Lent 6A Matthew 21:1-11
Rev Tammy Hollands
Love Palm Sunday waving palm branches about, singing “Hosanna!” This is opportunity to celebration that Jesus Christ, the Lord and Saviour of our lives is present is great for it is right and good that we honour God, show our gratitude, our indebtedness to Christ in the form of public praise and worship.
But if we only see Palm Sunday in this light, we miss the core of the story. Because what we have here is the most incredible piece of street theatre, an ancient flash mob, if you will. And this is significant because of the political statements that are made. The reality is that Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem is an act of treason and it is no wonder he is Crucified less than a week later.
Let’s start with the donkey. Jesus sends two of his disciples ahead with very specific instructions – “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. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.”
Now this is all a bit weird, isn’t it? Why this particular donkey or pair of donkeys? While this might sound random to us, it is trigger for those who know the Jewish scriptures. For Jesus is referencing a passage in Zechariah 9. And just in case the readers have not made the connection Matthew tells us
“This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “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.”
When a Jewish scripture is being referenced the readers/hears do not just think about the particular bit that was being quoted as we might be guilty of today with our scriptures where they can be abused and taken out of context but they think about the surrounding passage. So they would also think about what comes next: “He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the warhorse from Jerusalem; and the battle-bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus takes this prophecy and acts it out. Though actions he says he is king which means the Roman Empire is not. Now that’s a political statement if there ever was one! A statement of treason. A statement that was bound to make him unpopular with Rome.
The crowd however is quick to get onboard. As if out of nowhere, they throw their cloaks on the road, as well as the palm branches. Then they make a political statement of their own, as they shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
To invoke the name of David is to say he is the king and calls into question the rulers of the day. Caught up in the moment, the people join Jesus as they question the authority both of Rome and of Jerusalem, of both Caesar and Herod. But Jesus is the centre of it all, and would no doubt be seen as both instigator and perpetrator.
This is political warfare in the form of street theatre.
It is also pretty unsubtle parody of the way Roman Empire shows off their military dominance with horses and chariots as Jesus by contrast is humbly riding a donkey.
There’s one thing that’s always bothered me, and it’s to do with the crowd. I have always wondered how the crowd, the people of Jerusalem could show such a passionate display of public support for Jesus one day, and then call for his execution just days later.
We can’t negate the effect mob mentality could have had in such a situation. The late, great author Terry Pratchett jokingly described the IQ of any mob as the IQ of the dumbest member divided by the number of members. So when we speak of mob mentality, we think what could be a group of logical, rational people who get caught up in the emotional experience of others.
We also can’t negate the effect fear may have had. For those in the crowd who cried out “Crucify Him” on that dark day, what would have happened if they had responded otherwise? To show support for Jesus of Nazareth would surely have meant they were an accomplice to the so-called crimes of Jesus. Perhaps it would have meant signing of your own death sentence.
But what if we were to consider the nature of the crowds in a completely different way? Gerald Caron presents us with a different approach. He suggests a two-crowd theory, the crowd who praises and worships the Christ on the way to Jerusalem may not be the same as those who call for Jesus’ crucifixion in the city. These were the outsiders, the lower classes, those who worked in fields and rivers, those who could not afford to live in the city, or those who were not allowed to.
He points out that the triumphant entry into Jerusalem doesn’t take place in Jerusalem at all, it happens outside the city. We know this from verse 10, when he enters Jerusalem the people ask “Who is this?”
So the question for us is: In which crowd do you find yourself? The crowd at the margins or the crowd at the centre? The crowd which cries “Hosanna“, or the crowd that cries “Crucify him!” It’s pretty obvious where we should hope to be, isn’t it?“
It is my hope that we discover that our place is to be in the crowd at the margins, to be with the poor and broken, the discriminated and the oppressed. And there’s work to be done here, to support those who need support, to care for those who need care, to support those who need support. But it doesn’t end there. To care for those on the margins is integral to who we are as the people of God, but we must confront that which creates the margins, that which allows oppression and discrimination. We must confront the powers. We must follow Jesus to the centre, to the places of power and control, to the people whose words and actions propagate oppression and suffering in the world.
Today gives us time to pause and think about our entry into Holy Week, the immediate journey before us, as Lent comes to an end and we reach climax of Easter, a journey that has been shared with our brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world.
As we enter into Easter, we follow Jesus through his Easter journey, a journey of real human experience, of true emotion, and we follow Jesus on this journey that we might know what has been done for us. To remember the sacrificial love and grace that Christ has shown to us in his life, in his death, and in his resurrection.