Bittersweet Parade, Matthew 21:1-11

Cross palms

When they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task. He said to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away. Now this happened to fulfill what the prophet said, Say to Daughter Zion, “Look, your king is coming to you, humble and riding on a donkey, and on a colt the donkey’s offspring.”[a] The disciples went and did just as Jesus had ordered them. They brought the donkey and the colt and laid their clothes on them. Then he sat on them.

Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds in front of him and behind him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord![b] Hosanna in the highest!” 10 And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked. 11 The crowds answered, “It’s the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:1-11)

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A young boy on the outskirts of Jerusalem stands in the barn with a shovel, doing his morning cleanup of the stables. Flies buzz  around him, and as he swats them away, at the gate of his field, he sees a group of men gathering, and making way to enter the gate.

The creaking gate opens, and they bolt for the stable–the one the boy is shoveling in. Confused by the odd intrusion, the boy leans on the shovel and watches as the men dash towards him. When they make it to the boy, panting for breath, they start to unhitch a donkey and a colt. The boy’s father’s donkey and colt. As they untie the hitch it dawns on the boy–they’re stealing the livestock.

The boy yells and says, “Hey! What do you think you’re doing?! That’s not yours, that’s my dad’s! You can’t take them!”

The strange men, finishing their crime, push the boy away and say “Don’t worry! The Lord has need of it!”

This gives the farm boy pause. A lord? Why would a lord need a donkey and a colt? Wouldn’t a lord have horses already, and much better ones than these? Then again, if it is a lord that needs them, then he’s really in no position to protest, now is he?  So he lets them go.

As they leave, the farm boy hopes that this lord will return the donkey and colt later. Then again, any lord he’s ever met wouldn’t think twice about keeping them. This knowledge left a bit of a sting in his heart. At the same time, he couldn’t help but think that if a lord needed those animals, maybe it was truly out of need, and he did a good thing. Yeah, that’s it. He helped out someone in need. That’s what he needs to focus on, the farm boy decided. God’s going to remember this, and think fondly on the good deed.

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A Parade Long Foretold

palm sunday art 1

Art by Hanna-Cheriyan Varghese

Palm Sunday is, on its surface, a simple kind of day. It’s the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem. It’s a day of triumph, celebration and joy. But, it’s also a day that is bittersweet.

After all, this is the high point of Jesus’ ministry. He was never more popular in his life than on Palm Sunday. As soon as he entered Jerusalem, the problems began. Immediately after his arrival, he went to the temple and drove out the money changers and vendors selling sacrificial animals. He repeatedly confronted the temple officials, pharisees and sadducees. And most dangerously of all, he did this on the Passover festival.

Why is it dangerous that he did so at Passover? Let’s think about that. Passover is the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar. It’s the day that they celebrate their escape from Egypt, their liberation from slavery. People came from all over Israel to make sacrifices at the temple and celebrate the Passover feast, the Seder.

The city of Jerusalem is then crowded over capacity…which makes the Romans, the guys who run the government of Jerusalem, nervous. Their security is heightened, and on high alert. Jerusalem is then an overcrowded city with lots of people from all over and soldiers guarding every street to watch for trouble.

That’s the situation in Jerusalem when Jesus and his parade enters into the city. Starting on the Mount of Olives, riding a colt and a donkey, Jesus comes to the city with throngs of people around him, making a lot of noise and commotion in a city on high alert. You can see why the authorities didn’t like him. He was a threat. A threat to the peace. A threat to the people of Jerusalem. Tensions were boiling over, and he was not making things better for those in power.

Now, why is it important that he was at the mount of olives, riding a colt and a donkey? Because that was a sign, a prophecy from the scriptures that many, if not most Jews, would have known.

It was prophesied that the messiah on his victory march would enter the city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives riding on a donkey. People would have seen this and immediately made the conclusion that this Jesus is posturing himself to fulfill this prophecy. And for them, this was a declaration of intent to conquer the city and usher in a new age.

The age they were looking for, though, was not the kind of age Jesus was bringing in,. He was entering as a messiah, but the messiah that God had in mind is not what the people thought.

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A voice from the crowd exclaims, “It’s him! It’s him! He’s coming, quick come and see him!” The merchant lazily lifts her head to see what all the commotion was. There was a lull in the action, you see. People hadn’t been coming by her fruit stand for a while, so she closed her eyes to rest for a moment before more customers came.

As she opened her eyes, she saw that on the next street over, something indeed was going on. Her curiosity piqued, she leaves the stand unattended to go and see the commotion. If someone stole from her stand while she was away, that was a risk she was willing to take. Something interesting was happening. That doesn’t happen all the time. She’d been coming to Passover all of her life, and it was the same each year. Same crowds, same soldiers, same everything. But this was different. In all her life, she hadn’t seen as packed and as excited a crowd as this one.

As she made her way to the road where everyone was gathered, she saw in their hands palm branches cut down from nearby trees. Was a noble coming by? And if he was, why was he coming this way? And why weren’t there as many roman guards lining the road? This was very odd indeed.

Finally, as the crowd’s noise rose, she saw who was actually coming. He didn’t look like a noble. He just looked like a guy, like one of the people who picked the fruit in her husband’s grove. But all these people were around him? Why? And yet, there was a magnetism to him. Was it just the energy of the crowd? Or was there truly something different about this person? Is he really as important as everyone sees him to be? Who is he?

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palm-sunday iconThe Messiah the God Has in Mind

The Messiah God had in mind was very different from what we expected.

The Messiah God had in mind, the one we find in Jesus, may have come riding on what was foretold, a colt and a donkey, but that in and of itself is a statement. He didn’t ride a horse. He didn’t ride a camel, or elephant, or anything exotic. He rode on normal, barnyard animals. He didn’t ride anything exotic because he wasn’t exotic. As extraordinary as Jesus is, being both God and Man, he didn’t portray himself as such. He wore clothes common people wore. He rode common ordinary animals. He worked miracles with ordinary things, like mud, and water, and bread and fish. He didn’t have a magic cupboard of potions, but rather a few words, open hands, and a loving heart. His miracles were extraordinary, but in ordinary ways.

He was a healer, but he didn’t charge for his healing. He gave it away freely, the only requirement almost always being a show of good faith. He wandered the streets, hung out with lepers, scoundrels and prostitutes. He had a heart for the common person, the people on the lower rung of society. And so he was a messiah, an anointed one, one chosen to liberate the people, and to do that he got to know the people, love the people, and care for the people.

So this unexpected, ordinary messiah comes to town, and upsets everything. And It goes great at first. But soon the parade ends, and the bitterness invades the sweetness of the day.

This week, we observe the rest of his journey. Today is the triumph of the ordinary messiah. Thursday will be his final meal. Thursday night will be the night of his betrayal. Friday will be the day that he is tried, tortured, and put to death. He will die the death of a traitorous criminal, though he was still the ordinary messiah from today. Saturday, he will lie dead in a tomb. The week will add bitterness to this day, but that doesn’t stop us from singing hosannas. That shouldn’t stop us from praising him as he is fit to be praised: as our king, our triumphant ordinary Messiah.

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The soldier watched it all from outside the temple as the man walked inside the gates. Odd, the soldier thought. Why would this man be causing such a ruckus? Why the parade? And why did he cause such a mess inside the temple? As he wrestled the rowdier of his disciples away, and as the man’s group followed him back into the city, the soldier looked into the temple. What a mess. Why does Passover always bring out the crazies?

As he helped the merchants set their tables back up, he overheard the conversations between the temple officials. Their voices suddenly hushed. They were talking about this troublemaker, saying they needed to put in a few calls to the governor. Words like “for the good of the nation” and “he must be dealt with” were uttered.

The soldier tried to mind his business, but the conversation was too interesting to ignore. What were they up to? This guy just seemed to be your average troublemaker. He may have messed up the temple, but do they really need the governor involved? That seems a bit extreme, he thought. But, his job was not to ask questions. His job was to obey orders. His job was to protect the people, to provide security, by any means necessary. If that meant he needed to get rough, to shed blood, or even kill? Then that was what he needed to do. He was there to do what needed to be done, just like every soldier. That doesn’t make sleeping any easier though.

He thought about he man who had the parade. He seemed rather ordinary. But he obviously wasn’t. He sighed. We’ll just have wait and see what becomes of him.

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About grantimusmax

Grant Barnes, aka Grantimus Maximus, aka The Nerdcore Theologian. He is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology with a Masters Degree in Divinity. He is also a commissioned elder in the United Methodist Church, and Senior Pastor at Hemphill First United Methodist Church and Pineland United Methodist Church. He graduated from Texas State University Cum Laude with a Bachelor's degree in English, minor in History. He watches way too many movies, reads too many books, listens to too much music, and plays too many video games to ever join the mundane reality people claim is the "Real World." He rejects your reality, and replaces it with a vision of what could be, a better one, shaped by his love for God.
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