Gospel Reading for Palm Sunday (Year C)
Note: This post was previously published last year. I'm kind of sick right now.
Several hundred, some may say several thousand, years worth of anticipation hung in the air. Like summer humidity that sticks to your shirt the second you step outside, you couldn’t avoid it. Not today. Not on Passover week.
A guy claiming to be the Messiah, or, at least, who people said was the Messiah was nothing new. There had been tons of guys going around saying that they were the One; saying that they were going to show Rome what’s what. So a messiah making his way to Jerusalem was about as common as a singer-songwriter making their way to Nashville.
But this guy was different. There was a good deal of discussion over whether he was the right kind of different. It wasn’t so much that he talked like he was the Messiah. Word had it that he tried to keep a lot of that talk and even tales of his miracles under wraps. But those stories still got out: dead men walking, the blind seeing, demons plunging a herd of pigs over a cliff, and thousands fed with a lunch meant for a kid. It is hard to keep those type of things hush-hush.
His name certainly carried great weight. Yeshua, which translates to Joshua or, as the Greeks put it, Jesus. The Lord saves. Sure tons of people gave their boys this name. What parent doesn’t want their child to be the redemption of his people. You have to name the kid to fit the bill. Poindexter isn’t going to quarterback the state championship team and Biff isn’t going to find the cure for cancer. Joshua, like Messiah talk, was nothing special. But it seemed special. At least with him.
All of this mixed with Passover week like a molotov cocktail. Jerusalem seemed like it could explode at any moment. Roman officials were squeamish enough with such an influx of these people they had underfoot. The last thing they wanted was for another revolution-driven Messiah to take the religious devotion of the masses and turn it into a riot.
Word had it that this Joshua was coming into town on Sunday. All the pieces seemed to be moving into place. People began to line the streets. They put their coats on the ground to prepare the way. Some cut branches off of trees and laid them in the street. Others waved the palm branches around in excitement. It was a parade atmosphere. Confetti. Music. Laughter.
Someone yelled that he was just outside the city gate. The anticipation reached a fever pitch. An excited buzz pulsed down the street like a wave. We had never seen him. We expected him to arrive like a King or a war hero. We expected him to be riding in on a mighty horse. We expected a display that would stir the soul; something that would let us and the rest of the world know that the walls of Rome’s domination would come tumbling down.
What we got was a rabbi on a donkey.
Well...this was different.
A donkey? Really? Was the only other choice a three-legged mule? It would be like the biggest star in the world showing up at a red carpet in a beat up, rusty pickup truck. Could he not have found anything better?
Then someone shouted “Hosanna,” which means “Save!” and we all joined in. It wasn’t what we expected, but we weren’t quitters either. If we had to will this awkward moment into an event fit for the Messiah, so be it. And the cries of praise went out as Joshua entered Jerusalem.
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest!”
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
And the palm branches waved, the confetti was thrown, and the songs were sung as he made his way to the Temple.
Afterwards, everyone excitedly chattered about how blessed we were that the Messiah was finally here. He followed the script of conquering heroes: enter the town in triumph and head straight for the Temple. Not too many people talked about the donkey incident. Powerful leaders were usually a bit eccentric anyway. I mean, look at Herod. It was only a matter of time. It was Passover week, that had to mean something. And I think many of us truly believed this man was the One.
As I stood amidst the trash of the parade, I wondered if we once again had gotten all worked up for nothing. I don't mean to keep harping on this: but a donkey? What kind of show of power was that? When he came in, I saw a few Roman soldiers nearly fall over laughing at the sight of this "conquering king" on a donkey. Either he wasn’t the Messiah...
Or there was something else.
When he passed by, you could almost get the sense that this rabbi was making a point and not many were getting it. Yeshuamania was sweeping the city and he must have known a big fuss would be made when he hit town. What if the donkey was on purpose? What if he was trying to turn our expectations upside down? What if he was saying that power wasn’t really power anymore?
It was like he was saying that war horses and kings, uprisings and domination weren’t going to get it done. A friend of mine once told me he heard the rabbi preach about loving enemies and praying for those harmed you. That wasn't exactly the language of a great king who was going to overthrow Rome by force.
But the world didn’t play by those rules. The one who has power gets to make the rules. And the only language that gets through to them is force. Right? Those laughing Roman soldiers knew how the game was played. Everyone knows. That's the way things are.
I had the sense that things were going to go badly for this man. Yet for some reason, I couldn't shake the feeling that he knew that too.
As I made my way home, I shook the confetti and hope off my shoes. I wondered if salvation would ever come. My mind went back to that ridiculous image:
A rabbi on a donkey.
And I thought, “What if God really tried to pull it off that way?”