This vivid scene is overflowing with expectation, anticipation, and revelations about who Jesus is… First, we’ll set the stage:
Jerusalem is buzzing with activity as one the seven Feasts for God’s people is about to begin: people are arriving into the city from all over the region, a cacophony of languages is heard among the crowd (which becomes part of the story in a big way about 40 days from now!) Do you know what Feast was being celebrated? Yes, this was the time for Passover, a feast to remember God’s deliverance of his people from slavery by some pretty impressive means. The people headed toward the land of milk and honey, laden with “gifts” from their oppressors and under the leadership of their –now beloved patriarch— Moses. Now under Roman rule, there was some longing or expectation that Another would come to deliver God’s people once again.
Now back out of the city gates and head up the hill a couple of miles to the villages of Bethany & Bethphage, where Jesus and his twelve closest friends—and likely some crowd of people who had been healed and freed as we have been reading in Mark earlier—and begin the approach to Jerusalem. Now for the most part, Jesus is an avid walker and talker… but today, he asks for young colt to be fetched—one that was still green, likely kept for a ceremony or for honor. Now some animal-lovers here would like a whole sermon on this small burrow, but for now its suffice to say that this colt was foretold by the prophet Zechariah in chapter 9:
Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
As they make their way down from the hilly village, Jerusalem comes into view and the excitement builds. Those Jesus healed, restored, discipled, transformed followed him shouting Hosanna; others were fellow pilgrims to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Those around Jesus laid down garments and waved high palm fronds cut along the way as a show of honor to “the one who comes in the name of the Lord” and who brings “the coming kingdom of our father [King] David”
Hosanna! All the while, Jesus receives their acclamation but is curiously quiet.
Let’s take a little deeper look at what is unfolding here. Clearly, we have triumphal entry befitting a king coming in peace (since he’s chosen a colt rather than a war horse), but this might not be what you think.
As we have worked through the book of Mark, and pondered the questions of “Who is this Jesus?” and “Who do others say Jesus is?” the reference I found most frequently is Teacher. Surely a good and wise teacher is to be valued, so what were the religious leaders so angry about when he arrived in Jerusalem? Author Ronald Takaki posed this question, “What happens when someone with the authority of a teacher or professor or scientist describes our society and you’re not in it?” Hmm. Yeah, did you feel that fight or flight response travel through you momentarily? It gives me some compassion for teachers of law, and religious leaders who really probably did look forward to a Moses or David figure who would put God’s people on top again, maybe even have a few positions to fill with those who have guarded the Law, kept people on the straight and narrow, and preserved the lineage. The expectation was high for a temporal triumph again. Can you relate? Jesus did not exactly fit that image, but they could see the signs and read the people… and let me tell you, when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, well, you’ll just have to read on and see.
Now, we’ll make a quarter turn and hear from the crowd following Jesus. They were anticipating someone, too. As they have journeyed with Jesus for days and even years, they saw with their own eyes—and many had first-hand experience!—that Jesus feeds the hungry, frees the dispirited, restores the honor of the outcast, welcomes the young or scorned. He is a change-maker and they can see he is remaking the social constructions, and perhaps there is hope that the system can be reformed, that we aren’t stuck in unjust, unfair, inaccessible, and discriminatory systems. Can you relate? Jesus certainly did amazing things in those three years: blind could see, relational sins forgiven, tax collectors redeemed, life itself restored to a little girl and to Lazarus. But this was just a taste of the good news.
The leaders’ expectations, the followers’ anticipation, and we come to Jesus’ revelation “Who does Jesus say that he is?” For this we need to flip back to the first chapter of Mark, verse 14:
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the Good News of God: ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’”
Throughout this Gospel account, Jesus lays claim to kingdom privileges to heal and forgive sins, he also affirms Peter’s declaration (and silences the dispossessed spirits who speak his name with fear and trembling). Interestingly, he affirms the keepers of the Law saying “I have come not to destroy the Law but to fulfill the Law” while offering the renewal of fulfilling the very heart of the Law not just keeping endless rules of the Law. Jesus also confirms the people’s hopes that he will “make all things new on earth as it is in heaven” but then predicts his own death on three occasions. What to make of all this?
As Peter Chiara says, “Palm Sunday is filled with paradox. The people cheering will later shun [Jesus]. By –spoiler alert—killing Jesus his enemies achieve their victory, but [in doing so,] they effectively establish Christ’s reign.”
For what kingdom change do you long? change of president, principal, professor, or even a parent? We long for a better world, peace in our schools, security in our jobs, food and safety for our children, healing from hurt and pain and sickness. Come, Lord Jesus! Hosanna. What is the good news here? He is no less king than their words suggest, but this kingdom is other and more than they dare to think. He came not to rule over us, to force compliance or build an empire… Jesus came to renew, transform, restore us at the core of who we are, and to join him in making earth just a little bit more like heaven. Would you like to know this Jesus? He would love to know you better as we together journey along the road in life! (If so, please talk with me, or find an elder and we’ll take time to talk with you… elders, would you raise your hand just so we know where you are?)
Here’s a preview of the week: it ends tragically different than anyone thought, but there’s a surprise in store next week that even better than the Easter bunny—and that’s not all, Jesus has a gift in store for a few weeks after that, that gives us a beautiful glimpse of how big Jesus’ kingdom really will be! And if you are one who binge-watches Downton Abbey and can’t wait, go ahead and read the rest of the book of Mark, and the first couple chapter of Acts. It’s GREAT NEWS!