Palm Sunday is a conundrum. How are we supposed to celebrate the red carpet arrival of King Jesus when we know that he will fail to meet the crowd’s expectations?
Pastor Roger Barkley unpacks the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and poses the most basic of questions that Christians must bring to the current immigration debate: If he were alive today, on which side of the border wall would we find Jesus?
Palm Sunday 2019
On Which Side of the Border Wall Would You Find Jesus?
If you are old enough to remember the TV series M*A*S*H you know that it was a game changer in television programming.
The setting was an army field hospital during the Korean War.
In one of the early episodes, the doctor known as “Trapper” was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer.
Of course, he was upset to have a hole in his gut, but then his bunkmate Hawkeye points out that his ulcer is his medical ticket out of the misery of the Korean War.
The staff arranges a raucous farewell party for Trapper, but at the last minute, he is informed by the company clerk, Radar, that the Army had recently revised its regulations so that his ulcer would have to be treated right there in Korea.
Trapper keeps this bit of news to himself and allows the festivity of the evening to proceed.
But throughout the evening, both he and Radar have a look in their eyes that betrays the truth, if only anyone had looked close enough to notice.
It’s a nice party but it’s not going to end the way he had hoped or the way all the other partygoers were anticipating.
Today is sometimes called the Triumphal Entry … Jesus leads a parade of enthusiastic followers into Jerusalem.
He gets the red-carpet treatment as they chant “Hosanna”, a word rooted in Psalm 118 that roughly means “save us”.
Some become so enthralled with Jesus that they want to crown him king
because they expect him to save them from Roman oppression, and from their back-breaking subsistence labor.
Now, keep in mind that Jesus didn’t choose some random day to parade into Jerusalem.
On the secular calendar, today is National Ex-Spouse Day.
I’m not exactly sure what we’re supposed to do to remember or maybe revile our exes, but it is an official day.
There are more than 1300 official days – National Puppy Day we can all get behind.
National Deep Dish Pizza Day was last week, and Wednesday will be the day we’ve all been waiting for: National Cheeseball Day, which you can celebrate with a variety of recipes offered by cheese manufacturers.
Jesus chose a special day that everyone would know, for his parade to Jerusalem, the beginning of Passover which commemorates the Hebrew people’s liberation from Egyptian slavery.
This naturally stirred memories of the Maccabean Revolt just 150 years earlier when a courageous Jewish army ousted Greek overlords.
But that’s a conundrum we face today.
Jesus’ parade into Jerusalem raised false expectations – that like the Maccabees, he would forcibly drive the oppressors out-of-town … yet we know that Jesus failed to live up to those expectations.
The crowds cheered because they saw another Maccabee, not a new Messiah.
We just reenacted that Palm Sunday parade, but should we join the cheering for a king when we know that the crowd got it so wrong?
How do we explain ourselves cheering alongside the voices singing “Hosanna” when we know that they will soon be shouting, “Crucify him!”?
How can we welcome king Jesus while knowing the only crown he’ll wear is one made of thorns?
We Americans love stories of the common man who’s made a great name for himself.
Melinda Gates famously tells about how her nerd of a husband Bill Gates asked her out for their first date.
While she was working at Microsoft in its early days, he caught up with her in the parking lot and awkwardly asked if she’d like to go out for dinner sometime.
Even though she thought it would probably be a one-time thing, she agreed but was taken aback when he then set a precise appointment time for about three weeks later.
She thought to herself that he is even more of a nerd than she’d imagined.
After she said that she hoped they go out sooner than that, he later found her at her desk and said, “Well, then how about tonight?”
We love those stories … nerdy guy drops out of college, awkwardly asks a girl out, they become wealthy beyond belief.
The story of Jesus is pretty much the opposite of our fantasy.
He comes from the royalty of the cosmos to the life of a carpenter and itinerant rabbi in a dusty corner of the world.
He comes from the font of all life to surrender himself to the executioner.
Philippians 2:5-8 (Christ Jesus) being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!
As Jesus crested the hill of the Mount of Olives, all the temptations of power lay before him.
The crowds adored him, he could just say the word and an army of angels would overwhelm the Roman army … the ultimate “shock and awe”.
At this moment comes a clue of what’s happening in Jesus’ mind.
Amidst the cheers and the “red carpet” welcome for King Jesus, there is a little sentence we might gloss over.
Luke 19:41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it.
Jesus is not the first king to have wept while overlooking the city of Jerusalem.
Back in 2 Samuel 15 is the account of King David possibly standing on this very spot looking back at the city and weeping.
But the contrast tells of two different motifs of kingship.
David had neglected the care of his family which led to an open rebellion by his son Absalom which, in turn, forced David to flee Jerusalem.
So, David’s sin contributed to his fleeing the city.
David wept because he was forced to flee Jerusalem in order to save his life.
In contrast, Jesus was without sin and willingly traveled to the city to suffer and sacrifice his life to save others.
David wept because of his loss of power.
Jesus surrendered power and wept because his followers just didn’t get it.
He wept because they still held to the folly of human arrogance and military might that would soon bring the actual destruction of the city.
Jesus started a movement, his followers built an institution.
And institutions are always willing to rationalize corruption, abuse, and lies to maintain power.
And as long as his followers remain deaf to the real demands of Jesus’ message, they will continue to sell their principles to any strongman who gives lip service to piety or who promises their religious clique special privilege.
One of the problems with admirers is that they see what they want to see in their hero of the day.
As we follow the events of Passion Week we see how quickly the tide of popular opinion evaporates.
On Monday he cleanses the temple of the money changers, which strengthens the resolve of the Temple leaders to get rid of him.
And his crowd of followers thins.
On Tuesday he challenges the religious leaders’ authenticity by cursing a fig tree for being barren, a metaphor for the spiritual bankruptcy of Israel.
And his crowd of followers thins even further.
On Wednesday, he is anointed in Bethany much to the discomfort of Judas, who then decides to betray Jesus.
On Thursday evening he is arrested in Gethsemane and begins the series of mock trials.
With that, his few remaining followers try to melt into the background so that by Friday the only crowd surrounding Jesus is calling for his crucifixion.
To be honest, it isn’t much different for us.
How easily we walk from a faith that demands first place in our life
A religious message that does not support my political agenda or view is not for me.
After all, my faith should reinforce my world view.
We, too, want a king who provides for us rather than demands of us.
Empathy is generally a good thing.
It allows us to feel someone else’s pain, and to understand their point of view.
Social psychologists are alarmed that there has been a 40% decline in empathy from when they began their studies in the late 1960s.
In the world of big social measures like this, 40% is huge.
Closer examination reveals that empathy for people like ourselves may be increasing.
That’s in why in self-reported studies on empathy and caring people continue to give themselves high scores.
As a society, we feel the pain of people like us, but we care less about people who are different from us.
That leads to tribalism where we care deeply about people who are like us we will defend their concerns, even if it comes at the expense of others.
No one is shocked by this finding because it’s in our face every day but as Christians, we need to be concerned by this national decline in empathy.
One place this is played out in is with immigration which is a complex issue for which I’ve yet to hear any good answers.
But we don’t have to be policymakers to ask the basic Christian question: where would Jesus be in the midst of the crisis at the border?
The fact is that families are fleeing drug cartels who’ve kidnapped their sons to fight their drug wars, who’ve raped their daughters trashed the local economies and left no way for parents to support their families.
Families have left everything they own and every friend they have to walk hundreds of dangerous miles for the chance of life up north.
All politics aside, a Christian must ask, which side of the wall would Jesus hang out on today?
From the Bible, we know that Jesus would be more with ragged people who are walking the desert and less with the politicians inflaming fear to rile-up their political base.
As Christians, that has to be integral to our discussion.
So, yes, today we cheer at the sight of Jesus entering Jerusalem because we think he’ll be the strongman who’ll expel the Romans … but we must be careful what we cheer for.
Jesus leads us to the cross, to a place where we, too, are called to sacrifice.
It’s not any wonder that by the end of the week, those who admired Jesus on Sunday were shouting “Crucify him!” on Friday.
We cheer the arrival of Jesus to Jerusalem, but with him, we also weep when we see what human arrogance and violence has brought to our world; we weep when we see how religious tribalism is pulling us away from Jesus’ call.
(in the picture below, asylum seekers flee tear gas at US Border)