“Following Jesus Beyond the Parade” – March 25, 2018

Scripture Lesson

Mark 11:1-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10     Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 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.

Philippians 2:5-11 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
    he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
    and gave him the name
    that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

“Following Jesus Beyond the Parade”

When the Cheering Stopped, is a book that tells the story of the last years of President Woodrow Wilson. The book talks about how President Wilson was hailed as a war hero not only at home but also in most of Europe for his outstanding role played during World War I and the founding of the League of Nations.

The text   highlights the great optimism that characterized most of the world as people believed that World War I was the final war and thereafter peace and democracy would flourish. This was the new world order envisioned by President Wilson.

On his first visit to Paris, President Wilson was greeted with great cheers as a great international war hero, incomparable to any other.

But barely after a year, the leaders of Europe began to focus on their national issues; President Wilson faced opposition at home. Congress refused to rectify the League of Nations. His party was defeated at the next elections. He suffered stroke and his health began to deteriorate leading to his death.

The central message of the book is captured in these few lines of the Foreword.

When the Cheering Stopped is a gripping true story of duty, courage, and deceit, and an unforgettable portrait of a visionary leader whose valiant struggle and tragic fall changed the course of world history.”

The story of President Wilson mimics the experience of Jesus in so many ways. During his ministries over the three years, Jesus embodied the message and act of love, peace, compassion, justice, liberation, resistance against oppression, etc.  His was a new message that called for a new world order. Beyond all of these, was his ultimate mission to lay down his life for sinful humanity.

The gospel recalls that many time when Jesus did something great, like healing the sick or restoring the sight of the blind, or displaying his deity, he would warn his disciples, or the person healed not to tell anyone. But two weeks ago, he told his disciples and some Greeks that the hour had come for the son of Man to be glorified.

Today he has given his followers the permission to give him a public demonstration of honor, as God’s anointed One. Today, he is seated on a young donkey, and makes a triumphal entry into Jerusalem in a parade amidst great cheers, waving of branches and shouts, Hosanna; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

 I love the conclusion of Matthew’s version of this story.  In chapter 21: 10-11, of the NRSV, He says, when he(Jesus) entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “who is this? The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus of Nazareth in Galilee.

What is happening today is prophetic fulfillment of Zachariah 9:9. He says:  Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

But this great proclamation will be followed by desertion, abandonment, betrayal and even denial. By this evening, Jesus will be left with only his disciples; by Thursday, the disciples will abandon and deny him. He will be a lone man in the hands of his enemies. Why?

One obvious reason for this is the people had wrong expectation of Jesus.

When the crowd spread their clothes, they were giving Jesus a conqueror’s welcome. Over one hundred and fifty years prior to this Palm Sunday, they had welcomed back a Hebrew family called the Maccabees which helped stir a revolution against the Romans. They spoke those the same words, “Hosanna” which means, “save us” or “save us now” (Psalm 118:25-26). They were saying to Jesus, save us from the Romans now.

Indeed, Jesus is a conqueror, but not a military one.  He was battling against the forces of evil. He was going to save his people, but not by destruction and violence, but his death.  For Jesus, the enemies to be conquered were not another human being but sin and death.

When the Roman military general made a triumphal entry following his victory over his war enemies, he rode on the back of a horse, but Jesus is riding on the back of a young donkey, which is symbolic of his humility.  The Roman victor displayed his trophies and captured men of war, but Jesus’s triumph is a victory of love over hate, truth over error, and life over death.

For the generals, death would be defeat, but for Jesus, his death would become the means of conquering. He comes to the city with peace, love and compassion but not violence.

Sadly, this is not the kind of messiah the people expect. They want one who would meet hate with hate, violence with violence, and the stronger vanquishing the weaker. This contrast will lead to desertion, betrayal and denial. The crowd in this parade will desert him, the disciples will betray, desert, abandon and denial.

The question that comes to you and me is, after our shouts of Hosanna and waving our branches this morning like the crowd, will we follow Jesus to Golgotha after the parade, or will we turn back?

One author wrote: “It seems the ultimate reward of someone who tries to translate ideals of peace into reality is apt to be frustrated and defeated.”

We have seen this the world over. There is always a price to pay for standing up for love over hate, peace over violence, compassion over indifference and cruelty.  Jesus was no exception. He will give up himself and human wickedness to the highest order will be inflicted upon him for our sake.

But this is the way of Christ that he calls us to follow (beyond the parade.) In Luke 9:62, Jesus says, anyone who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for reward in the Kingdom of God

The Christian faith calls for commitment and being ready to give yourself for the sake of the gospel.

This is what Paul sums up in our first reading. Philippians 2:5-11. He says;

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ, who though he was in the form of God, did not claim equality with God, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.

There is nothing we can give and do to match what Christ will be doing for us. The only thing we can do is to follow him beyond this parade today.  Be with him at the Last Supper on Thursday; be present at his Crucifixion on Friday and be present at the empty tomb on Easter morning.

Finally, we can follow Jesus consistently by embodying all that he stands for; by  loving everyone, evening our perceived enemies; being an instrument of peace wherever we are, by standing up and raising our voice against injustice in whatever form it presents itself; having compassion on the needy, and by being the hands and feet of Christ.

God bless you.

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