Backing a winner?

The roar of a crowd is contagious. On Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem in a noisy, triumphal procession. Crowds of people surrounded him on the road, hailing him as the Davidic king; hundreds more poured out from the city to join the throng.

The atmosphere must have been electric. The disciples had been waiting a long time for something like this. They knew better than anyone else the extent of Jesus’ power, marveling at his control even over wind and sea.

Who could stand before such a King?

In the early part of the week, Jesus spent time teaching in the temple courts. He seemed untouchable. He dared to throw out the buyers and sellers, overturning the tables of the money-changers. The chief priests and legal experts were furious, but afraid to take action.

The Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians: all tried confronting Jesus with tricky, thorny questions, to trap him in a faux pas. Nothing worked. Jesus not only refuted them all, but made them look silly in the process.

I imagine the disciples riding high: This is it. Our time of triumph is near. We’re backing a winner!

Had they heard anything of what Jesus had tried to tell them earlier of his coming arrest and crucifixion? The gospel accounts would suggest no. And given how the first few days of the week had already played out, who could blame them for expecting only the best?

What the disciples did not understand — perhaps could not understand — is what we have been discussing from Second Corinthians: that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. For that is the way of the cross, and the cross was not yet in their imaginations.

It makes me wonder. We may find ourselves riding high when things are rolling our way and we declare victory. But what happens when we’re surprised by what seems to be utter defeat? What faith will sustain us then?

We have the benefit of hindsight; we know the whole story. The disciples didn’t. Not yet. But do we have the cross in our imaginations?