Sixth Sunday of Lent, Palm Sunday
Mark 11:1-10 & Mark 14:1-15:47
Humans are souls inside of bodies. We express our souls with our bodies, in words or deeds. When others observe us, they have to figure out what we meant and then, perhaps, respond to us.
By the time of Jesus, Judaism had had a long history of prophets who used unusual actions to startle the Jewish people, in the hopes of getting them to return to their covenant with God. In the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his passion and death, we see a prophetic Jesus. Jesus makes many startling gestures, rich with meaning, and waits to see how we will respond. I will look at just three here; if we talked about them all, you would miss Easter!
1. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a baby donkey: Mark, author of the shortest gospel, is famous for his brevity. Why does he take so much time describing how a colt was found for Jesus to ride? He wants to draw our attention to the fact that, although the crowds are cheering for a king who will be as politically and militarily successful as their greatest king, David, Jesus is a humble savior. The Old Testament prophet, Zechariah, foretold that a new king would arrive on the colt of a donkey. If that doesn’t sound very elegant, you have grasped the point. Jesus’ power is not what humans typically call power: grand, splashy, domineering. He has a different agenda than the crowd. “What is it?” we are meant to wonder.
2. Jesus gives his disciples bread and wine to eat and drink and says they are his body and blood: We may be so familiar with this prophetic action that it does not startle us. I first realized how radical it is when some of my non-Christian, Navajo middle school students could only see this as cannabalism. Jesus is forcefully stating he will do whatever it takes to keep us alive. As we have heard earlier this Lent, that is what Love is about, placing the lives of others ahead of our own and helping them flourish. This will necessitate his death, just as the grain of wheat must die. If Jesus or we try to grasp at power for self-preservation or self-glorification, he and we will lose it. By describing himself as food and drink, Jesus chooses to love, over all the other choices he has.
3. When Jesus dies, the veil of the Temple sanctuary is torn in two: The Jewish Temple was a series of nested court yards, each excluding more and more people. At the heart was the Holy of Holies where God lived and which could only be entered once a year by the high priest. Jesus’ death rips open the barrier that keeps everyone from God. When we see Jesus, how he lived and died, we see God. There are no walls for us, no human hierarchies that can keep us from God.
How will we respond to Jesus’ message, that his is a humble power, poured out for our sake? We have some options laid out for us in this story: We can give respite and tenderness to those who bear burdens, like the woman who anoints Jesus. We can discard others when the cost of befriending them is too great, like Peter who denies Jesus. We can deceive others and work to bring them down, like Judas who kisses Jesus even as he brings about his destruction. We can live in fear of bullies, like Pilate who does not have the courage to free Jesus. We can bury the dead with dignity, like Joseph of Arimathea who buries Jesus’ body. We can stand in solidarity with those rejected by society, like Mary Magdalene and all the women who stay with Jesus as he dies. God’s message to us is clear. What, if any, is our response?
v As you head into Holy Week, what actions or words can you use to express your humble love for God and others?
v Consider an area of your life where you are in charge or strive to be. What is your motivation? Ask God to help you lead out of Love.