Fatalism is usually a bad thing, but, in today’s gospel reading (John 12:9-19), it’s the Pharisees who sound desperate. At the end of the lesson, frustrated with Jesus’ increasing popularity and convinced that any attempt to arrest him would fail, the religious authorities say to one another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after him.” When was the last time someone threw up his or her hands and exclaimed, “We might as well give up. The whole world has fallen in love with Jesus.”
Oh that it were that simple! In the height of Jesus’ ministry, the crowds were drawn to his miracles and preaching. They had seen him heal the sick, restore the sight of the blind, and even raise Lazarus from the death—or, as John makes clear, if they hadn’t seen it they had heard about it. The pro-Jesus momentum was infectious. The crowds were snowballing, and those who sought to oppose Jesus felt unable to stand in the way of Jesus and his ministry.
Nowadays, the Christian fatalism seems to be working in the opposite direction. One minister might say to another, “You see that you can do nothing; look, the world has gone after anything but him.” I don’t agree fully with that sentiment, but it does resonate somewhat with my experience. The world seems to have moved beyond a Christian era. So many of the trappings of contemporary life—flashy expenditures of wealth, celebrity-style relationships, glorified violence, etc.—seem fundamentally opposed to the Jesus movement. And those things feel like a tide that Christianity could never turn back.
Yet our faith began as something small—something almost certain to be overwhelmed by the dominant religious and cultural movements of the day. According to the odds-makers, Jesus didn’t stand a chance, yet, by the time he approached Jerusalem for the final time, the opposite was true. How can we get back to that point where we are fatalists for Jesus? What part of the good news do we need to share with the world in order to make the Pharisees’ statement about Christianity’s momentum true again?