The Celebrated Peasant-King
A guest post from Dr. Paul Livermore, professor of biblical and systematic theology
One remarkable irony of history concerns the day Abraham Lincoln was shot: Good Friday, 1865. As word trickled throughout the country, people stayed close to telegraph machines to hear the latest. When the announcement of his death was finally made, the national grief was deep.
Carl Sandburg records some remarkable reactions to the tragedy. One took place in Boston on Saturday morning after the President was gone. Men began to march on the Common in a spontaneous parade-like form. The few became many, more than a thousand. They said nothing, they did nothing but marched.
Some people—but only a very few—are so noble, so good, so powerful in their influence that we cannot help but honor their greatness. Such a person was Abraham Lincoln.
Such a person in an even greater degree was Jesus of Nazareth.
When officials urged Jesus to silence the crowds that celebrated him with palm branches, he responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Luke 19:40, NRSV). What was it about Jesus of Nazareth that evokes such powerful emotion?
He arose from among the common people, hard-working peasants who lived unpretentious lives.
He lived a life of personal integrity. There were no dark sides to him, nothing to hide or make excuses for. He was exactly what he appeared to be.
He loved ordinary people. He was even a friend of “tax collectors and sinners.” A simple meal with the stingy Zacchaeus, turned him around into a generous person. He also had his own close friends he enjoyed eating with, like Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. His way with children was authentic, not contrived or staged, and they loved him for it.
He challenged the status quo and institutionalized system, when it brought injustice and shut innocent people out. He did this at great personal risk, ultimately paying for it with his own life by a cruel and humiliating death.
But Jesus rose above bitterness. He not only said we should turn the other cheek; he did that. He prayed for those who thought of him as an enemy, even when they were abusing him.
He had a profound relationship with God. He went out into the country early in the morning to pray. He taught that this relationship with God gave him the inner resources to be kind of person he was.
Christians rightly acknowledge him as the Son of God. Palm Sunday is the right time to celebrate him as the noblest person who ever lived. The historic church has taught that if we would be authentic Christians, we should “imitate Christ.”
Dr. Paul Livermore
Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology
This piece was also published in the Palm Sunday edition of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.