The events in today’s gospel reading take place just a few days after the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Jesus and the disciples are ready to enter Jerusalem to observe Passover. The Disciples anticipate that this will be the moment that Jesus will finally assert his authority and take down the Roman Government. Jesus understands that this is the moment of his authority as well, but it has nothing to do with Rome.
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 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. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.[a]” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 “Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
May God Bless to our understanding the words that we hear today.
Will you pray with me please? May the Words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
First century Jerusalem was a small town. For longer than the people could remember the city was a place of both hunger and hope. It was a city that held on to its past glories and its future promises. At the time of Jesus’ birth the nation, the city, the people had lived under the tyrannical rule of Rome for 63 years.
The Romans imposed heavy taxes, stationed troops overlooking the temple itself to help keep the “peace” and chose unsavory folks as collaborators. Life was not good, the people were drowning in debt and a high foreclosure rate on the land concentrated wealth into the hands of a few…most people were hungry, jobless and desperate.
But on this day so long ago things felt different, it was almost time for Passover. Jews from all over the world were gathered and the entire city seemed to wait on the edge of breathless anticipation. The air was alive with excitement and talk, not just neighborly chatter but talk that was full of hope, full of dreams, full of expectation for a better future. Things were going to be better now, things were going to be different. As the people lined the streets they craned their necks to catch a first glimpse of movement the first hint of noise from down the street…and slowly but surely a procession came into view. And the people stirred and their voices rose…wait a minute. Did I say procession, singular, like in one? I meant ProcessionS
There were two processions coming into the city of Jerusalem that day at the start of Passover week. One came from the west end of the city, through the official city gate and it was led by Pontius Pilot the Roman governor. He was joined for ceremonial purposes by Herod, Rome-approved King of Judea. It was tradition that the governor and the King would spend Passover week in the city. They came to “keep the peace” to lend a watchful eye over the Jewish high holy days. This was the time that the Jews celebrated their release from slavery in Egypt, it was best to be a present presence in case anyone got it into their heads to overthrow Rome in the same way.
In their book The Last Week, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossman help us to imagine the arrival of the imperial parade into the city. They called it a “visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses, foot soldiers, leather armor, helmets, weapons, banners, golden eagles mounted on poles, sun glinting on metal and gold. Sounds: marching of feet. The creaking of leather, the clinking of bridles, the beating of drums. The swirling dust. And the onlookers, some curious, some awed, some resentful.” This was the power of the empire on display, lifting up the Roman emperor who had proclaimed himself the son of god.
From the east, on the other side of town, comes a very different procession, the one we heard about in Matthew’s gospel reading today. The Eastern gate faces out to the Kidron Valley, the scene of many fierce battles in Israel’s history, it is the way to travel to the Mount of Olives. In through this gate comes a single man not on a warhorse, but a donkey, surrounded not by military might but by peasants, the urban poor, the spiritually hungry, no banners but palm branches, no silent resentful observers, but joyful participants whose voices were lifted in praise and hope, cheering in exuberance the man riding on the donkey who THEY proclaimed as the son of God, the leader who would bring about peace and justice and it would all start TODAY!
One city, two parades, which one should we follow? To make that decision we need to understand that these two parades are all about one power confronting another. One is the power of the Roman empire, the other is the power of a man riding on a donkey and we need to say Yes to one and No to the other.
Saying yes, and saying no to what? I am pretty certain that most of us here today are prepared to say no to the political bully that Rome represents, but do we know what we are saying yes to if we follow Jesus? Because honestly, the big parade, the one with all the brass bands and the floats is not the one that Jesus is leading, but his parade requires much more effort from you if you say yes to it. So let’s be very clear about what that means.
Jesus’s one donkey parade rolled into Jerusalem to challenge political authority, not by putting himself forward as a replacement of the current authorities, but by modeling and teaching a different kind of rule; He was showing that the highest position in his kingdom is one of service to all, not all serving the one. Over and over in his ministry, Jesus reminded his disciples that his ministry was for the poor and the down-trodden, Jesus was all about the 99% and his instructions, his teachings, the message that he left with us going into Jerusalem is that we need to do the same.
Jesus’s one donkey parade is going to challenge religious authority. Over and over in his ministry, Jesus reminded his disciples that his ministry was not about the laws of man but the law and the love of God. Following that parade today and every day requires us to believe INTO Jesus, not some religious dogma. Saying yes to Jesus does not require a bunch of rules, it does not require a specific way to dress, it does not require that we have a certain job; it does not require anything more than loving God with all our heart, mind and soul and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
We know how these parades end, we know that by end of the week there is going to be much sorrow and extreme joy, but that should not stop us from saying yes to this parade, the one that is only a man on a donkey. Here’s the thing, by saying Yes today we understand that it is after the parade passes by, after the hosannas stop that the story really begins for us. To live it out to its fullest we need to say yes and we need to be a part of this week with Jesus. We need to experience the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the grief, and the pain, the agony and the abandonment right up to the edge of the cold dark tomb. We need to choose yes, this whole week because this is the week that defines us as Christians, if we don’t understand what this week is all about how the heck are we going to expect that anyone else is going to even want to choose yes with us
Are we there with Jesus, willing to pay the price with him for holding onto that dream of God, the reign of God when, as the prophet Isaiah says, "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more"?
No more hunger. No more war. We dream with God of that great day, as we hear this story at the beginning of another Holy Week, where are we in this story and what procession are we going to choose to follow. I hope we will remember, as we make our own decision, what Margaret Farley has written about what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus: "Christianity," she writes, "is a religion of resistance and hope. The point of the cross is not finally suffering and death; it is, rather, that a relationship holds. There is a love stronger than death."
The choice, is before us, and we must answer, before the parade passes by.