Everyone Likes a Parade, Apr. 5
Everyone Likes a Parade, Mark 11: 1-11, April 5, 2009
We live in a world where you can be famous for being famous. Once, not so long ago, one was considered famous only after making a life-changing discovery (Jonas Salk), or after orbiting the earth three times (John Glenn), or after displaying extraordinary talent (Van Cliburn), or after achieving some other great, historic endeavor.
Today you can be a celebrity if you merely spend time with other celebrities (Shoshanna Lonstein), or if you engage in illegal behavior (John Gotti), or if you have no shame (Jerry Springer).
How many tens of thousands of readers pore over celebrity magazines every month? To satisfy an unquenchable thirst for celebrity news. Newsmagazines can't survive without including news on the rich and famous. Specialty magazines on everything from cigar smoking to furniture refinishing use celebrities to adorn their covers. One can become famous for a myriad of noble and ignoble reasons.
Can you imagine if Jesus had been treated like a 20th-century celebrity as he rode into Jerusalem?
• As he entered the dusty city, hundreds if not thousands would have snapped their throwaway Kodaks, and pointed their videocams while Katie Couric, along with Willard Scott, making a special appearance, would stand by to offer color commentary.
• Pundits would have argued about who he "really" was.
• There would be in-depth analysis by cult specialists and modern-day Pharisees on MSNBC.
• Some tabloid would investigate Jesus' relationship with "the woman at the well."
While the celebrities of today are famous because they have hired promoters and agents, Jesus was celebrated by a relatively small number of followers; and they were not sure why they were there, except that something drew them to this teacher, this holy man. He could heal them. He spoke in mysterious parables. He was very different from anything they had seen before. And he loved them in a way they had never before experienced.
There was something about him. In a cruel and violent world, where most people were interested in basic survival, Jesus regularly stirred up enough trouble to risk his safety. (In a culture where people promoted themselves, Jesus told those he healed to "tell no one.") He was not swayed by current trends. He was not concerned with money. He had no problem with challenging those in power. His ministry was guided, nourished and planned by the only Power that really matters: God-power.
All four of the gospels give some version of Jesus' entrance into Jerusalem before the passion scenarios begin to play themselves out. While the basic story is the same, each narrative embellishes, tones down and picks up on different currents that ripple under the main flow of the outline.
One commentator points out that Mark 11:1-11 is a fulcrum upon which the gospel of Mark pivots. Highlighting Jesus’ identity and relationship to the coming kingdom of God and “our ancestor David” (11:10), Mark points back to the beginning of the gospel, where Jesus is heralded as God’s Son, the “Lord” (cf. 1:11; 1:3), and forward, to Jesus’ death, where Jesus’ sonship is again pronounced (15:39).
The story is set between the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry with his last miracle (the healing of blind Bartimaeus, 10:46-52) and the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross.
Palm Sunday finds its roots in Scripture itself. Marks opens the story by describing a setting that has definite Old Testament roots. Zechariah 14 describes the coronation scene of Yahweh, the "divine warrior."
But Mark also notes that their path leads them "near the Mount of Olives." Zechariah 14 specifically recalls that the coronation march for the divine warrior-king begins at the Mount of Olives. In Jewish tradition, this is the place where the triumphal entry of the new messianic ruler of the city will start.
Having set the scene, Mark narrates Jesus asking two of his disciples to find a specific colt in the village, because “the Lord needs it” (11:3). Part of the significance of this passage, especially at this fulcrum in the gospel narrative between Jesus’ ministry and his passion, lies in proving the truthfulness of Jesus’ words. If the disciples cannot trust the veracity of his teaching, then his ministry and their discipleship will be ineffective.
When Jesus tells two disciples to find a specific colt, they discover it exactly as he told them. If Jesus’ words come true in small ways, then they will also come true in larger ways (cf. 14:28 and 16:7). Jesus can be trusted in the long term (i.e., concerning the signs of the last days) because his words have proven true in the short term.
But why the donkey? The donkey is a humble beast, right? Wrong.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, it is kings who ride on donkeys.
That may sound strange — especially in light of countless Palm Sunday sermons we’ve heard. Yet, in 1 Kings 1:32-34, an elderly King David summons the religious leaders, commanding them to make arrangements for Solomon’s coronation. He instructs them to “have my son Solomon ride on my own mule.”
A royal mule? What’s that all about?
David was a hill-country chieftain, and Solomon a hill-country chieftain’s son. Although, years before, this scrappy warrior had become king of all Israel, he never forgot where he came from.
King David’s royal mount was not a horse. A horse is for those who dwell on the plains, who traverse highways broad and straight. A king like David, who got his start leading bands of raiders from cave to cave along rocky trails, preferred a sure-footed mule.
This is why, in later times, those who foretold the coming of a new king, a Messiah, to assume the throne of David, always had that monarch riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
The Roman overlords might have been amused by this somewhat comical sight — but Jewish zealots who knew their history would not have missed the symbolism.
The actions next taken by the disciples and the people--throwing garments on the back of the colt and spreading cloaks and branches along the pathway before Jesus--are symbolic of Jesus' authority. In 2 Kings 9:13, the people perform a similar gesture just before Jehu is proclaimed king.
In Zechariah 9:9, the divine warrior-king mounts up and rides into the city--just as Jesus himself now prepares to do. Mark's text clearly intends to draw a parallel between the actions of the messianic warrior-king Zechariah prophesies and the actions of Jesus, the still-secret, messianic, Prince-of-Peace king. The crowd treats Jesus like royalty, but does not literally declare him as such.
The scene of Jesus' triumphal entry is clearly drawn to remind Jewish readers of the predicted messianic king's triumphant procession into the city. Yet scholars have also noted that these details would have been recognized by Gentile as well.
There are elements here that are equally familiar among the traditional victory processions of Greco-Roman warrior-kings. The large citizen escort, accompanying hymns or chants, symbolic acquiescence in the new ruler's authority, and a concluding temple ritual: All were part of pagan-political events familiar to the Greco-Roman world.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of the last week of Jesus' life. And while his followers often could not believe that he could really die, we know that he could and he did. It was as senseless to his disciples then as, on the face of it, it is senseless to us today. Within a week's time, from triumph, to rejection, and death on a cross. But that's not where the story ends!
We know (thanks to 20/20 hindsight!) that this story never ends.
It did not end in a procession in Jerusalem.
It did not end on a cross.
It did not end in a cave on the property of Joseph of Arimathea, where Jesus’ body had been laid.
The story continues. It continues in the lives of people like you and me in whom the living Christ continues to work wonders.
Today is Palm Sunday—that we know. However, not many scholars have found this segment of the Dead Sea Scrolls that, due to its dubious content, is not included in any of the gospels.
Palm Monday. The donkey awakened, his mind still savoring the afterglow of the most exciting day of his life. Never before had he felt such a rush of pleasure and pride. He walked into town and found a group of people by the well. “I’ll show myself to them,” he thought.
But they didn’t notice him. They went on drawing their water and paid him no mind.
“Throw your garments down,” he said crossly. “Don’t you know who I am?” They just looked at him in amazement.
Someone slapped him across the tail and ordered him to move. “Miserable heathens!” he muttered to himself. “I’ll just go to the market where the good people are. They will remember me.”
But the same thing happened. No one paid any attention to the donkey as he strutted down the main street in front of the marketplace.
“The palm branches! Where are the palm branches!” he shouted. “Yesterday, you threw palm branches!”
Hurt and confused, the donkey returned home to his mother.
“Foolish colt,” she said gently. “Don’t you realize that without him, you are just an ordinary donkey?”
Have you ever felt just like an ordinary donkey? Without Christ, we are all just ordinary donkeys. However, thanks be to God, in Christ you and I are made extra-ordinary because in Christ each one is a new creation. Hosanna in the Highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Have a blessed Holy Week.
Rev. Rosemary Stelz