Every week during Lent, we’re looking at Mahatma Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins. So far, we’ve considered Politics Without Principal, Wealth Without Work, Commerce Without Morality, Pleasure Without Conscience, and Education Without Character.
Here’s an odd one: Palm Sunday and April Fool’s Day fall on the same day this year. Add to that our social sin topic of the day, science without humanity, and we have an interesting mix. Maybe I’ve been in the bible business (as my Grandma used to say) too long, but I think these topics go together better than might appear at first glance. You ready for an adventure?
Palm Sunday officially marks the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week or the week before Easter Sunday. It’s the busiest week of the year for most church staff. It’s week of events, culminating in Easter, is what sets Christianity apart from other faiths and belief systems. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Palm Sunday gets its name from the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem the final week of his life. This no-name, itinerant teacher, notorious for exasperating the religious leaders of his day, more than caught the attention of everyone on his way into Jerusalem. He rode in on a donkey, hardly befitting of the status of a great leader. The crowds that were lining the roadways, waved palm branches and shouted greetings praising him as their king. (You can read all about it here: Luke 19:28-40).
If April Fool’s Day was acknowledged in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders would have seen his ride into Jerusalem on a donkey as the ultimate foolish thing … if they weren’t so threatened and angered by him and his actions! By now, he really was a severe throne in their side. They went into full-assault mode, determined to get him once-and-for-all.
Which leads us nicely into our social sin of the day: science without humanity. I love the Oxford Dictionary’s definition of science: the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment. Couple that with the definition of humanity, people in general; the state of being a person rather than a god, an animal or a machine, and we have an interesting mix.
Science is a wondrous discipline. Humans are inquisitive by nature. We want to know how and why something is the way it is. We need to challenge suppositions in order to understand. We explore because it’s there. We question because we want to make sense of it. We question and study and try. We keep on until we’re satisfied, for the time being, knowing we will start to question and study and try all over again. It’s part of our very being.
Science only becomes dangerous when we remove humanity from it. History is replete with examples of using science to control or re-engineer people. The “racial hygiene”, human experimentation, and extermination of undesirable groups of people were noted abuses of the Nazi regime. However, they aren’t the only government who violated the human rights of groups of people under the guise of science. Pseudoscientific notions of racial and hereditary purity have been used against individuals and their families deemed poor, disabled, from certain racial or ethnic groups, or who engaged in lifestyle behaviors judged as unacceptable.
Unfortunately, there are religious leaders today who are as threatened by science and the uniqueness of humanity as the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were threatened by him and his teachings! Instead of celebrating the diversity of humanity and the wonders of science, they seek to dismiss science (and often education) and control the attitudes and behaviors of people. It’s enough to make one weep.
And that’s exactly what Jesus did as he neared the great city of Jerusalem:
As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:41-44).
We miss God’s visitation to us when we succumb to the attitudes and influence of those who spread fear and threatening dogma … from wherever it comes. That’s what’s so poignant about this week in Jesus’ life. He came with a message of love and grace, setting humanity free from the constraints of ethnicity, gender, and religion. And he was executed because religious and political leaders were threatened and exposed.
Some things don’t change.