Today is the Palm Sunday, the final Sunday in Great Lent.Everyone knows the story: Jesus mounts a donkey, rides it into Jerusalem, people line the sides of the road, yada, yada, yada.
No, I am not being dismissive of the event, but I think it’s time we look at it from a different perspective – from Jesus’ view point of what is going on, and it may surprise you to see it this way.
Jesus knew what was going to happen in the next few days, at least according to The Plan, this was to be his swan song, his Waterloo. Unless something dramatically changed (human will) he would not be continuing his missionary trip. But, there was hope at the time, he would make one last pitch to the Powers That Be…the Sanhedrin. If he could but convince them, get them to change their minds and see the Error Of Their Ways, his death could yet be prevented.
This ride was to be a message to those men, not so much for the people. The symbolic arrival into Jerusalem on a donkey was a clear message to the Sanhedrin. King Solomon rode to his coronation on a donkey, one that belonged to King David:
1 Kings 1:33-34 (RSV) And the king (David) said to them, “Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon; 34 and let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, ‘Long live King Solomon!’
Also, the Prophet of God Zechariah predicted:
Zechariah 9:9 (RSV) Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.
They were well aware of these readings, and of the symbolism Jesus was putting before them…here arrives your King and Messiah, listen to him, acknowledge him and his teachings.
In a few days Jesus will have his last meal with the twelve; Judas will finalize the arrangements to hand Jesus over to the Sanhedrin; Jesus will ask his Father to soften their hearts so that his death would not be necessary; the soldiers of the Sanhedrin will arrest Jesus; then Jesus will make his final plea before them to hear his message; they will not soften their hearts, choosing to ignore the message and protect their interests instead. All will come to pass according to The Plan, despite Jesus’ best efforts to get everyone to “see The Light”.
The people quickly changed sides, those who laid down palms on this day will, in less than a week, turn around and demand Bar-Abbas be freed and Jesus condemned to death, joining in with the voices of the Pharisees. In a few days Jesus will be crucified and buried, then, despite his appearance to over five-hundred people, the people will deny everything and return back to their normal lives.
Are we any different? People today are reaching out and helping others in a response to this virus (some are behaving badly by taking more than they need from shelves, not caring that others may actually need something they are over-purchasing [do you really need 4 cases of toilet paper?]). In a few weeks this will all be over, as every virus before it has run its course (the Plague, SARS, Avian Flu) and things will return to normal…people will go back to their normal lives. Will we take anything from this experience? Will we continue to reach out to those in need and offer a helping hand? Or, will we, as those people 2,000 years ago, just go back to their normal lives…probably.
We, as a species, rarely learn long-lasting lessons. Jesus brought a message of faith and love, of brotherhood and caring. After his death a fragment of his followers worked hard to continue the message…but how well have we actually followed it? Racism, sexism, wars fought because one group had a different interpretation of the message than another.
Do you love your neighbor, or does it depend on who that neighbor is? Do you hate someone because they are: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindi, black, yellow, red, white, gay, straight, carnivore, vegan, rich, poor, homeless, corporate president, tree hugger?
This has been an interesting Lent, full of lessons of love and hope. But, once it is over, will we carry this message through the rest of our lives? Will it make a permanent change in us, or will we return to our normal lives?