Disappointment is Part of the Story

Disappointment is part of the story

This is Palm Sunday, and pulpits and sacred desks around the world will be talking about Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, hailed by crowds with palm branches and cloaks thrown on the ground. People, at least some of them, expected Jesus, the renowned miracle-worker and sage, to enter into the Temple, throw out the corrupt priests, and establish a holy headquarters for the next steps in retaking the country from the Romans and setting up God’s kingdom on earth.

Didn’t work out that way. We all know the story. He does go into the Temple, and all 4 gospels talk of his flipping over tables, and driving out the capitalists making money off the religious. “My house will be called a house of prayer but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” (John’s story has this placed in a different chronological order, tho.)

What struck me today, really noticing it for the first time, is that in Mark’s account in today’s lectionary reading, Jesus goes into the Temple, looks around, takes it all in, and then leaves. It isn’t until the next day when he returns that he flips the tables.

It’s really an anti-climactic moment. You’ve got all this build-up, Jesus riding on a donkey, a symbol of a peaceful, humble, king entering the city, fulfilling prophesy and getting people’s hopes up. People outside waving branches and singing redemptive songs with revolutionary overtones. He heads into the Temple, and … nothing. Walks out again.

Only Mark’s account records that moment. I’m sure it’s part of Mark’s plot, another detail paralleling Jesus walking up to a fig tree, searching thru its branches, finding no fruit, then cursing the tree. The next day, it’s dead. (This is the only negative/destructive miracle Jesus does in the gospels.) For Mark, Jesus’s action with the fig tree is a living parable, symbolic of God’s view of the Temple: it is examined, found without fruit, and cursed … eventually destroyed.

But waiting in that moment. Expecting dramatic results. The whole plot line leading up to this climax. And then … nothing. The disappointment of those who were hailing him. The confusion of his 12 close friends who’d given up their jobs and families and lives to follow him on this great adventure. And to have Jesus casually look around and then leave without launching the revolution … Huge disappointment.

Okay, the next day Jesus does flip some tables. But within days, he’s executed, and the aspirations and dreams of those faithful were once again dashed, put on hold, as they are painfully forced to reevaluate their expectations, rethink everything, deconstruct their beliefs, and learn to accept that God’s plan for reality wasn’t quite as they’d thought.

Disappointment is part of life. Especially when we have a lot invested in our plans, in our expectations of what is *supposed* to happen.

And we have to readjust. Rethink. Take a step back, wait, and see what actually unfolds. And it hurts. Our emotions can be a real mess for a while.

Here’s the good thing, tho. Eventually, it does all work out in the end. I know, that’s cliché and trite. But it is a fundamental Christian tenet of faith: “God makes all things work together for our good …” — not necessarily according to our timelines or on our schedules. And usually NOT as we’d planned.

I kinda hate even having to write those words because so many of us are going thru hard times, looking for God to do *something* to make it better. And we end up waiting and waiting. Maybe taking a step back, rethinking, trying something new. Often God is waiting for us to do something, something he can collaborate with us on rather than just dropping it in our laps. But sometimes there’s not anything we can do. And we just have to live thru those disappointing moments and hold on to that elusive hope. Hope for a better day, a better outcome … later.

I suppose it’s a lesson that is illustrated best in the coming days as we approach Good Friday and then Easter. Torture and execution. Some down time in a tomb. But then resurrection!

That’s what I’m walking away with from this unexpected plot point. The point is to not give up when we encounter those disappointments. Something else is going on. And it’s okay. Those “feelings” of disappointment at the moment are not the final reality, not the end of the story. You’re gonna make it. Stay open. The story may simply have an ending — or a next chapter — different than how you imagined it.

ref: Mark 11:11 “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.”

Photo by Luiz Rogério Nunes on Unsplash, cc.