Dear friends in Christ, Grace and Peace to you from God the Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
So, while writing this sermon, I thought to myself: it would be pretty easy to ask if every heard my children's sermon, and say, “well, pretty much that.” But this week's topic deserves more attention, because there is are so many interesting pieces that are going on. Yes, Jesus arrives in the city in style, and there was much rejoicing, but not in the way that you might think. If I were to say that there was a king arriving, you would probably expect a great parade with a limo to drive up, bearing the king wearing magnificent clothing. But by comparison, Jesus arrives in a T-shirt and jeans, driving himself in an old Volvo. It doesn't seem right that the king of creation would arrive in economy class. I think that there was so much else going on in our texts today. So, let's take a look:
Now, this story is in all four of the Gospels. This is important, because the authors knew it was important. While most people want to skip ahead and start reading the Passion texts of Jesus's last day, the disciples of Christ knew that this moment was big news, and so all four had it written down. Turning to our text then, the first thing we read is that Jesus has come near to Jerusalem. He’s not technically there yet. It’s as if he was on his way to Minneapolis, and happened to stop in Robbinsdale. Now we’ve known that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. In fact, right before our passage Jesus says this to his disciples in Matthew 20:
“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”
Now imagine being a disciple and hearing that your rabbi, your teacher, your mentor, this one whom you left your whole family and job behind to follow because you believed that he was the Savior of Israel, tells you this. Your holy city is occupied by a foreign pagan power called Rome, and the one person you thought held the power to drive them out starts prophesying his own death. He is obedient to do what God has called him to do.
Now imagine you’re one of these two disciples, and Jesus tells you to go ahead of him into the village to fetch a donkey and her colt that Jesus apparently already knows about and to untie them and bring them back to him. What would go through your mind? Well, after Jesus has just prophesied his death that lays ahead, I think we would surely contemplate whether our death might also lie ahead. If Jesus is so eager to die, why doesn’t HE go steal the donkey? But he sends us, the disciples on this mission. Don’t worry, he gave us a back up plan in case anyone starts to say something like “Hey, where do you think you’re going with my donkey?” Jesus told us to tell them: “The Lord needs them.’”
Again, not exactly the full-proof explanation.
Everything seems very arbitrary and chaotic. The disciples have to be wondering, “Am I really willing to be killed for a guy who wants to steal a donkey and ride into Jerusalem?” And what about the owner? Matthew doesn’t say anything about his reaction. But he has to be wondering who this “Lord” is that has need of it. I mean, a donkey may not be the most elegant creature, but they sure do get a lot done. They were worth at least 2 months’ wages back then. You wouldn’t just give up your donkey, because you’re giving up an essential part of your working life, your economic security. Here's the thing: The donkey has a normal mundane existence to live. It’s not particularly special. And yet Jesus knows it is in the village, and calls the disciples to fetch it. Even the donkey gets to be used by God. Even as things can seem so arbitrary and chaotic, God is doing something through these characters. God is also doing something amazing here at Faith-Lilac Way, through each one of us, despite the fact that we may be afraid, that we have a pretty mundane existence and don’t think we have much to offer. God is still calling us to serve.
Matthew tells us that all this is happening to fulfill a prophecy that was written in the book of Zechariah, chapter 9 verse 9, which Matthew quotes:
This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: "Say to the Daughter of Zion, 'See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.'
This verse is really the center-piece of the text. The Daughter of Zion is another name used when talking about Jerusalem. There’s a comforting word of hope here. “See! Your king comes to you.” Matthew equating Jesus with this king in the prophecy. Indeed, Israel doesn’t have to go searching for its own salvation, but this salvation is coming to it in the form of a king. Now when we think of a king, again we often think of someone of great power and strength. But even the prophecy from Zechariah turns this notion on its head by describing the king as gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Again, if you’re thinking that Jesus is the Messiah, which many did, then that means that he is obviously going to conquer Rome. But this would hardly be the image of a conquering king. The people of that time would have expected a war-horse, a mighty steed, and a great sword to boot! But there is no weapon at all, because this king is gentle. And instead of a war-horse, a simple donkey.
And then there is a celebration of this gentle king’s arrival. And the people shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” The Son of David is a clear marker of the Messiah, a title for the one who will save Israel. Now, words change over time. At this point, saying Hosanna was kind of like saying “Hurrah! Woohoo!” It was just an exclamation of praise and joy. But the word goes back to Psalm 118, and in Hebrew it literally means, “Save us, we beseech you!” Isn't that funny! The crowd celebrates, and yet they’re using a word that is crying out for help. They do not know it yet, but they are already asking God to save them.
And then the part comes with the big question. I think that the question asked by the city as Jesus is entering their town:is the question we have to ask ourselves“Who is this?” Isn’t it interesting that such a gentle, peaceful king could shake and stir an entire city Jerusalem? Now, my thought is that most of us who have a bit of Christian upbringing tend to think of God either as God of the Old Testament, who came with fire and wrath, or God as Jesus, the kindly savior. It's hard to love the fire and wrath God. I certainly need the God who loved me first. And I think we need to be like the city Jerusalem, and tremble before this king, Jesus, who comes unarmed on a donkey who completely overturns our views of power and kingship.
The point that I'm trying to get at this morning is that because of what God has done for us, we can do for others. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says that those who have seen him have seen the Father. And so when you see this man, you see who God truly is. God is the gentle King, the One who loved us so much that he will lay his own life down for us, so that we might be raised up with him. Dear friends in Christ, that is the Good news. Jesus not only shows us what true royalty looks like, and what true power is, but reveals the Father to be this way. So let us celebrate Christ as he comes into our cities, our neighborhoods, and our workplaces. Let us lend him our donkeys, and our very lives for his service. Let us even be like the donkey, so that we might be untied and put to service ourselves. The triumphal entry of Jesus is the triumph of humility and meekness of God. And so we turn to this gentle king and say:
Thanks be to God, Amen.
Vicar James Anderson
April 9, 2017