Kahu's Mana‘o

Keawala’i Congregational Church
United Church of Christ (USA)

Palm/Passion Sunday
Sunday, April 17, 2011

Philippians 2:5-11 & Matthew 21:1-11

“Save us”

The city could have been Tripoli or Cairo, Baghdad or Tehran, Beijing or Moscow, Khartoum or Washington, D.C. But it was Jerusalem.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem on that spring day in the year 30, it is said that “the whole city was in turmoil.” The Greek word that is used literally means “was shaken” or “trembled.”

Why would a man entering a city on the back of a donkey or a colt cause such a stir? (Matthew 21:7; Mark 11:2; Luke 19:30) Biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan offer us their insight when they remind us that two processions entered the city that day – one from the east that was composed primarily of peasants following Jesus – and on the other side of the city, from the west, came the imperial Roman cavalry and soldiers following Pontius Pilate who entered Jerusalem on a war horse.

They write: “Jesus’ procession proclaimed the kingdom of God” while Pilate’s proclaimed the “power of empire” and therein lay the conflict that led to Jesus’ crucifixion. (Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 2, Bartlett & Taylor, Westminster/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, page 153)

We would prefer to believe that Jesus died for our sins. Most if not all of us have learned growing up in the church. Our response to Jesus is both individual and personal. But the stories that unfold each year during Holy Week, beginning today and ending next Sunday, tell us that Jesus died for much more than our own individual sins.

If we were to say that Jesus’ journey through Jerusalem to the cross was to save us from our own sins that would hardly explain the turmoil that followed in Jerusalem. One would suppose that there would be very little harm in people recognizing their own self-worth in the presence of a loving God. Whatever our failures, whatever our shortcomings, whatever our sins we believe in a loving God.

We know that Pilate came from Caesarea Maritima to Jerusalem for the purpose of maintaining law and order during the Jewish festival of the Passover. As many as 200,000 pilgrims arrive in the city of maybe just 40,000 inhabitants. There is reason for Pilate to be concerned, very concerned even if he is unaware that Jesus and his disciples are among the pilgrims. (The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem, Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan, Harper/SanFrancisco, San Francisco, 2006, pages 2-4. Proclamation 5, Series A: Holy Week, Robert H. Smith, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992, page 7)

When His Holiness, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, came to Maui several years ago over 10,000 people gathered at the stadium in Kahului. Organizers for the event were prepared for what would be required for parking, for adequate restroom facilities, for medical emergency and other needs.
His arrival was well planned. There was law and order. Measures were taken by local, state and federal authorities to make certain that his visit would not be marred by any disruptions. Because of who he is, he was accompanied by armed security personnel. It is ironic that a man who teaches peace and non-violence would find himself the object of potential conflict and violence.

Pilate was well aware that tens of thousands of pilgrims were about to descend on Jerusalem but my hunch is he was not fully aware of the implications of Jesus’ arrival. In many ways he seemed unprepared. That Jesus manages to arrive at the same time heightened not only the excitement of his followers but it also created an enormous tension among the cavalry and soldiers who have followed Pilate into the city. “Who is this?” they and others asked.

The response of the crowd provides him with little consolation. “This,” they say “is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:11)

Today is Palm Sunday. The story of Jesus riding into the city to cheering crowds is common to all four accounts written by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It is a time when we remember what happened that day when Jesus entered the city – of how a large crowd had gathered and spread their cloaks on the ground and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road; of how the crowds went ahead of him and those that followed – men, women and children - were shouting praises to him.

But what is not common in all four accounts is the waving of palm branches. Our reading from The Gospel According to Matthew makes no mention of palm branches waved. Still, there is enough in each account to indicate that something extraordinary was occurring that day.

The crowd streaming into the city was much, much larger than those who gathered to welcome Jesus. It is within that context that we may begin to appreciate the observation made by Borg and Crossan about Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem.

The contrast between Jesus on a donkey and Pilate on a war horse – of God’s kingdom versus the Roman Empire – is clear. We are not told what the crowds may have said as Pilate passed by but we know that as Jesus made his way into the city, shouts of “Hosanna” were heard.

In Matthew’s narrative, the acclamation of Jesus as the son of David is a messianic one. Even the religious leaders affirm that the expected Messiah is David’s son. (Matthew 22:41-42) So when the crowds shout, “Hosanna!” which literally means “Save us!” they are celebrating the arrival of Jesus as their messianic savior, “the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 21:9; Psalm 118:25-26) (Feasting on the Word, page 157)

“Hosanna!” is a rare Aramaic word that is found only in Matthew, Mark and John and only in connection with Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem. Biblical scholars indicate that it was an exclamation that was familiar to Jews as a part of the Feast of the Tabernacles (Psalm 118:25), a feast celebrating the autumn harvest from the threshing floor and the winepress. (Exodus 23:16, 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:13-15)

It was a festival in which pilgrims waved palm branches. But the shouts of “Hosanna” can also be understood more clearly within the context of the Feast of the Passover. The story of the exodus and of how Moses led the people out of slavery from Egypt is what gave the people cause to celebrate.

That the people in Jerusalem should call upon Jesus to “save” them not only from their own sins but from the oppression they experienced at the hands of religious and political leaders should not surprise us. James Duke, Professor of History of Christianity and History of Christian Thought, is at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas. He contends that the Jesus who enters Jerusalem was and always will be a challenge to the powers and principalities of this world – not merely a spiritual challenge but a political challenge. “His cause is not the same as the Zealots or any violent insurrectionists, that of some aspiring political party, or that of a legislative or executive agenda. This ‘king Jesus’ is a threat, both to the power elite and the fickle multitudes.” (Op. cit., page 156)

Lest any of us wish it were otherwise, Duke adds, “Jesus did not come ‘in triumph,’ was not crucified and raised, and communities of believers in him did not emerge, in order to leave the ways of the world as they were.” (Ibid.) So it was that many common folk found courage for a moment that day to follow Jesus and to proclaim a word of peace and reconciliation to the world.

They were common folk – neighbors and friends, strangers and distant travelers, children and adults. They marched through the city gates with Jesus longing to be saved from oppression of those in power. (Ibid.)

It is no wonder that the religious and political leaders of the city were disturbed by the response of so many to Jesus. It may be that they were aware of what happens when common folk standing on this side of justice would spark a similar response in other parts of the world.
The city could have been Tripoli or Cairo, Baghdad or Tehran, Beijing or Moscow, Khartoum or Washington, D.C. But it was Jerusalem.

What happened that day in Jerusalem changed the world forever and it came at a great, great cost – a cost that will become apparent in the days ahead. For now, we celebrate with our own shouts of “Hosanna!”

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!" (Matthew 21:9)

About Our Website
Any opinions expressed in this website are those of the writer or writers involved. Unless otherwise noted, such opinions are not to be construed as the position taken by any of the boards, committees, or council of the church.