Palm Sunday is fast approaching and makes me feel personal and cosmic pain every year. The personal pain is obvious. I know all too well how easy it is for me to pledge complete allegiance to Christ and then turn away. I am the ever faithful, ever fickle disciple who continually stands amazed at God’s love for us Palm Sunday heralds who quickly become Good Friday hecklers. Was Aesop right in the moral of his “Fox and Lion” fable? The often quoted moral of the story is that, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Familiarity, however, doesn’t breed contempt in all situations. The more that I know someone or some subject matter the more enthralled I am. For instance, one of the attractions of having a devotional life is so that I can know God better. It’s not about gaining a degree of familiarity that permits me to trade intimacy with God for the passing fancy of sin. It is the opposite. I want to know God better so that I don’t want to stray. It underscores my highest desire of closeness to God. I daresay it is the same in our more mundane relationships. We don’t hang out with friends and spouses so that we can have an excuse for philandering. Familiarity breeds passion, loyalty, sacrifice, and love rather than contempt, right?
Or does time together produce both faithfulness and contempt? Yes, the fact of the matter is that the people we know best are the very persons we hurt the most. Domestic violence is horrible proof of the contempt that can spring from callous familiarity. We often take advantage of the weaknesses of those with whom we are most familiar, and we exploit and expose them for our own selfish purposes. This is no excuse, however, to promote staying at arm’s distance from our significant others, yo-yoing back and forth from closeness to chaos to make-up physical intimacy. There’s something that just isn’t right about this weird pattern.
There’s something not right with Passion Week’s flip-flopping either. How can we go so easily from blessing Jesus to betraying Jesus? If I know Jesus better, shouldn’t that prevent my infidelity, or does it create the possibility of deeper contempt? Is this especially true when I feel that I have been faithful yet God seems to have forgotten me? I am most disappointed in God when I think of the ways that I have been unjustly wronged, punished without reason, or overlooked by those for whom I have sacrificed. I wallow in questions of “Why?” when pain knocks at my door, and I am most disturbed by the absence of God when my children are enduring the brunt of a cruel world. My selfish desires demand a God who answers my doubts and disappointments. Instead of greater faith via familiarity, I choose to ignore or even betray this God who ever calls my name.
Maybe that’s the problem. On Palm Sunday Jesus doesn’t just ride to the gates of Jerusalem, He also rides to the gate of my heart. He has been rapping on its door until His knuckles are raw. The sounds of my own complaints have drowned out the persistent presence of God, but He goes on standing there, gently knocking away. My shunning of His overtures is cruel domestic violence against the greatest lover of my soul. My selfishness falsely trumps the pain of the one to whom I have betrothed my very soul. I have forgotten the profundity that love isn’t about what I get out of a relationship, but what I give to the person of my affections. If I don’t care enough to put the other first, I will always turn familiarity into contempt. If I put the other first then I will always be surprised by how much I don’t know, and be drawn to an ever-deepening pursuit of true intimacy with the other.
My pledge during this all important week-before-Holy Week is to measure my love of Christ and fan the flame of desire for God. I want to know God with more familiarity, this God in Jesus who desperately pursues me every day. I hear Him knocking.