A Palm Sunday Revolution (Lenten Lectio Reflection: Mark 11:1-11)

Gospel Book of the Syrian Jacobite Church – Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, ca. 1220.

When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.
Mark 1:1-11 (CEB)

First of all, let me apologize for a lack of blog posts lately. We’ve been in the process of selling our house which has occupied a lot of my time on top of the regular requirements of everyday family life. So, my writing and blogging time has decreased considerably. Since we have entered Holy Week, I figured it would be a good time to get back on the blogging wagon.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. This is the first moment in Jesus’ journey towards his death on the cross. Entering Jerusalem carries with it a whole host of historical and theological significance for Jesus and his followers. To say that Jesus entering Jerusalem is significant is almost an understatement. In the Synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we are not told that Jesus visits Jerusalem. It is quite possible that he did (most Jews probably would have) For Jesus to finally make the trek to Jerusalem and head to the Temple, many of his followers were probably feeling like all their dreams were coming true. In fact, their chant as Jesus heads towards the city reveals what’s in their minds. It seems to be a quote from Psalm 118.

Lord, please save us!
Lord, please let us succeed!
The one who enters in the Lord’s name is blessed;
we bless all of you from the Lord’s house.
The Lord is God!
He has shined a light on us!
So lead the festival offering with ropes
all the way to the horns of the altar.
Psalm 118:25-27 (CEB)

I emphasized the parts that are the quotations since there is some room for translation variance between Greek and Hebrew (and a whole host of other things, but that’s a different blog post altogether). For example, “Hosanna” is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew words behind the phrase, “Lord, Please save us!” in Psalm 118. If you read all of Psalm 118, you get the feeling that this Psalm is recounting a pilgrimage or a procession towards the temple. Because of the nature of this Psalm, and the Psalms in general, this Psalm may have been used on a regular basis during worship at the Temple and anyone hearing it (or words from it) could very easily recall what’s going on. So, with the words of the Psalm in mind, it seems that Jesus and his followers are reenacting this Psalm. What might make this unique and possibly troublesome for those already in Jerusalem is that the priests and those working in the Temple probably were not involved or notified about this procession with Jesus.

Jesus and his followers are singing a procession song towards Jerusalem and the Temple without the help of the Temple authorities and possibly out of season.

What makes this procession extra troubling is adding the line, “Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” So, not only are those following Jesus announcing their procession to the Temple, but they are also announcing the arrival of a new kingdom through an ancestor of David, which we assume they believe Jesus to be. All the while singing, “Hosanna!”, Lord please save us, Lord please let us succeed. I’m sure those sitting in the seats of governmental power in Jerusalem, both Roman and Jewish authorities, were not keen on these pronouncements.

You could probably summarize the song they are singing like this:

We’re headed to the Temple.

“Lord, please save us.”

There’s a new king coming.

“Lord, please let us succeed.”

If you would give me a moment of brutal honesty, our cute reenactments (like I witnessed on Sunday) with children walking peacefully down the aisles of our churches waving palm branches and singing cute songs do not capture the weight of this moment. We’ve effectively removed the teeth and de-clawed the words being shouted by the crowds.

The followers of Jesus are announcing a revolution against the Temple (Jewish) and government/military (Roman) authorities.

This procession is not cute. It is not necessarily suggestive of peaceful resistance and those watching from the walls of Jerusalem and the steps of the Temple knew precisely what was suggested by the words chanted. Throw in that all this is happening shortly before the Jewish Passover where themes of freedom, liberation and stepping away from oppressive rulers are featured front and center. The powers that be have reasons to be concerned. Now, I know some of you might say that Jesus had a different purpose and he had a different idea all along. This is probably true, but aside from the instructions to the disciples to get the donkey…Jesus remains suspiciously silent throughout the procession. Heck, in the very next chapter he causes a ruckus in the Temple and pronounces judgement on those buying and selling within the Temple walls. Hindsight is always 20/20 and we can look back with all sorts of insight and interpretations on the situation but what is really striking to me is what the situation must have looked like in its context.

Beginning with Palm Sunday, let’s strive to embrace the excitement, fear, pain and surprise of Holy Week as the followers of Jesus felt. Let’s chant our revolution songs and maybe allow ourselves to be surprised (for once) at what they mean and what actually happens.

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