Biblical Scholar Marcus Borg paints the picture this way. That fateful day in Jerusalem in the year 30, two processions enter into the city of Jerusalem on opposite sides. The first procession is a group of peasants, waving branches and laying down their coats, laying down what they own at the feet of a man riding in on a donkey. An odd site at best. On the other side of town, the Roman Governor, Pilot, is entering with soldiers processing before his war horse. He has arrived to bring order to the potential political chaos that could erupt during the Jewish ceremony of Passover, when they remember when they were brought to freedom. Pilot came to remind them that they are under the rule of Rome and are no longer free. He came to remind them who is in charge.
We don’t know if Pilot really entered the city of Jerusalem the same day as Jesus, but this with version of the story, Borg portrays the events in a way to heighten the tension between Jesus and Rome. Between who the Messiah is and who the people wanted him to be.
As we sit in our pews this morning, we know the ending of the story. We know that Jesus came to be killed and conquer the grave. But knowing the ending sometimes makes us forget to appreciate all of the tension of this scene. Jesus enters into the city with one thing on his mind, that which will pass by the end of the week. The people don’t know that’s why he is there. The disciples don’t realize that by the end of the week their master will be hanging on a Roman cross.
If the people knew how the week would end would they still be singing praises? Over the last three years the crowds have come to Jesus, some like Nichodemus coming under the cover of night, others like the woman at the well coming in the light of day. They’ve listened to his teachings, although they often did not understand them fully. They’ve seen the miracles, like the raising of Lazarus, and healings, like that of the man born blind, that he has performed and have started to wonder if he is the One. The Messiah. The Son of David.
And as they started to wonder if he could be the Messiah, they started to fill their heads with cultural ideas of what that could mean. The Messiah would be the one to come and violently overthrow Rome. The Messiah would be a conquering King. Freeing them from the oppression of the Governmental Law. I have to wonder if they were disappointed when this didn’t turn out to be the sort of Messiah Jesus was.
For instead of coming in on a war horse, Jesus chose a donkey. A humble animal. Pacing slowly down the street. Instead of the elite of the city or the zealots leading him in as an army, it was those who had been attracted to his teachings over the years, the peasants, the lowly. Instead of heading into war, Jesus was heading towards death. This was the entry of the Messiah, the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. If Jesus is the Messiah, then the crowds leading him in, surely need to set aside the popular notions of what a Messiah will do. Or what he represents.
For Jesus came to serve, not to be served. His leadership was one of gentleness, humility, accountability, reproach, peaceableness, self-sacrifice, and mercy. And if we stop long enough to consider what type of Messiah Jesus is, we may realize that these aren’t the characteristics we would necessarily want in our Lord either. Especially when we want to be saved from the powers and principalities of the world. In fact, this type of Savior may just scare us.
When we look at Jesus coming into Jerusalem so differently than how we would expect that day, it hits us smack dab in the face that God’s ways are not our ways. That we don’t worship a Savior who makes us comfortable, or forms cozy alliances with the government, but instead whose very presence is an act of protest.
Honestly, it seems that very few Christians, followers of Christ, have been able to live into the true tension of who people thought Jesus should be and who Jesus was and is. But there have been some. People like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who kept proclaiming that Jesus was Lord, not Hitler during the World War 2 Era. Or people like those Christians who risked life and limb during the Civil Rights Movement because they believed God loved all people. These times, among others, were when faith in Christ lead for a community of faith of do amazing things for the Kingdom of God. Because even though Jesus did not have formal authority in the world, just as he did not have formal authority when he came into Jerusalem, these followers lived into the belief that Jesus had all authority in their lives. That he was the final word.
But Jesus having authority in our lives is once again scary. Its not comfortable and it will often beckon for us to do the opposite of the world. Just like the parade leading Jesus into the city, we don’t fully comprehend what the arrival of Jesus in our lives mean, but we do know that it changes things.
This authority that isn’t recognized by the world often lead to conflict, both external and internal. For we cannot celebrate Christ this palm Sunday without looking towards the cross, and the events that will come this Holy Week. We cannot celebrate with praise this Sunday and next without examining the grief, and loss, and dismay that is in between. We cannot cry out “Hosanna!” today without remembering that those same cries will turn into “Crucify Him!” mid week! We cannot wave our palm branches without remembering that the redemption we are celebrating comes with a very high price.
The people present with Jesus that day slightly understood the cost. They knew the chief priests and scribes were not fans of Jesus. They may not of known they were plotting to kill him, but they would have known it was a risk to praise him. Yet they continued to shout “Hosanna!” This is the one scripture where Jesus isn’t talking to the people, rather they are proclaiming with their own lips who he is.
Do we take the same risks to follow Christ today? Is there any risk for us living a Christian life or crying “Hosanna!”. Have we been able to live into the tension of who people think Jesus is and what he says and who he truly is? Does the way of Christ scare us? Or have we made it overly comfortable and familiar?
We are now entering Holy Week, the most important week of the Christian calendar when we remember the story of who Jesus is and who this Messiah is that we worship. But it is also a time when we remember who Jesus calls us to be as his disciples, and consider how we respond. Ask if we live more like we are followers of the world or Christ. Ask if Jesus truly is the Lord of our lives. What are your answers? Amen.