Palm Sunday 17 April 2011
(Isaiah 50:4-9a Philippians 2:5-11 Matthew 21:1-11)
Let me tell you a story! Once upon a time, a baby was born in a no-nothing town called Bethlehem. Soon after, wise and powerful men came looking for this baby and when they could not find the child, they went to the rich and powerful King Herod in the capitol city of Jerusalem, asking him, “Where can we find the King of the Jews?”
The powerful king got scared and so he killed all the very young children in order to eliminate this King of the Jews. But the child escaped with his family.
And so this boy grew into a young man, became a rabbi and began to teach as God would have him do, but still he was a man with nowhere to lay his head.
And there were times when this poor man seemed to have extraordinary power—power over sickness and power over Satan and power over evil.
And then one day, at age 33, he came near Jerusalem, that well-built and fortified city, borrows a donkey, and rides into the city. This city of high and strong walls with soldiers and guards, with well-secured gates into it, and this man rides right through the main gate along the Eastern Wall, the gate where all the great kings, beginning with Solomon came for their coronations to claim Jerusalem as their own. It’s the pomp and circumstance of filthy rich power!
And along the road leading to this Eastern Gate of the city, a very large crowd spreads their cloaks on the road; they cut branches from the trees and spread them all over the ground. They wave and shout “Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Save us (for that is what Hosanna means)! Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest heaven! God save us!”
And once again this great and powerful city is in turmoil! Some are saying, “who is this?” And others are saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
But the story does not end there because in only a few days, Jesus will be mockingly asked, “Are you the king of the Jews?” and only hours after that, Pilate will inscribe the cross of Jesus with the proclamation that “this is Jesus the King of the Jews!” Thieves proclaim his King of the Jews! Romans soldiers will confess, “Truly this is God’s Son.”
And none of this makes any sense!
And so that question asked 33 years earlier by the wise men from the East, “where can we find the king of the Jews?” begins to find an answer today, as we are given a glimpse of this king riding into the city on a borrowed donkey to the sounds of excited crowds, attentive and supportive and excited about his message, but having no resources to support him, only cloaks for a saddle and tree branches for parade banners. The people of Jerusalem are stirred by the display of his coming but have absolutely no idea who he is. His credentials are totally without credibility. His supporters argue he is a prophet from down in the holler, but totally unknown to the circle of the sophisticated, the intelligentsia.
What pathetic irony!
That’s really what it is, a pathetic story of the powerful and the powerless!
This irony and absurdity became so clear to me several weeks ago when I stood outside that massive wall along the road which we believe Jesus followed into Jerusalem, only to see those magnificent gates completely sealed over with stone. [SLIDE of Jerusalem Gates]
These “Golden Gates” as they are called today, are unusable because they await the arrival of the real Messiah, the one with real power.
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And so we have traveled through Lent, struggling to be right within ourselves, and at the same time, coming face to face with a world that seems to operate on different values.
If this pathetic story (as I call it!) of this Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, is anything for us, it is a mirror reminding us that only when we come face to face with this daily struggle between the powerful and the powerless within and around us, then and only then can we begin to understand this simple rabbi, riding a donkey, along the road outside the threatening massive walls of Jerusalem, entering through one of the massive gates. Only then can we begin to recognize our struggle to reconcile this tension of the powerful with those without power in our world today.
In this Gospel of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, we see a brave and foolish and beautiful model of how to speak truth to power, of how to reconcile what we must do with what seems impossible to accomplish.
The message for today seems to be that when the Gospel Promise of reconciliation and love is clear and simple and true, that it will be threatening, even when it would appear to be without influence and clout.
Hosanna! Hosanna! Save us! Hosanna in the Highest! Save us! Who really has the power? Who are the powerful? Oh, and where can we find the King of the Jews? Amen.