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Palms A Gospel

Matthew 21:1-11

Michael Palmer

This week is Palm Sunday. A Sunday of Celebration. A Sunday of cries of Hosanna. The Messiah has arrived. We traditionally celebrate it with palm leaves, choruses of celebration and experiences of adulation. Our King has arrived. It’s clean, safe and brightly colored.

“Hosanna,” we cry. “Lord, save us” we say.

But, far too often, we forget what Christ is marching toward. We forget the depth of his mission. We forget the power and scandal in his message.

Palm Sunday, when removed of it’s pomp and glitter, is a stark reminder of who we are, and who we follow.

As we move into this story, we must first examine what’s happening here because there’s so much more to this story than what we may see at first glance.

Two Parades

There has been scholarship that has suggested that Jesus, during his ride into Jerusalem, was not the only parade that day. As Jesus entered to the east, Pilate arrived from the west.

The imagery must have been striking.

As Pilate entered the west gate, crowds would have watched him enter on a warhorse and surrounded by countless soldiers. The ground would have trembled under their feet, their armor creaking as they walked, the sun reflecting off their helmets and spears. This would have been a moment of awe and power.

The horse, the soldiers would have reminded the crowd who they serve. It would have been an in-their-face reminder that they were a conquered people. Submit or die. This parade would have been a magnificent display of the might of Rome.

From the east, however, the crowds would have experienced a very different sort of entry.

The crowds would have watched a man, surrounded only by disciples, entering on a Donkey. There were no swords, no spears, no helmets. There was no prestige, no intimidation, a parade conspicuously absent of might of Rome.

The differences must have been drastic.

Now, Jerusalem wasn’t a large city. Some estimate that Jerusalem was around 20,000 people during the time of Jesus, however during festivals and special feasts, it would have swelled to much larger numbers. And old Jerusalem was only about a mile long. As folks from small towns know, news traveled fast.

As Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh point out,

“The city dwellers in Jerusalem would have been able to look over the city walls to the east and see the crowd hailing Jesus as he rode along. Given the conflict between city dwellers and outsiders that characterized ancient Mediterranean society, one is not surprised by the turmoil, or the question of the Jerusalemites, "Who is this?", “Who is this?”

This was not a good time for the Jews. Taxes were unbearable; the rich were getting richer, the poor were getting poorer. Injustice was commonplace. There was no greater image of that injustice than the man who entered in opulence and drenched in military power.

It’s no wonder then that Jesus entered to such ecstatic praise.

Jesus’s procession powerfully stood in contrast to the parade happening on the other side of the city. As Pilate entered the city, his parade was a living embodiment of the Kingdom of Rome and all she stood for; power, glory, and violence. Jesus, however, gave a flesh and blood alternative to the Kingdom Rome. It was a procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God.

Over and over, throughout the Gospels, Jesus makes these distinctions between two Kingdoms. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we find ourselves relentlessly confronted by the question, "which reality we will choose to believe?"

Like the Romans and Jews in this story, we are living in the midst of two parades. Oh, how we find ourselves tempted by the magnificence of the Empire’s parade. It’s filled with music which makes us feel a part of a larger whole. Filled with dramatic, powerful images the empire parade makes us feel good to have a common enemy. It feels good to believe we’re the best, the strongest, the bravest and greatest on earth.

However, there is another parade. A peasant parade which invites us to to the other side of town. We are invited to a procession of those who love their enemies and pray for those who seek our harm. A parade which leads us to forgive those who have wronged us and refuse to grasp for power. A parade which reminds us that the way to wholeness is in surrender, not conquering our foes.

However, should we choose the peasant parade, we must do so carefully and with eyes wide open, for it is not going to end as we expect. It didn't for those who cried hosanna that day. This donkey riding Messiah is not coming as a conquering King (at least not yet). No, he first comes as a slaughtered lamb who is pierced for the transgressions of humanity.

Will we follow Him?

Or will we shout crucify him?

Michael Palmer

About the Contributor

Lead Pastor, Living Vine Church of the Nazarene, Napa, California.

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