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Buyer’s Remorse

April 2, 2012

“Buyer’s Remorse” Mark 11:1-11 Palm Sunday B © 4/1/12 by Tom Cheatham at First Presbyterian Church, Amory, MS. All rights reserved.

From the time I got my license through college and then into my first church, I drove hand-me-down cars from my mama. First there was a 1962 Mercury Comet, then the 1970 Plymouth Belvedere. I should have been grateful just to have transportation, but I wanted something other than those plain, unexciting vehicles. So when I got out on my own in the late ‘70s, and I could afford to buy my own car, I went with a Pontiac Sunbird “fastback” as they were called then. I liked its spoiler and sport suspension, tape deck and great-looking interior. But a good car it wasn’t. I suffered with its myriad mechanical troubles for several years before it finally gave up the ghost. Many times as I sat at the shop getting this or that repaired, I wondered why I hadn’t bought that reliable, plain, boxy Toyota I had considered.

I felt it well after my purchase, but I had buyer’s remorse about my Sunbird. You know the term. “Buyer’s remorse” is typically the regret someone has after spending big bucks on a house or a car or some other expensive item. It can also apply to any purchase that you believe was a mistake. I think of those record albums some of us bought back in the day before you could sample music on the Internet or in the store. There was one or maybe two good songs on the album, and the rest was junk and filler, so the record ended up on your shelf, rarely played, despite your having spent what was a good bit in those days. With buyer’s remorse, you wonder if you paid too much or whether you should have been so extravagant or if maybe a salesperson pressured you into buying. When you start driving the car or settling into the home, it turns out to be not quite what you expected or wanted, but you just bought it and it would be a hassle to turn right around and trade or sell. Besides, you don’t want to look foolish to your friends and family. So you just live with it and start longing for the day when you can get something else.

Buyer’s remorse is also an emotion we can feel in relationships. Writers like Stephen Covey talk about the emotional bank account each of us maintains. In our interactions with others we make deposits by doing something kind or by listening or simply being present. Deposits are positive feelings and impressions. We also unfortunately make withdrawals. These are hurts and slights, lies and betrayals, neglect and apathy. We hope that in our relations with our friends, family and neighbors, we stay in the black, with more deposits than expenditures of emotional capital. But sometimes the account gets overdrawn or its value plummets, and it may take a long time and a lot of effort to recover. Of course, sometimes recovery never happens.

We invest emotional capital in the leaders of the church, the community, and the nation. We also make those deposits, quite big ones in fact, in our spouses, our parents, children, and siblings, our other family members, and our friends. We have certain expectations of all these, appropriate to their office or their place in our lives. We may trust them deeply, rely on their wisdom, look to them for safety and help. Buyer’s remorse sets in when we realize they have betrayed us or have not met our expectations. We expect the pastor to be there at a crucial time, but she or he doesn’t show up or even send a text. We want the president of the United States to get us out of this mess, but he doesn’t deliver. We expect the judge to render a verdict in our favor, but to our surprise, the proceedings go the other way. We want our kids to follow in our footsteps, but they pursue another career and/or reject our values.

Our feelings can be all over the spectrum then. Anger. Disappointment. A sense of betrayal. A resolve simply to settle for less. Apathy. Depression. Withdrawal from relationships. Discounting the influence and importance of the person in our lives. Promising never to be taken in again. Rooting for their enemies. Being open to suggestion by those who also have an ax to grind against the person. Even being bought.

Add the dimension of the holy into that mix, and you’ve got a volatile combination. God is supposed to listen to you and heal your hurts and help you in life. He’s supposed to bring liberation and hope and even slay your enemies. What happens when you get buyer’s remorse from having trusted in God or the One you believed was sent by God, the one who comes in the name of the Lord?

Like Jesus.

Think about it. You told your friends and they told their friends and you all liked the Lord’s Facebook page. You rooted for him and were delighted when he left the Pharisees and the other religious leaders flustered and speechless. Those guys just wanted too much from the common folk anyway. Who could remember, much less follow, all those rules? You made special preparations to come be in Jerusalem for Passover when you heard through the network that Jesus was going to be there, making an entrance. Maybe finally this was the man who would drive out the Romans and free the nation from tyranny, political and religious. He had to be. All your hopes and dreams were riding with him, focused on him.

But does he live up to your expectations, does he pay a dividend on your emotional investment? After you spread your cloak on the road and waved those branches and shouted out loud your adoration and devotion, after all that hoopla, hype, and hosanna, what does Jesus do? He goes to the Temple and does…. Nothing. Nothing. He looks around at everything. Gets the lay of the land. Cases the joint. Takes in the sights. Then he goes back to his hotel, eats some lamb in a pita, watches a ball game on TV with his friends, and gets a good night’s sleep.

Talk about a let-down! Jesus’ starting place for his entry would lead you to believe that he intended to take the Temple and Jerusalem by force. According to the prophet Zechariah, the Mount of Olives was the place from which an assault on Israel’s enemies was to begin (Zech 14:2-4).  The great Jewish leader known as Simon the Hammer had come into the city much the same way as Jesus. His story in 1 Maccabees tells how “on the twenty-third day of the second month, in the one hundred seventy-first year, the Jews entered [Jerusalem] with praise and palm branches, and with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments, and with hymns and songs, because a great enemy had been crushed and removed from Israel” (13:51). At least it looked as if Jesus were staging a kind of alternative processional as he came in from the east of the city while the Roman army marched in from the port to the west to keep order during Passover (see note 1).

But there was no handing out arms from a secret stash to march against Rome. No uniting the insurgent factions against a common enemy. Not even a rally on the Temple grounds. No Occupy Jerusalem. No demands. No candlelight vigil. No speech. No presentation of petitions from tens of thousands for redress of grievances. No conference or confrontation with Pilate or Herod or even the religious authorities.

Well, OK, it was late. Maybe he has plans for tomorrow. He had had a big day. Everybody needs rest. And Monday did not disappoint. Cleansing the Temple. Calling it a stronghold for bandits, by which he meant the religious leaders, who were also cheapskate, insensitive landlords for widows. Effectively blockading the Temple to keep the necessary supplies for Passover from coming in.

But still no confrontation with the Romans, no armed uprising. Maybe he was looking for the right moment. In the meantime, his teaching was entertaining. He kept putting all those stuck-up so-called leaders in their place. It was fun listening to him spar with them and win every time.

As the week wears on, though, and still nothing spectacular happens, you begin to feel foolish and ashamed. You wonder why you ever trusted this man and recommended to your friends and family that they do so. It would be a long time before they listened to you again. You had lost face in a culture where such a thing meant even more than it does today. You looked like an idiot. People would laugh now when you walked by and would make your stupidity into a proverb. The anger starts to rise in you. You’re embarrassed. You want to get even with this loser, this scam artist who lifted you up only to let you down so hard.

So you’re particularly open now when the very leaders you despised suggest that you root for a criminal to be released, and Jesus be condemned to die. Just be in the crowd at the Roman headquarters at a certain time. Anonymous. Easy. Or you’re afraid when even some lowly servant girl asks you a question. You deny your association with Jesus, even cursing to make your point. You take money to betray him, only to know the worst buyer’s remorse you had even experienced, something you can’t live with.

We can understand, can’t we? We have our own buyer’s remorse sometimes about investing so much of our lives in the work and way of Jesus and the church. We have “bought into” his teaching, his call to discipleship. But then when we need him most, he doesn’t come through. The world’s in a mess. Our lives are often fragmented, our health is bad, relationships go sour. Church is boring and unfulfilling. We invested all this time and effort, all our hopes and dreams in this? For him to look around and go home, so to speak?

What do we want from Jesus? What do we expect from him? What do we do when it becomes clear we can’t control him or cajole him or convince him to do our bidding? What happens when he starts talking about the cross and won’t let it go?

Our Lord has his own agenda. That’s quite clear from this text. One writer recently put it this way: “Whatever the disciples expected to happen, and whatever the crowds expected, just didn’t happen. Their expectations and Jesus’ agenda are worlds apart.

“Their agenda is a coup d’état. Jesus’ agenda is to scope the place out for a teach-in.

“Their agenda is a revolution that will sweep away one empire and replace it with—a new empire. Jesus’ agenda is a revolution that will replace empires altogether with a humanity in which everyone is included.

“Their agenda is to co-opt God to legitimate their vision of utopia. Jesus’ agenda is to realize the divine image that lives in every person.

“So, at the end of the day, after all the excitement, nothing happens. The expectations are utterly unmet. This is indeed the beginning of the end, where the unmet false expectations turn the crowd’s adulation to disappointment, and finally to bloodthirsty anger.

“It’s fine to have great expectations. But what happens when your expectations go unmet? Do you turn to thoughts (and actions) of vengeance, or does it cause you to consider whether your expectations were what they should have been to begin with” (see note 2)?

Would we be in the crowd shouting “Crucify him!” at the end of this week? Or would we be humbly examining our hearts, asking questions not so much about what we expect from Jesus as about what he expects from us?

We so often fail our Lord. But we can take heart. Even when hanging on a cross, Jesus didn’t get buyer’s remorse about his emotional investment in the people he loved. Instead, he forgave.

Note 1: http://www.progressiveinvolvement.com/progressive_involvement/2012/03/lectionary-blogging-palm-sunday-mark-11-1-11.html

Note 2: www.scarletletterbible.com/palms-b-mark

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