Audio transcript available at https://youtu.be/6uJ9zgoO0z8.
Palm Sunday 29th March 2105
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
These are the things that the crowd shouted out as Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a young unbroken donkey. This is a glorious welcome isn’t it? We have been thinking over these last weeks about God’s glory and how it is evidenced in Jesus and in our selves, and today I want to examine what glory looks like in these last days of Jesus earthly life.
The, so called, “Triumphal Entry” has a number of precedents in history, both in the Hebrew bible and in the Hellenic world. There are a number of entries into Jerusalem, Solomon arrives in 1 Kings, Jehu arrives in 2 Kings and more recently in terms of Jesus’ own times, Judas Maccabeus arrives in triumph in 2 Maccabees. The psalm that we read bits of relates to this entry into Jerusalem, this triumphal journey up to the temple and so does the reference, implicit here rather than explicit as in Matthew, to the passage from Zechariah about riding in on a donkey. The audience of Mark’s gospel might also have been familiar with the entry of Emperor Vespasian after driving out the Jews. An arrival, riding a beast- either a white horse in triumphal Roman style or a donkey as made reference to in Zechariah, is symbolic of some kind of triumph and some kind of glory. Jesus, has chosen however, to make his entry into the Holy City, humbly riding the colt of a donkey. I am hoping, in fact, that it was a young ass- much bigger and stronger than a poor little baby donkey, and a common beast of burden.
The people, however Jesus chooses to arrive, hail him as one who is coming in the name of the Lord, and one who is bringing in the kingdom. Now it is very difficult at this distance in time to know what was in their minds- are they seeing him as the Messiah, or anointed one, come to drive out the Romans? Are they seeing him as a political Saviour? We don’t really know and my commentary makes the point that Mark in his account is trying to downplay that aspect of the story. Whatever the crowd’s motivation at this moment, we have heard the rest of the story today, and the crowd will quickly turn on Jesus and shout, “crucify him”. So where is Jesus’ glory to be found?
Well, we see humility and glory as oppositional values. A humble person is not clothed in glory. We have viewed “humble” things as simple, ordinary, even not very good, and the glorious things as magnificent, beautiful, triumphal, but Jesus teaches us that it is possible to have both qualities at the same time. In fact, in Jesus’ economy, in terms of the management of his Kingdom, humility and glory are two sides of the one coin. The God who is glorious, resplendent, omnipotent, also chooses to be humble. In fact when the Word took flesh he chose an ordinary type of man, a craftsman, as befitted the creator of the universe, to be Jesus’ father and not a King, Emperor, Prince or anyone else clothed in the human glory that is born of wealth and power. Jesus himself became a carpenter before he embarked on his mission. During the course of last week we celebrated the Feast of the Annunciation and in that encounter between the Angel Gabriel and Mary we see Mary’s humility, even though she has been chosen to be the Mother of God. In her famous song she even speaks about the humble poor being lifted high, and the mighty being brought low, both themes of the Hebrew prophets. Our God juxtaposes glory and humility.
The Kingdom of God is in fact characterized by a very different view of power. Jesus talks in the Sermon on the Mount about the power exercised by turning the other cheek and the power exercised by walking an extra mile. In the Kingdom of God, it is the humble, the grieving, the ostracized who will inherit. And that is because it is a Kingdom characterized by love, a quality mostly absent in our powerful people. In our society today, just as then, we tend to think of the powerful as those who make the big decisions- the mining bosses, the owners of Microsoft and Google, or politicians and law makers. We equate power with glory. There is also celebrity, we think of the Oscar winners as clothed in glory, the World Cup winners, the tour de France yellow jersey wearers or the formula one driver in first place on the grid. The problem with power, whether it is claimed in warfare, granted in election or built in hard work is that it is transient. In the business world you only stay on top until some bigger comes along, and it is the sad truth that inherited wealth and whatever power comes along with it, brings very mixed blessings. In the political world the time frame is even shorter, a US president gets at most 8 years, and in our current political climate here in Australia our Prime Minister is lucky if he or she can hold on for the whole of the elected term. Even the dictators of the last century, all eventually died or were overthrown and their power and glory with them. And the great royal dynasties all come to an end eventually, even if they retain any power and glory in real terms. If Jesus had seized power in the way that we see operating in our world he too would have had an impermanent legacy.
But Jesus has a different view. The power that he exercises to draw all people to himself, is about love, as is his glory. And as we heard last Sunday it is in the cross that Jesus is glorified. We read the story today- it didn’t sound glorious, did it? That agony in the garden, that ignominious trial, that desolate crucifixion, accompanied by the jeers of the soldiers and the venom of the crowd. But this is a different kind of power- this is the power of relinquishment, the power of choosing to give everything for others, the power of choosing death and in that death, giving life for all. When Jesus died on the cross he became the one true sacrifice, so that the sacrificial rites that propitiated the vengeful God of our imagination, were finished once and for all. When Jesus died on the cross he destroyed the power of death, which is fear, and he established his glory. Jesus changed things forever.
But sometimes the world we live in doesn’t seem to be changed. This Kingdom of God that I keep talking about doesn’t seem to be having much impact in our world. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom characterized by humility and mercy, by justice and by love and these are qualities that are obscured by the louder voices of greed, expediency and violence. The light is shining in the darkness, however, and all around the world in the midst of darkness there is light. The truth of this is bourne out by the fact that all around the world Christians will be celebrating Easter – in the midst of trouble and war, apathy and indolence, there will still be an affirmation, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”