Mark 11.1-11 God’s Foolishness
April 1, 2012 Palm Sunday
Roy W. Howard
About Palm Sunday the poet John Leax commented “this seems the strangest holiday of the year, a celebration of misunderstanding.”
His comment startled me into thinking afresh about this day that marks the beginning of Jesus’ most public processional, which wonderfully falls on April Fool’s Day this year. It starts with a makeshift parade – the kind children conjure up on a bright spring day, playing in the backyard, lining up after each other, wearing funny hats, blowing kazoos and appointing one of their own a king. What would this parade be without a donkey to carry the triumphant king? A donkey? Seriously? Yes, a donkey shall carry this king. Then who, pray tell, will find a donkey at this late hour? Why you, faithful disciples, ever ready to serve, will find the donkey that will carry our king. So, off you go looking for a donkey to haul into this parade, simply because he said so and after all you are his disciple aren’t you? That’s all you need to say to the fellow whose jaw drops when you start to steal his donkey off the street in broad daylight. Negotiating a donkey so the messiah can ride in glory? For this I’ve been enlisted to bring in the kingdom of Glory … on a donkey? Oy vey!
You would think it’s an April Fool’s joke, only it isn’t. So, just what is it Mark would have us ponder in this story of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem?
Prepare the way of the Lord, you said. Great, I said, but it comes down to this?
Some scholars think the two disciples sent out to find the colt were James and John, which is hilarious because a few days earlier they were asking Jesus to put them in the best seats in house, on the left and right hand when he comes in glory. Now it comes to this: finding a suitable animal for a makeshift parade! Tom Long comments about this mundane chore of the disciples, “Never once is it mentioned that serving the people with energy, imagination and love often boils down to stuff like ordering bulletin covers, changing light bulbs in the bathroom, visiting people in nursing home who aren’t quite sure who you are, and as, two of Jesus’ disciples found out, finding a suitable donkey at the last minute.”
Preparing the way of the Lord is not as grand as most of us expect. Perhaps we are better off not thinking about it, just do it, because preparing the way of the Lord often comes down to the small gestures, the chores no one is interested in but everyone wants, making the arrangements behind the scenes that allow for other to be present to the Lord’s presence. It’s like the street sweepers who labor unseen at two in the morning never hearing the people who marvel that the streets are so clean.
The second misunderstanding has something to do with the entry itself. What kind of triumph is this? The entry into Jerusalem is boisterous for sure, and there is no question that Jesus is welcomed with glad hosanna songs, the traditional messianic acclamation. But there is also something weird about this triumphal entry; maybe even foolish. Where are the stallions, symbols of a warrior’s grand triumph? Where are the public leaders – both religious and political? Attending to other business; like how to handle the unpredictable crowds on the outskirts of town who are gathering around this humble prophet who is approaching the city. What are they to do if things get out of hand, out of control, and Jesus begins to challenge them? If one where listening to the soundtrack, the dark music would enter the background just under the exuberant shouts of the crowds, hinting just barely of the ominous events of the days ahead.
I strain to see Jesus face as he rides through the crowd. I cannot see it but I imagine those merciful eyes. Is that a sad smile or a determined grimace? I wonder what he is thinking, watching and listening as the crowds sing his praise and welcome his entourage of rag tag clumsy disciples. Does anyone have a clue who he is and what he intends to do now that he has entered the city of power and might? They welcome him as one who will bless them. Yes, but they do not yet understand that he will confront their political leaders, challenge their customs and even suggest the core of their religious practice is corrupt, empty and without mercy?
No, they don’t understand and neither do I. When I do, I resist as long as possible until it is no longer in my power. They don’t understand that his kingdom – the kingdom of God – is not about blessing things as they are presently arranged, but changing them until the present arrangement reflects the one God intends. So everything is at risk when Jesus begins his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Political arrangements were at risk, the ones that ensured the poor would remain so, the dissidents would be silenced and brute force would be deployed when necessary to maintain order. Religious arrangements were at risk, the ones that secured the positions of corrupt leaders who distorted their practice for personal gain, and allowed themselves to merge with the political powers of the day. Everything was at risk when he came slowly into town riding on a donkey. He knew it, his sad, merciful eyes proclaimed it. But no one else did.
Just so, I believe, everything is at risk when Jesus begins his entry into your life, and mine. The arrangements I make and the compromises I create to secure my status, my comfort, my position, my way of life: all of it is at risk of being overturned when I allow him to come riding into my life. That is an unsettling thought and every time I contemplate it, I flinch at the implications. Yet, I also believe putting everything at risk by opening my life to Jesus’ entry is the Good News, because his arrangement is much wiser, more merciful than my own. I arrange things by making accommodations to a world that crucifies the prophets and fears the stranger, puts comfort over compassion and status over service, makes entertainment the highest value and love a sentimental convenience.
This one, Jesus of Nazareth, who comes riding into your life and mine, promises to arrange our lives differently than this world’s arrangement. My life is at risk, just as the crowd lining the streets of Jerusalem and their leaders. We know what happened, how God’s folly we call Easter turned misunderstanding, rejection, even crucifixion into the occasion for the healing of creation. The most important question is whether you and I will remain with him when the hosanna of today is all over and the real work God’s foolish kingdom begins.