March 17, 2008

And then what?

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem – a “triumphal” entry, so the tradition says. But I think it was more a parody than a parade. He was on a donkey, not a great white horse. Rather than being high and lifted up over the crowds, he was in the midst of them, on a low beast of burden. Of course, he would be “high and lifted up” but it would not be seen as a triumph and there would be jeering then, not cheering. There were crowds when he rode in, but I suspect that means a few brave souls rather than thousands shouting hosannas. And were they, even then, mocking him? Who knows?

Whatever the circumstances of this strange procession, it wasn’t going to lead where they wanted. They wanted a king, a ruler, someone to conquer the Romans and restore the chosen people to what they saw as true power. Instead they got an itinerant preacher who seemed to care not at all for the risks he was taking with his radical talk. Whatever they thought was going to happen, it probably wasn’t what did. Not in their wildest nightmares could they have imagined that this little march with the palms would lead to his being condemned along with common criminals and executed.

And what was the point of the procession anyway? Mark says this: “Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.” (Mark 11:11) The parade seemed to go nowhere. He was running out of time, it was late and they were all tired, so they went to spend the night with some old friends in a nearby town. And that was that. Or was it? Jesus returned to the temple the next day and drove out the moneychangers, overturning their tables, and, in effect, spitting in the face of the Pharisees.

On Sunday, he rode in that strange little procession and the people cheered him on. Were they cheering on Monday? Or were they wishing he would show some moderation, stop baiting the powers that be, not make trouble for himself – and for them? Were they with him in the temple? Or were they already trying to ignore the fact that they had ever known him?

It seems he came to Jerusalem to reclaim the faith for God, to replace a life of ecclesiastical commerce with a life of prayer. But I don’t think that is what they wanted. And I’m not sure it is what we want, either…..

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