What an Entry!

Posted 3/25/2018

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

When I was in Zambia, I found myself wondering as we drove down the road why all these pedestrians we were passing kept doing (wave hand in “slow down” fashion). While we were going a bit faster than I like on the all dirt roads, I knew the driver wasn’t going fast by African standards. And, again by African standards, the road was really rather good. Besides that, we were the only car in sight. So why in the world would everyone keep telling us to slow down?! It was only when I asked another ex-patriot that I discovered my error. In Zambia (wave hand again) means the same as (do “hitch hike” motion). 

For anyone who travels from nation to nation — or even region to region of our nation — you quickly discover the potentials for misunderstandings are great. As another example of what I mean, I am glad I had someone draw me aside quickly after I arrived in Kentucky for an internship. They asked me if I’d heard anyone say “I wouldn’t care to” yet. When I said “No.” They appeared relieved and proceeded to explain that in Kentucky this phrase DIDN’T mean that the person didn’t want to do whatever it was you’d asked them to do. It meant they had no objections to doing it. This same person went on to explain several other phrases that probably would have contributed to major misunderstandings if I hadn’t been “clued in.”

Today’s gospel lesson is another case where there is not only potential for, but an actual misunderstanding occurring. I think the musical “The Cottonpatch Gospel” perhaps captures this misunderstanding in the most dramatic way I’ve even discovered. This musical is a “modern rewrite” of the gospel, with the setting for Jesus’ ministry being in the Southern US during the early 1960’s, in which Jerusalem becomes Atlanta. In the song “Goin’ to Atlanta," the musical’s recounting of Palm Sunday, you hear the disciples singing with excitement about taking their "show...to the big time” and "going to the top.” You then hear Jesus slowly and almost mournfully singing of how going to Atlanta is the start of his passion.

The disciples of Jesus — the crowds — they all were jubilant at Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem. The prophet who had made such an impression was now in THE city. Surely something spectacular would happen. Surely the one who had feed multitudes and healed the sick would do something truly miraculous in Jerusalem. Who knows, perhaps if he is, as some in the crowd probably quietly hoped, the messiah he might even throw the hated Roman army out of the country! Surely great things are coming! Surely Jesus’ arrival is a reason for celebrating! 

And celebrate they did. They welcomed Jesus much as they might welcome a king coming into the city. They covered the road with branches and cloths. They shouted a joyous greeting. They praised God for what they hoped was about to happen.

However, like has happened throughout the gospels, the disciples (and the crowds) mis-read the situation. Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a mighty war-horse as the head of a conquering army; but on a lowly donkey, the sign of a peaceful arrival. Jesus hadn’t come to Jerusalem expecting to receive a joyous welcome from the religious rulers; but to receive their hostility and rejection and eventually their death sentence. Jesus wasn’t coming into Jerusalem to overthrow Roman rule; but to die under the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Jesus came, as he had told the disciples again and again, to “be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him” (Mk 10:33-34).

Yes, Jesus made an entry into Jerusalem on that day so long ago. And, in the eyes of many, and often in our eyes too, it was quite an entry - a time for celebration — a time for a joyous party. In the eyes of Jesus, however, it wasn’t a party; but a humble entry into the passion that leads to our salvation. For Jesus this was his entry into the events of the following week, when the joyous crowds would turn to an angry mob demanding his death and the rejoicing disciples would all betray and desert him and he would die upon a cross. 

What an entry — with crowds yelling praises. Yet the truth is this was an entry to save. And the only proper response to that is to say, “What an entry