7 Apr

Lent is drawing to a close and I am preparing for Palm Sunday. In a church community where folks took the time and energy to attend services during holy week, Palm Sunday would be simple with a theme of triumphal entry and expectation. However, some folks go from palms to resurrection with little understanding of the cross and death. So, many pastors have tried to put all of Holy Week in this Sunday, which doesn’t work very well.

The basic story of Jesus entry into Jerusalem from Bethphage is the same in all the gospels. Yet, each writer gives it their own twist. This year’s story comes from Matthew, who is concerned with tying Jesus’ story to the Hebrew Scripture.

21 1-3 When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”

4-5 This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:

Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
foal of a pack animal.”

It is unclear how Jesus rode the two animals at once, both the donkey and the colt, but most biblical scholars are agreed on why he rode into Jerusalem this way. Romans soldiers in chariots and on foot were coming into Jerusalem for the liberation festival of Passover. To contrast this military might of Roman, Jesus was coming in on a pack animal. The symbolism screams, “power is not in the arrogance of war, but in humility before God”.

6-9 The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”

10 As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

11 The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”

We make a big deal out of the palm branches that were cast down before Jesus during his entry, but really it was a ritual that had happen a number of times for a number of “local celebrities” in the Jewish community. We know the phrases that were shouted out that day came directly from the Psalm – the hymnbook of the Jews. Of course, what makes this event poignant is that the people had it right this time. This was the blessed and anointed one of God who was the one promised from the time of King David.

Also, because we are living in a different country two thousand years later, we don’t get the ironic statement of “a prophet that has come from Nazareth in Galilee”. It’s like saying, “Oh, there’s the Noble Prize winner from East Podunk, Arkansas.” It is not the straight forward event we think it is. God is using what is not, to proclaim what is.

Holy week begins with a prophet of God from a nowhere place coming into Jerusalem on a dirty, lowly pack animal. Is that any way to enter the center of an oppressed people when they are celebrating the power of God to free them from slavery in Egypt. I wonder if the people thought, “A big staff and a few plagues on the Romans would be helpful.”

Well, here’s to God doing things in a unique way. And, here’s to looking for God in the unexpected today. Peace.


One Response to “Expectation”

  1. Phyllis Terwilliger April 7, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    Palm Sunday and Pentecost are my two favorite holy days in the Christian year. Thanks for a wonderful commentary on the entry into Jerusalem!

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