“Vision: Fantasy or Reality?”
March 20, 2016
By John Partridge*
Do you remember the games that you played when you were a little kid?
In particular, do you remember playing “pretend?”
When we played pretend, reality didn’t matter. We could be anything we wanted. Even though we were only six years old, we could be doctors, or firefighters, or superheroes, or anything else. But we always knew that we were just playing a game and that we weren’t really superheroes.
As adults, we know that there are people whose brains sometimes don’t work the way that they should and they get their “pretend” or their fantasy world mixed up with the real world. When this happens there are several mental illnesses that might be involved including paranoia, delusional behavior, psychotic behavior and others. But, at the same time, most all of us play a lesser version of these same delusions and in doing so we appear to be perfectly normal.
What happens to most people occurs when they deal with what is called “cognitive dissonance.” Cognitive dissonance can be a good thing because it is one of the principle mechanisms through which we learn. Cognitive dissonance happens whenever we learn something new that disagrees with what we thought that we knew. For example, if we thought that the Earth’s moon was just a short distance, say a few thousand miles, from the International Space Station, and then we learn that it is, in fact, more than three hundred thousand miles away, so far that all of the planets in the solar system would fit between the earth and the moon, our brain becomes remarkably uncomfortable. That discomfort, which is caused my hearing new information, is called cognitive dissonance. The brain, like the rest of us, dislikes being uncomfortable and must do something to ease its discomfort. The only two choices that the brain has are to ignore the new facts and “pretend” that the old idea is correct or, to reject the old information and establish new neural pathways to remember that the new facts are true.
This is how we learn.
This is also how we sift through new information to sort out truth from fables, fantasies, and wild Internet gossip. We reject what we believe to be false and remember what we believe to be true.
But as adults, we often find that new information, even if it’s true, to be so uncomfortable that we choose instead to continue to believe false information even though we have been shown genuine facts that prove otherwise.
Otherwise sane adults do it all the time.
For an example of what I am talking about, you don’t have to look any further than the people you know who are talking about their favorite presidential candidate. The same stories could be told about every single one of them. The people that like a particular candidate, once they have chosen that person as their favorite, are likely to remember everything that makes them look good, and totally ignore genuine facts that make them look bad. I have seen entire articles written in recent weeks that describe how people believe that real, documented events, never happened simply because their favorite candidate, or their campaign, said that it never happened.
This is the adult version of playing pretend. Honestly, it borders on being delusional, but this is the power of cognitive dissonance. We deliberately blind ourselves to the facts, because they make us uncomfortable.
So, as long-winded as that was, what does it have to do with Palm Sunday?
And the answer is, everything. Let’s begin by reading Luke 19:28-40.
28 After Jesus had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.29 As he approached Bethphage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, 30 “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’”
32 Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. 33 As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?”
34 They replied, “The Lord needs it.”
35 They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. 36 As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road.
37 When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
This passage begins by establishing that Jesus knows the truth. More importantly, Jesus demonstrates that he knows things that ordinary mortals cannot, and should not, possibly know. Jesus knew what was happening in a place far outside of his vision and he knew what would happen in the future. Jesus knew that a colt would be in the village before they went there. He knew that someone was likely to stop his friends from taking it, and he knew precisely what answer would satisfy them. And so, as I said, we have begun by establishing from the beginning, that Jesus knew the truth and understood reality better than anyone on the face of the earth.
Having established that, we then meet the Pharisees who urge Jesus to compel his disciples, and the people along the road, to shut up. The Pharisees have heard all the same stories about Jesus that the crowd has heard. We know that the Pharisees have been personally present many times when Jesus taught and even when he performed miracles. They personally interviewed people who had been miraculously healed.
They absolutely knew the facts…
…And then chose to completely ignore them because the truth made them uncomfortable.
Before we go on, let’s also read this same story as it was recorded by the Apostle John. (John 12:12-16)
12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!” [Hosanna means “Save Us!”]
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Blessed is the king of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
see, your king is coming,
seated on a donkey’s colt.”
16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.
In the world of the New Testament, Rome was the super power. The Roman army kept the peace and the Pharisees and the Sadducees had a deal to share political and religious power with the Roman government. But a big part of that deal was an understanding that the Pharisees and the Sadducees would help the Romans to keep the peace.
And now, suddenly, Jesus enters the city riding on a colt just as the prophets had promised the king of Israel one day would. And as Jesus enters the city, crowds of people are shouting “Hosanna.” There were crowds of people crying out for Jesus to save them, and by doing so they were essentially declaring that Jesus was their Savior, and quite possibly, their future king.
So again, remember that the Pharisees had the same information that everyone else had, and much of what they knew they had witnessed firsthand. Based on this information, the disciples, the crowd, and the Pharisees each crafted a version of reality that made them comfortable. The disciples, to varying degrees, as well as the people in the crowd, believed that Jesus was the conquering, messiah king who would rise up, overthrow the Roman occupation, and set his people free. Based on exactly the same information, the Pharisees believed that Jesus was going to upset the applecart, cause a riot, anger the Roman soldiers, force them to beat down a growing insurrection by force and, at the same time, find someone other than the Pharisees and the Sadducees with whom to share power. Based on these preconceptions, the reality crafted by the Pharisees, was that Jesus was not the Messiah, not the king, but was dangerous radical who would upset the status quo and needed to be quieted… by whatever means necessary.
All of them were wrong.
With the exception of Jesus, everyone there believed a fantasy. They all looked at the same set of facts and each of them sees what they want to see. Each of them created a version of reality that made them comfortable. They were all, in varying degrees, playing pretend. Each of them, in their own way, were completely delusional… and they didn’t even know it.
Jesus alone understood the truth.
Although John reminds us that the disciples would eventually, after the resurrection, understand the truth, Jesus alone sees reality as it truly is.
Jesus understands that he is indeed Israel’s Messiah, the creator of the universe, the King of kings, and Lord of lords. Jesus understands that this moment, proclaimed by God and the prophets, was so important that if the crowd refused to recognize him, the rocks along the side of the road would be compelled to do it for them. But Jesus also understood that although it was not yet time for him to come into the city as a conquering king, the time had come for him to be the Lamb of God, the sacrifice for the forgiveness of the sins of his people.
And so today, on this Palm Sunday, as we remember the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, let us also remember how easily we can ignore the facts and create false realities for ourselves. Sometimes as we read stories about who Jesus is, or about what Jesus did, or about the things that Jesus taught us to do, these things make us uncomfortable. They don’t fit with our version of reality. And so we have to choose whether or not we will accept Jesus’ reality. We have to choose whether or not we really want to believe because, if we do, we might just have to change how we live.
Cognitive dissonance makes us uncomfortable and so we have a choice to make.
Our choice is to believe the truth, to learn from it, to change our neural pathways and therefore to change who we are, what we believe, and how we act, or, we can choose to ignore the facts, play pretend, and create our own version of reality that allows us to be comfortable… and wrong.
We have two choices. We can choose to believe a fantasy, or we can choose to believe reality.
There are two realities that you can choose.
- The reality of Jesus, the Son of God, the creator of the universe, Savior, redeemer, the sacrifice and forgiveness of sins, the King of kings, Lord of lords, and author of all that is?
- the reality that you create for your own comfort.
Which reality will you choose?