turning on a dime (palm sunday)
There’s a phrase that we used to use when I was a kid referring to sports cars. We’d say that it “could go from 0 to 60 in 10 seconds and turn on a dime.” “Turn on a dime” meant that it had a short wheel radius, so it could make a quick 180 degree about face, no problem. As I got older that phrase struck me as an apt negative description of some people, that they could act one way toward you and then an hour later treat you completely differently. They’d turn on a dime. Some relationships I found were that way too: you’d be going along just fine and then suddenly one thing would happen and the whole thing would get upended. I’ve seen that happen to marriages. On a larger scale, I think it’s especially true in our cult of celebrity. I like to say, “We eat our heroes.” We admire someone and laud and magnify them, and then we sort of relish it when they do something scandalous, and we turn on them and tear them to pieces. It’s also an apt metaphor for the three-ring circus that is masquerading as our political scene these days.
It’s also a pretty good metaphor for what happened to Jesus within the course of a week, all of which we’ll remember in the days ahead. On Sunday it’s “All glory laud and honor” and by Friday it’s “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
There are a few lessons we could draw from this. If we’re cynical it could lead us to believe that the world is not a safe place, and yet that seems to contradict everything that Jesus taught––that the universe is benevolent. ‘Look at the birds of the air! Learn from the flowers in the field!––the Father is glad to give us the kingdom.’ No, I think we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus who, in the words of the prophet Isaiah which we heard today set his face like flint, knowing that he would not be put to shame. Let them beat my back! Let them pluck my beard, let them buffet and spit on my face. (Is 50:4-9) The better lesson to be drawn from this is the prevenient knowledge of the resurrection, you might say––in other words, we already know the ending of the story––, that we can walk through the darkness, as if through the walls of water piled up on our left and our right in the Red Sea. Like Jesus, even when unwarranted violence of thought, word or deed comes at us, we can hold our head up high, knowing who we are no matter what anyone says. And knowing that even when bad things happen to good people we need to have the solid belief that our real selves––hidden with Christ in God––can never be destroyed. As we’ll sing from Psalm 16 at the Easter Vigil, You will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay.
Few of us are going to face anything as heinous as crucifixion––though we have to admit there are people all over the world enduring great misery, pain, exile and torture. But still, we might ask ourselves going into this week what is it that I actually can let die, sure that my real self is safe? Or better, as Jesus said ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,’ in what way do I yet need to entrust myself into the hands of Divine Providence?
The passage from Isaiah continues like this, and let’s let this be our song, too:
Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty?