Palm Sunday: We Are The Crowd
Updated: Apr 6, 2020
St. James the Less #83
When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, `The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." 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."
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 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!
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."
Golf Cart Ride
One of the highlights of my life was driving a golf cart and sitting next to me was the Archbishop of Canterbury. Okay, let me explain. While I was in seminary in northern Virginia, we had a special service to dedicate our brand-new chapel.
The historic chapel that had been there since the Civil War tragically burned to the ground a few years before I arrived on campus. Not long after its destruction, donations began to pour into the seminary to build a new, beautiful chapel right next to the charred remains of the old one.
It had taken years to design and then build it, but the day had finally come to officially dedicate the space as a house of prayer for the seminary. Alumni came in from around the country; the campus was filled with priests and bishops seemingly everywhere.
But the buzz on campus was that the Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, along with her soon-to-be successor Bishop Michael Curry, and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby were all going to be a part of the service.
They all got the red-carpet treatment. They didn’t even have to walk on campus, we had golf carts waiting for them outside of every building. And so that’s how I got to spend a few minutes with the Archbishop driving him around.
I’ll never forget that weekend. There was such an exciting energy and buzz around the seminary because of these important church leaders had come to campus. There were even crowds, but as Episcopalians, they were pretty tame.
I think there was quite a buzz as a crowd started forming on the top of the Mount of Olives as well. You can feel the excitement of the crowd growing more and more as we read further in Matthew’s account.
The great prophet and miracle worker, Jesus of Nazareth has joined the crowd of pilgrims who have come to the Holy City to celebrate Passover.
As he rides on a donkey, this crowd wants to give him the first-century version of a red-carpet treatment. They don’t have any golf carts to drive him around, so they start pulling branches down from the olive trees that are around them, and they lay out their own coats on the road as Jesus rides by them.
They yell out, “Hosanna” which means “Save, please!” Whether they are crying out to God or this Nazarene in particular, you’d have to ask each of them individually. But they knew the prophet Zechariah’s words about a king humbling riding on a donkey.
The sight of Jesus doing exactly as the prophet foretold, evidently brought a sense of jubilation to the crowds as they went down the steep hill towards Jerusalem.
This is such a critical moment in the Gospel of Matthew because it is here that Jesus makes the definitive statement of who he is within the larger framework of Israel’s history.
By fulfilling this prophecy he is acknowledging his claim as Israel’s Messiah --- God’s Anointed One. But by riding on a donkey he shows us that he is not a triumphant king, arrogantly claiming what is rightfully his, but is a modest king and lowly Lord. He is royal and regal in a higher sense, while also being humble and unpretentious in a lower sense.
He is not riding into Jerusalem on a warhorse as Alexander the Great did in 332 B.C. No, this is not a triumphal entry, but rather a humble one.
In the starkest terms possible, the crowd witnesses God on a donkey.
It is then shocking to consider just how quickly this euphoric crowd turned on Jesus. In less than a week they went from crying “Hosanna” to “Crucify!” From yelling, “Save us, please” to “Kill him, now.”
We can shake our heads at the crowd, and be disgusted at how ignorant they were, but this passage forces us to look in the mirror a little more closely.
The crowds turn on Jesus because he doesn’t meet their expectations. He’s not the kind of leader they had hoped for when they welcomed him into the city just a few days prior.
He had not done for them what they wanted or expected of him. Rather, Jesus did what he wanted to do, what he knew he was supposed to do. Not even the fame that the crowd poured onto him could distract Jesus away from his one mission.
And I think we are more like the crowds than we want to admit.
We have our own expectations of Jesus and what he will do for us. We expect him to protect us and those we love at all costs. We expect him to make sure that no tragedy will befall us or our families, and then when a crisis occurs, we feel like he has failed us or abandoned us, or even that he has not met his end of the deal.
We pray and read our Bible and are nice to people, and so we deserve for good things to come our way. It doesn’t take much for us to then turn into the crowd and we, with them, blame Jesus for not meeting our expectations.
If Palm Sunday teaches us anything, it’s a humbling reminder of just how fickle we all can be; how our praise can quickly mutate into scorn and derision-even towards the One that cares for us more than all others.
But I believe there is yet another lesson to be learned as well. We need to put aside our expectations of Jesus and walk with him wherever he leads --even to the foot of the cross where he ultimately bears all our sins and offenses for the sake of the world.
It is faithfulness that we are called to. Not making demands or having our own plans and expectations for God, but simply to be faithful. True faithfulness requires us to relinquish everything we know about ourselves-all our hopes and dreams-and entrust them with everything we know about God. And we know that he is good and loving and that he is Lord of all, no matter how things may seem.
God on a donkey and God on a cross are perfect examples of that.
Faithfulness is what we need to hold onto while we live in the uncertainty and turmoil of our present circumstances. Faithfulness over fear. Trust amid anxiety. In many respects, our faithfulness to God, in a time like this, maybe one of the few things that we can control.
Cover picture here.