Reflection: Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020
Lycoming Presbyterian Church
Matthew 21: 1-11
21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying 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. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”
4This 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.”
6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them.
8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The 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!” 10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus was such a disappointment.
Here we are: Palm Sunday. Such excitement. Jesus deliberately has staged this entrance so as to intentionally fulfill the prophecies he’s studied and understood. Jesus the consummate strategist. Coming in on a donkey. Humble. No steed, no fancy military chariot. The secret code words given (“The Lord needs them”) and donkey and colt obtained.
But the crowd didn’t get the point. They had their expectations they were heaping on him. They made it the triumphant entrance. They made it a ticker-tape parade, using, in their case, palms – the sign of royalty. They reenacted what happened once before when the Maccabees led the liberation of Jerusalem from the Greeks. Here comes the king. Here comes the Messiah. Here comes our liberator. Here comes the new son of David. Thank God, someone’s come to save us!
They see Jesus as someone they can use. Understandable, given their desperation.
Here he is: the man who’s going to restore the Kingdom of God on earth (wrongly equating a nation with a spiritual reality)! We’re going to get our nation back! Jesus, Jesus, he’s our man! If he can’t win, nobody can!
In comes righteousness and justice, and Israel is the greatest, we are Number 1! – God’s true country. Out go those infidel Romans. Out goes our oppressors. Out goes Herod, this bad king. Out goes corruption. Jesus is the man. Jesus -- our Superman!
Until. Until…all this Jesus does is talk. Where’s the revolution? We got a glimpse of it when he overturned the tables and shut the temple industry down, but he never followed up on this act of civil disobedience. He never even resisted when they came for him.
What a disappointment he turned out to be.
John Lennon was onto something:
You say you want a revolution Well, you know We all want to change the world You tell me that it's evolution Well, you know We all want to change the world But when you talk about destruction Don't you know that you can count me out? You say you've got a real solution Well, you know We'd all love to see the plan You ask me for a contribution Well, you know We are doing what we can But if you want money for people with minds that hate All I can tell is, brother, you'll have to wait You say you'll change the constitution Well, you know We all want to change your head You tell me it's the institution Well, you know You'd better free your mind instead But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow
It is our expectations that cause so much of our suffering:
This date, I’m getting lucky…until she says without a kiss, “Goodnight.”
This is the going to be greatest family vacation ever…until your son starts throwing up or the car engine breaks.
My son is going to be the greatest basketball player this town has ever seen; come on son, you want to see my trophies when I was your age? Let’s practice another hour…until he prefers the chess club.
Once he’s in charge, everything will be better…until he does get in charge.
I know once we move, everything will be much better…until you take it with you.
My son is completely innocent…until the facts prove otherwise.
After those two last churches, we’ve finally found a real Christian church…until someone says something that offends you because you like being easily offended.
Life will be fair, I will get what I deserve…until you don’t, or worse, until you do get what you really deserve.
The Stonecutter a Chinese Fable
There was once a stonecutter, who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.
One day, he passed a wealthy merchant's house, and through the open gateway, saw many fine possessions and important visitors. "How powerful that merchant must be!" thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.
To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants, and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. "How powerful that official is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a high official!"
Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed. It was a hot summer day, and the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. "How powerful the sun is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be the sun!"
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. "How powerful that storm cloud is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a cloud!"
Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. "How powerful it is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be the wind!"
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering stone. "How powerful that stone is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a stone!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a stone!"
Then he became the stone, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock, and felt himself being changed. "What could be more powerful than I, the stone?" he thought. He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stonecutter.
The pale of discontentment. A recipe for exploitation.
They blamed Jesus for their disappointment when they caused it themselves.
Hopes are one thing. Expectations another. Better to cherish what is. Better to stop expecting the world to change, when, as the cliché goes: it is up to us to become the change we expect of the world.
Well, we can forgive them all that first Palm Sunday because that means we can forgive ourselves also for our expectations and especially us wanting a quick fix.
· Winning the lottery
· The promotion
· The pill that will shed 40 pounds
· The miracle drug, the saving vaccine
· I’m baptized, I’m saved!
Well we can forgive them because Jesus did forgive them.
Well, we can forgive ourselves because Jesus forgives us too.
Quick fix or going the distance?
Quick fix or the long haul?
How are we preparing now for how we will come out of this?
At first I conceived of this ‘stay at home’ as an inconvenient pause to everyday life. Now it is beginning to dawn on me that this is no pause. When I hit the pause button to my DVD player so I can grab a ginger ale from the fridge, I come back, hit play and we pick up right where we left off.
Ain’t gonna happen with this. This is no pause. This likely will result in a fundamental change to our society, our church life, our work life, our economic life, our spiritual life, forcing those who will and those courageous enough into a deeper and richer understanding of our fragility, vulnerability, and mutual dependence (and mutual interdependence). What are we doing now to prepare for the months to come?
It’s making us revisit how we regard death and loss...
It’s making us consider what matters to us...
It’s making us realize who and what we have taken for granted...
It’s making us learn what we can live without and what we need to live...
It’s making us learn to ration...
It’s making us regret how wasteful we have been, how careless too – and not just with things…
Its making us learn what annoys us and why we get annoyed…
It’s making us discover who we can trust…
It’s making us appreciate each other...
It’s making us remember the effort of sacrifice for something more important than ourselves...
It’s making us realize quick fixes are cheap fixes and easy answers are just that: easy. Hence, empty and vain and unreliable...
It’s making us see more clearly the idols we have worshipped instead of glorifying our Father in Heaven revealed through His son…
It’s making us learn that even though we don’t have to earn redemption and forgiveness we sure have to earn discipleship…
It’s making us grasp (and gasp) how resurrection comes through the cross, Easter through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and that trembling, silent Saturday…
It’s making us learn to repent.
As Lincoln is believed to have said: “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
Lincoln also quoted this psalm in his Second Inaugural address:
By dread deeds thou dost answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation,
who art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of the farthest seas…
Have you noticed how because of this the earth has begun to heal itself?
Hosanna, we beseech thee! They all cry out. What does ‘Hosanna’ mean? It is Aramaic for “Save us!”
Well, he does. Just not how you expect.
They wanted to be saved from circumstance.
Jesus saves us from ourselves.
They wanted it made better for them.
Jesus says: “Where do you need to change? Where do you need my spirit in you for you to change?”
As the slogan goes: there is no way to peace, peace is the way.
There is no way to salvation. Salvation is the way. Jesus does not disappoint.