Sunday, April 13, 2014

Prisoners of Hope

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double.

This little section from the Palm Sunday prophecy is really striking to me.  What does it mean to be a prisoner of hope?  At one level, I suppose just that being a prisoner does not necessarily deprive one of hope.  In this instance, the prophet encourages God's people to expect a great reversal in their fortunes.  When their King comes, righteous and having salvation, they will no longer be prisoners.

At another level, I think the prophecy denotes that God's people under the Old Testament are actually kept imprisoned by hope itself.  Why don't they just disappear, assimilate, recognise that they can do very well for themselves as individuals in the new empires?  All it would take is the dropping of a few quaint stories and odd habits.  It would be undeniably easier, the best way to your best life now.  But for whatever reason, Israel cannot avoid the burden of the hope which God has given them.  Israel cannot accomodate themselves to the way the world is; they are constrained (imprisoned!) by a picture of how life and the world and humanity ought to be.  Therefore they suffer.  They do not merely hope in spite of suffering; they suffer because of hope.

Isn't this also true of Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross?

Is this where our daily wrestling comes from still?  We are imprisoned by hope, Easter people living in the world that is not yet raised, Jesus people living in the world that does not yet know him.  Stuff doesn't work.  We don't work.  Life isn't as it should be.  Disappointment, and striving, ultimately springs from hope, which still imprisons us here between the ages.

One little irony: many of those imprisoned by hope finally came to prefer the jail to the reality of freedom.  Their hope had been twisted, or perhaps deferred too long, and they could not bear the gap between their imaginations and the reality.  The gap is still there for most of us, I guess.  The lesson to learn from Palm Sunday is perhaps that we should be prepared to let our hopes - the little daily hopes and the great big kingdom hopes - be revised and refreshed again and again by the King who comes in humility.

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