Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Manner of King? Palm Sunday

Words keep popping up in my head these days. Weird words like spit...cheek kisses...a baby donkey...a cup...sweat like blood...dirty feet...bully...

I could go on, but I won't yet. I'll let the Word speak for itself...

Matthew 21

The Triumphal Entry
1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, "Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord needs them,' and he will send them at once." 4This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
5 "Say to the daughter of Zion,'Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'"

6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" 10And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, "Who is this?" 11And the crowds said, "This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee."

This week, I am focusing on Jesus. It's the "Holy Week" and I can't resist writing what moves me. Call me a Jesus freak and I just might kiss you. Join me, if you would like.

A few practical addendums:

As an amateur writer, I can't help but wonder why the Gospel accounts weren't "polished" up a bit, clarified here and there. Which is so comforting - the very "unpolished" nature of the accounts seems to lend them an air of truthful reality. Nevertheless, they can be tricky to follow the timeline. One great resource I have appreciated lately is a Holy Week timeline. With four different Gospel accounts, I found this to be helpful in understanding the sequence of events.

If you want or need more words, here are some of my favorites, from one of my favorites: The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey. If you have read it, then you know why I love the book. If you have not read the book, perhaps this week will give you a taste of it. And if you aren't sure about Jesus, just know that He may be different than what was presented on the flannelgraph board at Sunday School, vastly more than what you may feel at a church, read in a theology book, or receive at a soup kitchen.

He is life itself, and abundant life at that.

I'm resting here on Palm Sunday...

"All four Gospels mention this event, which at first glance seems the one departure from Jesus' aversion to acclaim. Crowds spread clothes and tree branches across the road to show their adoration. 'Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!' they cried. Though Jesus usually recoiled from such displays of fanaticism, this time he let them yell. To indignant Pharisees he explained, 'I tell you, if they keep quiet, the very stones will cry out.'

Was the prophet from Galilee now being vindicated in Jerusalem? 'Look how the whole world has gone after him!' exclaimed the Pharisees in alarm. At that moment, with several hundred thousand pilgrims assembled in Jerusalem, it looked for all the world as if the King had arrived in force to claim his rightful throne.

I remember as a child riding home from Palm Sunday service, absentmindedly tearing apart the palm fronds, skimming ahead in the Sunday School quarterly to the next week's topic. It made no sense. With such a throng throwing themselves at his feet one week, how did Jesus get arrested and killed the next?

Now when I read the Gospels I see the undercurrents that help explain the shift. On Palm Sunday a group from Bethany surrounded him, still exultant over the miracle of Lazarus. No doubt pilgrims from Galilee, who knew him well, comprised another large portion of the crowd. Matthew points out that further support came from the blind, the lame, and the children. Beyond that constituency, however, lurked danger. Religious authorities resented Jesus, and Roman legions brought in to control the festival crowds would heed the Sanhedrin's assessment of who might present a threat to order.

Jesus himself had mixed feelings during the clamorous parade. Luke reports that as he approached the city, he began to weep. He knew how easily a mob could turn. Voices who shout 'Hosanna!' one week can shriek 'Crucify him! the next.

The triumphal entry has about it an aura of ambivalence, and as I read all the accounts, what stands out to me now is the slapstick nature of the affair. I imagine a Roman officer galloping up to check on the disturbance. He has attended processions in Rome, where they do it right. The conquering general sits in a chariot of gold, with stallions straining at the reins and wheel spikes flashing in the sunlight. Behind him, officers in polished armor display the banners captured from vanquished armies. At the rear comes a ragtag procession of slaves and prisoners in chains, living proof of what happens to those who defy Rome.

In Jesus' triumphal entry, the adoring crowd makes up the ragtag procession: the lame, the blind, the children, the peasants from Galilee and Bethany. When the officer looks for the object of their attention he spies a forlorn figure, weeping, riding on no stallion or chariot but on the back of a baby donkey, a borrowed coat draped across its backbone serving as his saddle.

Yes, there was a whiff of triumph on Palm Sunday, but not the kind of triumph that might impress Rome and not the kind that impressed crowds in Jerusalem for long either. What manner of king was this?

(I will continue this series all week long. Feel free to add any questions, doubts, defenses, or comments in the comment section, and I'll feel free to respond or not, depending on the chaos of the moment.)

1 comment:

DestinyP said...

Great thoughts! We have services everyday at our church during holy week. I love it because it is a daily reminder of our Lord's last week on earth. I got this idea from a friend online- we will be covering all the crosses in our house on good Friday and maybe even do some of the traditional meals if time allows. Sunday we will uncover the crosses and hang banners and decorate the house, give the kids their Easter baskets and feast all day for our Lord has Risen!!!