It is hard to celebrate Palm Sunday, and read Psalm 118, with today’s newspaper in your hand without reflecting upon the term outsider. The stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone. Is this being said about Jesus, Christopher Columbus, or Donald Trump? You form a mental picture of Jesus leading his noisy throng up to the gates of Jerusalem. The religious and political leadership of the nation is standing on a parapet high above, and crying out for someone to bar the door. Now shift the mental picture and see the towering glass building of Wall Street, and dodging the yellow cabs below is a parade of Bernie Sanders supporters, shouting about breaking up the big banks and raising the minimum wage to $15. Perhaps we need to step aside from Palm Sunday a moment and consider the role of an outsider, both for our personal religious journey, and for our common good.
First, real outsiders are vetted by a wilderness experience. They come into the political or social arena from another place — a place where they rub shoulders with those that they are called to represent. Moses did not go directly from Pharaoh’s nursery to the burning bush. Instead, he lived on the lam in Midian for forty years, herding sheep. Gandhi left India as a young man to study law in England. The prejudice that he experienced there, as well as later in South Africa, formed the wilderness training which enabled him to be an outsider for his own people. I know of no example of an outsider for good, that didn’t first have to journey into the wilderness where they have nowhere to lay their head. But history is full of bad outsiders — the Hitlers of our era and the Zealots of Jesus’, that knew how to stir populist rebellions and fan the hopes of those who wish to return to a simpler past.
Second, when we follow an outsider we will inevitably be led to a cross. This isn’t always a bad thing. One cannot scramble an egg without breaking its shell. Moses had to unleash his plagues. On Palm Sunday, Jesus spoke not just of his cross, but of a natural rule that applied to all who follow an outsider, that unless a seed dies — gives up the security of being simply what it has always been — it cannot spring into a growing living thing. And further, that if we want eternal life, we have to loosen our grip on this mundane life (John 12:23-24). We hold onto our establishment people and familiar rituals too long. We all need an outsider. We better be careful to choose a good one. Whichever one we choose, though, we will be led to a cross.