The disciples must have been excited and terrified all at once. The entrance into Jerusalem for Passover week had turned into a big deal. How would Jesus be received—by the people and by the authorities? An entrance can define perception! Surely, they would make as big a splash of confidence as possible. And then Jesus asks for a donkey. “A...donkey?!”
Once again, Jesus demonstrates GOD’S love for peace and a love for common people by creating an entrance that proclaimed the power of God’s “kin-dom of heaven,” not Herod’s kingdom of oppression. ***Looking for love?
Keep your eyes out for LOVE in Unexpected Places.
But first I want to remind us of some of the reasons why Passover is so important to Jews and Christians. Passover is the Jewish holiday that celebrates God's liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The name Passover refers to God sparing the Israelites from the plague that killed the firstborn in Egypt, when they marked their doorways with the blood of a lamb. Christians also celebrate Passover as a symbol of freedom and deliverance from sin by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Lamb of GOD.
We are saved from our sin through Jesus shedding his blood on the cross.
This Palm Sunday reading from Matthew is one of those passages in which understanding how those in the story perceived what was going on IS VITAL.
A hero riding into Jerusalem on a donkey carries symbolic weight we might miss with a cursory reading using our 21st century sensibilities.
For one thing, Jerusalem is a city that has been conquered and resisted being conquered many times in the recent history of Jesus' life. Both before and after Jesus' life, Jerusalem has rebelled against Rome; the Maccabean revolt happened before he was born, and the rebellion that led to the second destruction of the temple occurred soon after his death.
Usually when conquered, the city might receive the conquering general or governor on a Big War Horse. A Donkey is an animal of peace. To enter Jerusalem as an authority figure but riding a donkey would have symbolized an arrival in peace.
And covering the path of someone worthy of honor was also normal. When Jehu was anointed king of Israel by the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings, his fellow officers immediately took their cloaks off and spread them on his path while blowing trumpets and shouting he was king.
The concept of a king arriving to Jerusalem on a donkey, and the act of covering the ground upon which his path is laid by the crowd is full of subtext connected to Jerusalem's current plight–it was the center of Jewish worship, it housed the temple in which God dwelled, and was occupied and subjugated by a Roman government (with a King that essentially served as a Roman proxy: King Herod the Great).
Witnessing Jesus' reception, the occupying “power-that-be” had strong reason to be fearful of the kind of power Jesus had; the power that normally starts revolutions that change the course of human history. With Jesus' entry, ironically named "Triumphal" even though we know how the story leads to crucifixion, we have an opportunity to talk about power. Because we’ve got to ask: what kind of power does a homeless rabbi have, anyway?
Crowds surrounded him to greet him and cry out "hosanna" which was a cry of praise, but also literally means "save us now!" Jesus brought no army to liberate Jerusalem. He brought
no scroll proclaiming the end of Roman rule. Jesus' power was different than the power of Pilate--an extension of the militaristic enforcement of Pax Romana-Roman Peace.
It was different than the power of the priesthood. Some of the Jewish leaders were corrupted colluders with Rome and the ones who ran the headquarters of the Jewish faith. It was different than King Herod the Great--a proxy king practically chosen to rule Judea by Rome.
Jesus didn't need a proclamation or law, or military might to have power. Jesus' power wasn't of this Earth—it was a power from GOD. His was the power of one who has let go of the fear of death. A power that no military might could match. A power that withstood the challenges from the priesthood, the false kings, and the Roman governing authorities. The kind of power that could make stones cry out, Praising GOD. All this regardless of the lowly stature of the animal on whose back he rode into Jerusalem.
Jesus' undermining of power can instruct us to not fall prey to the temptations of gaining power that we might experience all around us these days. We see corrupted examples of power in our world today: governments, militaries, corporations, even churches are not immune to unholy power-grabbing. A love of power can replace the Love to which GOD is constantly calling us!
A love of power misses the point of GOD’S intention for power as we see in the life of Jesus. Power is meant to be used to lift people up and then be given away.
When we hang on to power for the sake of keeping it, we fall into a state of even deeper weakness: addicted to the feeling of having power and constantly fearful of losing it. This, in fact, leads to more anxiety, more fear, more hoarding, and less love.
We don't Love as GOD Loves in order to grow in power.
But power does grow in us as we Love one another--recognizing that real power isn't something anyone possesses but rather is a force that is unstoppable when shared in community.
Organizers know this when they create grassroots movements
that fundamentally change the status quo. And Churches know this when they can unlock the power of their congregation to make their neighborhood a better place.
On that Palm Sunday along the parade route so long ago, there were folks who were critics. The Critics were some of the religious leaders thought that Jesus was sacrilegious, he healed on the Sabbath and didn’t follow some of their rules. Some hated Jesus.
The Crowd- There was always a crowd around Jesus. Many people didn’t really care about Jesus; they wanted to see the show. There were folks who were curious and also folks who were conflicted; and they are a little different then the crowd. The curious actually have some interest in Jesus. The whole city was stirred and asked- Who is this man?
Then we have the The Committed- This group was faithful followers of Jesus- but maybe not totally ready to give their lives completely. The committed wanted to follow him, but they struggled to do more than just follow.
The Core- They’ve gone head-over-heels for Christ. They are “all in;” like the disciples, especially Peter, James and John. Disciples who would do more than follow Christ, they would pick up their crosses and die for him. They were not perfect- they all denied Christ during his inquisition, during his passion, but afterwards they got up each and every time, ready to go all the way for Him.
Here at Harmonie, I would say we are a group that includes the curious and conflicted, the committed and the core. The wonderful thing about Jesus is that he will meet us where we are and help us take the next step. God can even change the critics to curious to committed to core.Remember, ask God, seek God, and you will find God.
My friends, The King of kings chooses the road of humility. He didn’t come riding into town on big white stallion, but on the back of the colt of a donkey. And it wasn’t even his donkey but a borrowed one at that. We see God reflected in the life of Christ. His was a life of humility. Remember back to the birth of Jesus in a stable. The incarnation was announced to shepherds; not Kings and Queens.
Let us pray and confess our sins to GOD as we prepare for Holy Communion.