Our Gospel text for this week is one of the familiar high points of Jesus’ life. Jesus enters into Jerusalem in a royal parade, though it is a different sort of royal parade, to be sure. The crowds come to praise him. They lay their coats on the road to prepare the way for the King. They rejoice that the Lord’s chosen King has finally come.
It is easy to want to jump right to the end of this passage. There is a part of us that wants to skip everything else so we can praise King Jesus along with the crowds. This is where I have most often interacted with the passage-right in the midst of praising Jesus. We long to be there in the center of everything.
We have to be careful not to miss what is happening on the margins.
Our passage doesn’t begin with Jesus entering Jerusalem as a king. The story doesn’t begin with the crowds heaping praises on Jesus. It begins with Jesus talking to a couple of disciples who aren’t even named. Imagine that! Your story makes it into Holy Scripture and you aren’t even named!
These disciples who are apparently on the margins, who aren’t even important enough to name, follow Jesus’ directions to the letter. Jesus tells them to go find a colt and untie it. If they are questioned about it, Jesus tells them how to respond. So what do they do? They go find a colt, untie it and when they are questioned, they respond exactly as Jesus said they should. These no name disciples follow Jesus’ instructions word for word.
I don’t know about you, but I have a number of “unnamed disciples” in my life who have been faithful to Jesus. I have a number of people in my life who choose to work in the margins, behind the scenes, without recognition, always being faithful to the call of Jesus. Were it not for the work of these people in my life, I would not be the follower of Jesus that I am today.
Pastors, the same is true for our churches. There are so many people who serve as unnamed disciples in our churches. Our churches would not be able to function were it not for these unnamed disciples. Except for those working behind the scenes, many ministries would not be able to exist at all.
Perhaps this would be a good week to recognize those who work behind the scenes. Those who lead ministries in a more public way tend to be recognized and appreciated. Maybe this would be a good week to show gratitude to those unnamed disciples in our midst. This might be a good time to name the unnamed disciples.
It might be that unnamed disciples prefer to go unnamed. In that case we can thank those who do work behind the scenes in general ways, perhaps thanking them as a group or thanking those who clean the bathrooms, plow the snow, mow the lawn, etc, without naming them. However we find it works best in our community, this might be a good week to show gratitude to the unnamed disciples around us.
As we hear the story of these unnamed disciples, another detail is notable. The unnamed disciples receive instructions that are a bit strange. They are to go into town and when they see a colt, they are supposed to untie it. If anybody asks, they are supposed to give the explanation that “The Lord needs it”.
Taken at face value, these instructions are strange. They’re just supposed to go untie a colt? Without talking to anybody about it? Some have imagined that Jesus spoke to the colt’s owner prior to this occasion, but that’s not in the text. Even if that was the case, if I were a disciple, I still would be asking, “Lord, why a colt? Surely you want a nice, strong horse. That would suit you better. If you insist on a donkey, surely you at least want a full-grown donkey, not a small colt.”
Of course, with hindsight and the text of the Old Testament in hand, we know what Jesus was doing with regard to both previous prophecy and prophetic action as satire of Pilate’s entry into Jerusalem. I’m not sure how much of that would have been apparent to the disciples ahead of time, though. It seems these instructions would have been very strange from the disciples’ point of view. Yet they did just as Jesus asked. Despite the peculiarity of the commands, they obeyed.
There is a story of a man who was sitting in a church service. As the service comes to a close, the pastor gives an altar call. In the middle of the altar call, the man hears a still, small voice say, “Get up and go to the bathroom.” The man is hesitant. Go to the bathroom? That’s strange. Why? So he continues to sit. Seconds later, he hears it again. “Get up and go to the bathroom.” So he does. He’s still hesitant to follow the strange instructions, but he slowly gets up, makes his way to the aisle and heads to the back toward the bathrooms. Almost immediately as the man stands up, three other people stand up and begin to make their way to the altar. Nobody wanted to be the first to stand up, but once one person stood up, the discomfort of being the first to stand was lifted and others felt free to make their way to the altar. Never mind that the first person to stand was simply following the strange directions to go to the bathroom!
When we sense God directing us in strange ways, what will be our reaction? If we heard Jesus tell us to go untie a colt, if we heard a still, small voice tell us to get up and go to the bathroom, how would we react? What will we do when we hear the peculiar voice of the Spirit?
As we come to the familiar story of Jesus entering into Jerusalem as king, may we praise him with the crowds. May we shout “Hosanna!” with those who welcome him. May we also pay attention to what is happening on the margins. Let us be thankful for the unnamed disciples in our lives and let us be content with being unnamed disciples ourselves. May we follow the strange direction of our King, that we might be faithful to his calling on our lives. Amen.