke and John and beyond as not only maybe first and foremost a criteria, the criteria for how we live, but also how we endeavor to do things, and so I think that’s the standard that we have to use if we’re gonna go forward, to be faithful.

Bishop Wright: 11:52

Some will say it’s idealistic or naive. I don’t know if it is. I don’t know if it is. I don’t think that there are any perfect candidates. I think all have fallen short of the glory of God, so to speak, and nevertheless we’ve got to ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to live in? Look when they’re saying Hosanna and then later crucify him, they are taking up their share in particular directions. The sad thing about human nature is is that sometimes we have to break things to understand things. Sometimes we have to kill things before we realize that that thing was very valuable. We see that operative in the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem and then certainly later on, in his crucifixion, and I’m hoping that we have better sense when it comes to our republic. I’m hoping that we don’t have to dismantle democracy or endeavor to dismantle democracy before we realize that that was a precious gift bought and paid for by the blood of many and that we are a union that is in the process of being perfected and we’ve got to take the long, long view.

Bishop Wright: 13:09

Here’s what’s terrible about mob dynamics that are driven by fear. It’s a funny thing that we give away freedoms when we’re afraid enough, when people emerge and say they’ve got the answer, and it’s a simple and very simplistic sort of explanation of how things are going to go, because we are so tired really sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we’re so afraid we give away our freedoms. We give away our freedoms, give away our freedoms. And you know what’s that old adage, what’s the best way to cook a frog? Right, you put them in a pot of room of a sort of room temperature water and you gradually turn up the heat. Before you know it, the frog is, the frog is boiled.

Bishop Wright: 13:57

And that’s what worries me about, about our politics right now, is that I wonder what it is costing us Seasons like the one we’re in and this is these are not partisan comments, this is actually. I think we should be caring for our Republic in this way, by asking ourselves what are we handing over to our grandchildren? And then the question becomes then okay, so I’m not in control of Washington, neither are you. I should vote, everybody should vote, we all should vote. We have to do that. We should vote our convictions, we should vote our values. I hope that we realize that you and I are first and foremost citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and every sort of Kingdom we participate in is downstream of that first Kingdom. So our first allegiance is to that Kingdom. That is our first citizenship and it will be our last citizenship, and Jesus is not an American, as I like to say, and Jesus is not from Georgia, as much as I would like for him to be. Jesus doesn’t speak English, and Jesus looks like a lot of people right now who we love to hate in our popular culture.

Bishop Wright: 15:05

So, look, I guess what I’m trying to say is is that you and I can’t manipulate Washington politics, neither should we want to, but you and I can bear witness, and I think that’s what we have to do. How do we bear witness to this Jesus who holds steady? Look at the way he deals with the curses. That’s why I call him King of the Palms and King of the curses. You know, is that what’s that old song?

Bishop Wright: 15:30

What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grieves to bear. What a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer, right? So, yeah, what a friend we have in Jesus who is able to hold steady in the face of not only adoration and praise, but also our worst expressions of ourselves, the curses, the abandonment, the indifference, and so I guess where it leaves me. Is that so, if Jesus is such a good friend and that’s been my experience of God in Christ Jesus then what kind of friend do Jesus does Jesus deserve? And I think, I think you get to that answer by small practices that are part of our day-to-day, until we are quietly confident that Jesus’s way is the best way. That’s in conflict, that’s in sharing, that’s in service, that’s how we talk about neighbor, that’s how we use our influence, use our privilege. I mean, you know this is what makes the Christian life, and to have real facility with those you know basics of the faith, I think is what we’re called to do and it’s our privilege to do that.

Melissa: 16:49

Bishop, are you familiar with improvisation?

Bishop Wright: 16:53

Yes, as an extemporaneous preacher? I definitely am.

Melissa: 16:57

Yes, yes, yes. I love the whole tension that we’re able to live into by leaning into yes and yes, and I just I can’t help but wonder if being a friend to Jesus might employ, I think, what Jesus utilized in improv. Jesus wasn’t a black and white thinker or doer Like I think. Jesus leaned into the gray and he was mostly yes and Well, exactly.

Bishop Wright: 17:34

Yeah, of course it does. So here’s an example. That’s a concrete example. So I do believe I happen to be an American citizen, formerly war the uniform of the country, very proud of that, and I actually think this country needs secure borders and at the same time, at the same time, the Bible invites us to care especially for the foreigner and stranger in a particular way, and that’s dignity. So I’m holding those two things and then I’m adding the next part.

Bishop Wright: 18:02

I’m also looking at the practical economics situation, and we are a country that is increasingly having a labor shortage, so we have work that needs to be done.

Bishop Wright: 18:16

Our population is aging, and so I wonder if Jesus is both, and in this regard would be how do we secure borders, how do we treat people with dignity?

Bishop Wright: 18:28

How do we find this via media, how do we find this way forward and also increase the economic strength of this country and provide fair wages to those people who do the work? I think and I’ve said this before I think a great nation tends to all of that. I think that nations that are not great preoccupy themselves with simply pointing at one another, and so I like to believe that this nation is a great nation. In fact, I do believe this nation is a great nation and I’m hoping that we will have the depth and intellectual health sorry, I’m hoping that we will have the depth and intellectual heft to solve these complex problems and, frankly speaking, where we are right now does not appear that we have that will. But I want to believe, especially because so many people are professing Jesus in all our political circles. I want to believe that they’re actually also taking guidance from the things that he prioritized.

Melissa: 19:43

So maybe we would do well to ask ourselves, whether we’re in front of a ballot box or not, who we’re making Jesus. Whose image is Jesus to us right now? Our image or the image that I think Jesus would have us C recognize?

Bishop Wright: 20:02

One of the reasons we had to get rid of Jesus. This is why I keep saying this to people we had to get rid of Jesus because Jesus’ problem solving always cost everybody something.

Melissa: 20:12

Yeah, causes us more problems.

Bishop Wright: 20:15

Right. Well, he says you know, look, if you wanna be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me. In other words, you know there’s nothing easy about this thing, but it’s the better way, and the better way is about upholding the dignity of every human being. Loving the Lord, your God, with your heart, mind, soul and strength. You know, holding those two things together in every decision, I think, is the way forward.

Bishop Wright: 20:37

Now, if we’re looking for easy, I guess we can stay with, you know, multiplication in addition. But if we’re endeavoring to solve complex problems, real world problems, then we’re gonna have to do some more work. Look at the climate, and not only climate. Let’s stay away from climate for a second. Let’s look at just trash and pollution.

Bishop Wright: 20:56

Well, you know, I saw a piece the other day we are drowning in trash and, you know, really smart people who are not Democrats or Republicans all agree that this is something that is going to plague our culture and the world going forward, right. So we’re gonna have to get really creative. We’re gonna have to find a way to tap into all the smart that this globe has so that our grandchildren have a world that resembles what some of us grew up with, which was water to swim in and play in, and bright and sunshiney, clear days, you know, and you know healthy food and you know the like. So, look, I’m a bishop, I am not a public policy guy, but all I’m trying to say is is that if we fence Jesus off to the church and to Sunday, we do our own self a disservice. Jesus stands ready principally ready to help us engage the most difficult, pernicious problems that face us, but in a particular way, and I hope that I have within me and that we have the will to walk his way.

Melissa: 22:22

There you have it. Thank you, bishop, and thank you, listeners, for listening to For People. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook at Bishop Rob Wright. Please subscribe, leave a review and we’ll be back with you next week. I’ll see you next week.