My next few posts are dedicated to Christian basics like Palm Sunday (today’s topic), the validity of tithing, evangelism, and inter-religious interaction.
Beginning with Palm Sunday, we are presented with an image of Jesus that deconstructs all preconceived ideas of “Messiah” and “Conquering King” that still dominate our collective imagination. Let us (re)enter the story…
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”Matthew 21:1-3
The Messiah’s triumphal entry into the “Promise Land” required a favor. Our exemplar and Savior, the one we are to emulate, asked a friend to ask a stranger to borrow his conveyance.
I must admit that I tend to read the Bible as a long comedic narrative––these are stories, after all, about real people who regularly end up in humorous situations, as we all do.
The humor in this passage, to me at least, is found in Jesus’ instructions. It starts out normal enough: “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her.” Fine, easy.
What I love, though, is that Jesus seems to over-explain in his very next breath, directing these two disciples who he clearly does not fully trust to “untie” the animals before bringing them back.
I can imagine these two disciples arriving at the donkey and colt, wasting hours tugging at the two animals still tied to the post, eventually giving up and returning to Jesus empty-handed, “Oh, untie them first!”
The Bible doesn’t give us much on context or tone, so I like to think Jesus really paused and emphasized “untie” here: “…UNTIE…them and bring them to me.” Of course, we’re also invited to laugh at the “and bring them to me” part: “Well, Jesus, we found the animals, untied them, and watched as they wandered off…the owner seemed confused.”
The point, assuming I have one, is that Jesus’ world-changing, hero’s procession was communally inclusive. Clearly Jesus could have obtained transportation another way, and much better transportation at that! But his salvation is all-encompassing, inviting everyone into the story.
In the previous chapter, Jesus once again tells his disciples of his impending death while they journey toward Jerusalem (Matthew 20:17-19). As Jesus details, this death is going to be neither quick nor easy. Indeed, he explains that it will involve mockery, flogging, and crucifixion.
To any normal person, this information would result in a new travel itinerary, one that avoids Jerusalem at all cost. Jesus was gaining notoriety, and with a little more time and exposure, he could rally support and overtake the local authorities, installing his own government built on his teachings. If nothing else, Jesus should at least avoid major roads and consider adding security.
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.Matthew 21:6-8
Unprotected and exposed, Jesus entered Jerusalem. Restated, Jesus entered into his victorious redemptive act defenseless and vulnerable––the very ingredients necessary for love. Jesus hid behind nothing, excluded no one, and left himself open to whatever may come because that is love.
Upon entering the city, Jesus visited the Temple, the trusted epicenter of goodness and love.
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.Matthew 21:12
In John 2, Jesus clears the Temple by wielding a self-made whip. I love that humorous detail: “Making a whip with cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle” (John 2:15). Jesus’ whip weaving skills have been unfairly overshadowed by his carpentry work.
Jesus’ ire focused on the Temple––the “House of God”––that had been turned into a marketplace: a central location where people could get all their religious needs met without actually having to participate or sacrifice.
Palm Sunday is not a mere preamble to Easter Sunday. Our Middle Eastern Savior, exuding humility and grace, professed and modeled his message of justice, peace, and love when he rode modestly into the city, vulnerable and exposed, on a donkey adorned with commoners robes.
The message of Palm Sunday is not that Jesus defeated his enemies, paving the way for the religious to ascend to their proper place of social and political power.
In fact, following Jesus’ performance in the Temple, he slows down to tell a story about an evil tenet who hoards all the profits, refusing to include others in the riches. But this isn’t a story about how faith in God is being attacked by those outside the community. Jesus isn’t denouncing social moral failure. He has a different target:
“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.Matthew 21:43-46
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, fruits of the kingdom. I venture to guess that few would describe the American church in such terms.
As the story demonstrates, Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance elicits celebration not from the religious people but rather from the marginalized. In Luke’s recount, the religious people even tell Jesus to silence his exuberant, joyous followers (19:39), expressing their desire to build a wall around their “holy” space, ensuring that the unbecoming population stayed in their place.
Indeed, the shouts of those in need had become cacophonous noise to the religious. But rather than allowing those voices to permeate their hearts, the religious people tried to silence them, justifying their position through religious rhetoric.
And so Palm Sunday gives a chance to hear our own voice in the event: are we proclaiming “Hosanna” or demanding silence? Are we loving with reckless abandon or working hard to maintain our status and security? And ultimately, is our Savior this Holy Week prepared to battle “others” or is our Savior prepared to die for all?
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