This reflection was shared with the Kittamaqundi Community Church, Palm and Passion Sunday, year A.
An Aramaic word that loosely translates “Save, I pray.”
The crowd that stood by the roadside that day had seen Jesus do many amazing things. Many had been with him on the hillsides outside of Jerusalem where he had healed the lame, restored sight to the blind, reframed the Law and taught them all to pray for their daily bread and for forgiveness. They had puzzled at his parables and they imagined the Kingdom of God.
I have to imagine that others showed up that had not seen with their own eyes but had heard that Jesus had done many amazing things. Good news travels fast and has special allure when life is difficult and hope scarce. People were talking about this guy. He had a following. Why not follow along?
Each person had their own hopes…and collectively their hopes merged into a frenzy of hope for a new day, a new reign, a Messiah, anointed by God, descended from David.
This man was so amazing that surely…
surely all would be well.
Surely this man is a mighty prophet
Surely this is the one spoken of by Isaiah and Zechariah
One chosen by God to has come to liberate the oppressed, the outcast...
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
After years of oppression, after having the hope squeezed out of them by an occupying force, here comes a man who seems to have the power and ability to get things done…not just politically, but in real ways. Ways that changed people’s lives. Sight, wholeness, forgiveness.
Imagine what this man Jesus might be able to do inside the walls of the city...
where the Temple is corrupted by greed,
where the economy is thwarted by Roman taxes,
where heritage and tradition are being buried by
Roman innovation and indoctrination….
where Caesar was Lord -- not Yahweh.
All of their collective hopes and imaginings, swelling and buoying them up. Like a brushfire that quickly grows to something uncontainable, the streets hummed. WHAt must Jesus have been thinking? In Luke's account, the Pharisees ask him to calm the crowd. His response is that even if the crowd was quiet, the very stones would sing. It is as if all of Jerusalem was quaking in anticipation of his arrival.
I wonder if you have ever been swept up in hopeful frenzy? Been in a crowd of people, many of them strangers to you, just knowing that what was coming next would surely rock your world? Crowds are empowering, physically strong, loud. No one stands alone. Have you felt Hope spreading and growing in a gathering? Felt like the energy all around you cannot be snuffed out or overcome? A gathering like his is surely too big and strong to be ignored?!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of The Lord.
Hosanna! Hosanna! Save, I pray…
How quickly it unravels…
The crowd that heralded Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem was, in many ways, blissfully unaware.
That crowd had been with Jesus on the hillsides outside of Jerusalem. They had seen thousands fed with just a few loaves of bread and some fish.
But the crowd had missed Jesus’ earlier conversations with his much smaller group of disciples.in Matthew, we read:
While Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside by themselves and said to them on the way, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified....and in the third day he will be raised.
Those who heard his mysterious warnings about how this would end must have been experiencing some dread, some insecurity, questioning the fervor all around them...doubt creeping in despite their experiences of Jesus. They were entering Jerusalem with that conversation not far behind them.
I mean, what Jesus described to his inner circle was NOT the glorious turnaround promised by the Messiah figure of their heritage and tradition. But here are all these expectant folks.
Could Jesus fulfill their hopes? Fix their lives?
Can you hear their doubt?
…surely this cannot continue? The crowds have become too large and too loud and expect so much.
…surely we cannot solve the problems of this world?
...surely we can't change the priests?
… we cannot overturn Rome?
What CAN we do?
Can you hear the growing fear?
When faced with fear, don't you imagine they pondered their own fate?
Am I at risk?
Can i protect myself?
What if all of this expectation comes to nothing? Will I be a laughingstock?
I have so much to lose....
And then there were Jesus’ “opponents,” the priests and scribes who possibly really BELIEVED they were seeking the well-being of the society around them in a better, more responsible and safe way. No riots please if it can be helped. Perhaps they saw the hand-writing on the wall differently – this man was going to come to blows with the Romans eventually... right? How might they save the crowd from becoming victims of Jesus' inevitable downfall?
Next we have this beautiful act of hospitality by the woman in Bethany. In what we must assume was a moment of inspiration, she pours a generous amount of valuable ointment on Jesus' head. Some in the room might have recognized the potential symbolism of the act...a descendent of David anointed after riding into Jerusalem on a donkey and a colt. Further evidence of prophesy fulfilled. But doubt had already crept in and was messing with the ability to see.
The disciples are only be offended and angry about the extravagant use of exotic ointment in this way. Practically speaking, that luxury item could have been sold to feed the poor. What is this disturbing nonsense Jesus speaks about the poor always being with them???
If you buy the construction of Judas in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar, it is easy to imagine that Judas is trying to save the movement from what might be a fame-seduced, starry-eyed Jesus. He isn't so interested in his own gain. Or is he? And surely it would be nice to survive the chaos he sees building around the movement.
In the text, we don't see the disciples talk together much. I wonder if they shared their doubts with those closest to them? Would it have made a difference?
When his inner circle begins to doubt, it’s hard to imagine how they will stand up to the resistance of the crowd around them, as chaos sets in, threatening, jeering, calling for blood.
My Lenten journey has been spent pondering a question God placed on my heart for this season. A question I see in the way this story unfolds in Holy Week.
How am I part of the world’s violence?
What makes me betray God's command to love God and others with all that I am?
How does my heart need to be transformed to new life?
I like to think that I have been claimed by Christ, and that I have dedicated my life to high ideals – to understanding that the Good News of Jesus Christ is that the blind will walk, the deaf will hear and the meek will inherit the earth.
I am a beloved child of God, right? Forgiven and gifted as unique creation to make the world a better place. Just like every one of you. Every other human on the planet.
But every day I am faced by a thousand choices that threaten my resolve.
I have my own insecurities too. There are things the world tells me about who I am, sometimes out of the messengers own self-doubt: I am selfish, manipulative, greedy, wasteful, power hungry, controlling....
Life circumstances have put people on my path who are mouthpieces for this kinds of messages. They are violent toward me, and when I am scared or threatened or hemmed in, it is easy to turn around and lash out at others in my own violent response.
The messages I receive from the world around me make my tongue sharp and my heart hard.
The messages I receive feed my own doubts and make me wonder if the Kingdom of God is a real possibility? So much hurt, so much suffering. It is hard not to play into the systems all around us that create that suffering.
Commanded to love God and my neighbor…I struggle moment by moment to do either, let alone both.
Even my prayers fail…It is much easier to pray to be forgiven than it is to pray to be changed.
This week, I take my place at the table with the disciples knowing that I will fall away because I am afraid and threatened and I cannot see another way
…scattering with the flock when the shepherd is struck.