Updated: Mar 26
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Some of you might be wondering why I handed out folded bus schedules today, when I have not done that before. Today, I am giving you something to hold in your hand as I speak a short sermon about the meaning of the readings for Palm Sunday: Mark 11:1-11 and Psalm 118.
At Episcopal churches, the priest leads the congregation outside, where they are each given a palm leaf to hold. It is there those readings are read aloud. The priest never presents a homily about anything read, as they just read the words and then everyone files inside for another service [Passion Sunday readings]. That lack becomes symbolic of the death held in one’s hand, a palm leaf torn from a plant upon which it was once a living part.
Consider the bus schedule I gave you as dead matter to hold, like a palm leaf; but, please, do not throw it on the ground. It may still provide useful information for you. The palm leaves are turned in and later burned, added with some grease to smear on foreheads almost a year later - on Ash Wednesday. So, recycling is always good.
The story of Mark 11 is that of the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, for his final Passover. At least, that is what the Bible versions that project headings upon sets of verses say.
I think the word “triumphal” is a bit strong. Seeing how the word denotes, “made, carried out, or used in celebration of a great victory or achievement,” it is difficult to get that imagery from Jesus riding on a donkey colt – one that had never been ridden, certainly not by an adult. That image in my mind does not justify the word “triumphal.”
I mean think about it. Even if Jesus was only 5’8” [just guessing], he was sitting on a very small donkey colt, so his feet might have been able to still allow him to walk, without breaking the back of such a young animal.
A triumphal entrance, following victory of some sorts, would demand a mighty battle stallion, or at least a military mule.
A donkey colt would be like the transit authority sending out a rickshaw to pick up all you riders, pulled by a ten-year old boy; rather than them sending a full-sized city bus.
I mean, who here would fight to be the first rider, if everyone knew a boy could be injured by even one adult getting on that vehicle?
I doubt anybody would. We would all break out laughing, asking, “Where’s the hidden camera, because this is some prank or us being ‘punk’d.’"
The reason this is called the triumphal entrance into Jerusalem is because the Jewish pilgrims in town for the Passover and festival of the Unleavened Bread were so numerous, they were everywhere. That means they lined the path leading from Gethsemane to the Zion Gate, which led into the City of David.
Every one of those Jews had been taught since they were children to memorize the prophet Zechariah, whose ninth verse in his ninth chapter says, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Simply because they all knew that verse of prophecy, as soon as they saw the scene Jesus set up they immediately began “rejoicing,” by singing words from David’s Psalm 118:
“Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! Lord, send us now success.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord.”
You have to be able to see the humor intended in that scene. Jesus planned for that reaction. It was as planned as someone taking a water squirt gun to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show [if they still have those showings], waiting for the cues from the movie scenes to lead one to pretend he or she has part of the movie.
The sight of a full-grown man riding a baby donkey is satirical. The prophet Zechariah wrote the parody of a king so righteous he could ride a baby donkey and still be victorious.
If you recall the story of Gideon and his victory over the Midianite army, using only 300 men …?
They were all the poorest excuses for trained soldiers possible. They lapped water from the stream like dogs, not keeping an eye out for dangers around. God told Gideon to pick those and send the rest of him army home. They had the Midianites running wild, killing themselves from fear, all because God was the power behind that victory. Gideon trusted Yahweh and did what He said to do.
The donkey colt was symbolic of God’s power to make one righteous and victorious; but, still …
All those Jewish pilgrims saw it as a joke and far from being the real thing.
This brings about a deeper question that needs to be pondered about this well-known story.
Everyone remembers Jesus had his disciples go fetch the donkey colt. Everyone remembers the crowd singing “Hosannah!” Everyone remembers the crowd lining the road with branches cut from the fields.
[Wave a bus schedule in the air now.]
But, have you ever stopped to wonder, why? Why did Jesus do that? Who was he trying to defeat with the power of God entrusted as behind this act?
Before this, Jesus had told his disciples three times about his coming death. The previous Hanukkah [the Festival of the Dedication (aka Lights), according to John], the rulers of the temple got so infuriated at Jesus they tried to stone him to death then; but he slipped away, mysteriously. It wasn't the right time then.
Jesus went to the other side of the Jordan and camped out there, which was beyond the authority and reach of the Temple elite. They could not go there and have him arrested. It was outside their 'jurisdiction.' Then, with the Passover and festival of the Unleavened Bread approaching, Jesus led his group of followers back to Bethphage and Bethany, where he planned that theatrical entrance on purpose.
Jesus obviously had made arrangements for someone to let his disciples use code words to untie a baby donkey, promising to bring it back later. Jesus had made arrangements for someone to let him use an upper room in the Essene Quarter of Jerusalem, for the Passover Seder meal that included all his followers. Jesus certainly knew this was going to be when he would die and resurrect.
Still, Jesus had to have known that his theatrics of arrival back in Jerusalem must be watched by the Temple elite. They had to be alerted that Jesus was going to make a grand entrance, playing to the crowd there.
Recently, on a Christian chat forum I entered, I read someone state it is unreasonable to make assumptions because something is not written in Scripture. That follows the logic that says you cannot prove a negative. Thus, assumptions made by something having not been written cannot be proved.
Does anyone here have proof of God, even though plenty is written about God?
<Look for nodding heads and raised hands.>
Proof is not the measure of faith. Scripture is all about connecting the dots and filling in the blanks. The only way to do that is to make assumptions based on divine guidance.
It is not written that God told Jesus everything he was going to face in Jerusalem that time there. Still, I can assume Jesus knew what to expect ahead of time.
It was written by John that Jesus raised Lazarus from death, but neither Matthew or Mark wrote about something that would have been a great lesson for Jesus to teach his witnessing disciples [had they been there]. That sermon would have gone like this:
“Okay guys. I have told you all three times now that I am going into that city soon, where I will be arrested, mistreated and killed. I will be just like Lazarus here. Dead, then alive again. So, it will be just like I have said three times before, I will be raised. Do you see where I’m going with this now? I don’t want anyone to worry. I don’t want anyone to get scared and think “I’m next!” And, I certainly don’t want you locking any doors, so I have to squeeze through solid walls to get in to see you when I’m raised. Is everyone clear now? Okay, cool.”
I feel it is safe to assume the disciples did not witness Lazarus coming out of a tomb, all stinky from death. Had they been there and seen that, they would not have acted the way they acted later. That becomes unwritten proof for that assumption made.
But, the disciples most certainly heard about it.
Still, think about that. If I told you that I had died, was dead and buried for four days, but I told you that Jesus came by and said, “Robert, come out!” and, Lo and behold, here I stand. Would you take my word on that?
Have you ever, in all your lives, known someone who died and was resurrected four days later? The biggest draw back on Christianity back when it began was it being difficult to believe in something that few had ever witnessed; and, so many in the past have been fooled by tricksters. Atheists do not believe the resurrection story.
Still, assuming you knew I was telling you the truth, and you knew for a fact because you had truly been there, would you not write about it later? Wouldn't that be something too powerful to not tell?
That is my point. Stuff not written becomes proof enough to me, when added to other stuff written and not written, especially when I let God lead my insight.
Relative to that, it is written several times … keeping in mind that all four Gospels were written well after the fact, so in hindsight [divinely inspired] … Judas was a traitor in their midst. I believe Judas heard the news of Lazarus being raised from death and he snuck word to the Temple elite.
Judas got word to them that Jesus was planning to enter Jerusalem; and, he told them when that event would take place. Additionally, he told them that Jesus claims to have raised a family member from death. So, the rulers of the Jews were alerted that Jesus might claim to be able to raise the dead, which would threaten their authority as rulers.
That message sent by a traitor disciple would have been reason for every member of the Sanhedrin be led to stand atop the Temple wall, along Solomon’s Colonnade [aka Porch or Portico], watching Jesus. To see him come, mounted on a donkey colt and coming down the road from Gethsemane, then making a grand entrance onto the road leading to the City of David. That would not have been expected; but there was that Jesus guy amid great cheers and roars of delight and laughter.
All of them would have known Zacharias' prophecy. All would have known full well that Jesus riding that baby donkey was mocking them. He portrayed some lowly human being, just like those idiots Gideon chose, which means human strength was nothing. He was mocking the leadership of Judaism, slapping their invisible faces, all lined up by the word of a traitor.
Jesus trusted the power of Yahweh was all he needed to be victorious, no matter how ridiculous he made himself look.
That mockery would be necessary to push the leaders of the Sanhedrin over the edge and ensure they would plot to have Jesus killed, without a doubt that time into town. God had Jesus play them like a Stradivarius, because God had prepared Jesus to die and be raised after three days dead. It had to happen then. It was the right time.
After all, Jesus never before rode on a donkey colt into Jerusalem. That being the case this time says it was divinely planned, because the time had come. All the timing was right to meet Yahweh’s needs; and, Jesus was kept abreast of all that entailed.
I am going to end here, leaving that nugget of thought with you. Just be advised that there is still much more that could be said about this reading. There is always much more to say about every reading. But, today, I have another homily to tell, based on the indoor readings.
So, take five, put your bus schedules in your pockets and get ready for the main service, before the bus arrives.