Summary: Responding to unfairness and disrespect with grace and generosity imitates God’s own treatment of us, and requires three preconditions: realism, humility, and trust.
I had a difficult decision to make this week. I had to choose between continuing my series on the Sermon on the Mount, or take a break to preach on Palm Sunday. But the more I looked at the passage for this week, and meditated on Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that long-ago Sunday afternoon, the more I realized that there was no conflict.
Because Jesus was simply practicing what he preached. Of course, he always did, but this time it was underlined by the clear fulfillment of prophecy and by the shouting and waving of the crowds. I’ve talked before about acted parables; that is, where someone performs an action which illustrates the point God is trying to make. Sometimes words go along with the action, but as often as not the action alone is enough to make people stop and think.
So let’s stop and think for a minute.
What is happening here?
The cheering crowds line the streets leading into Jerusalem. This was common during Passover week; crowds would shout encouragement and welcome to all the pilgrims who came up to the city to celebrate their deliverance from Egypt. But now something different is happening. Jesus is surrounded by followers who throw their cloaks and branches on the road in front of him, and the crowds begin to recognize him as the radical preacher and healer who has been making such a stir around the countryside. The crowds catch the excitement and join in, hailing him as the son of David, the long- awaited king, the savior of Israel. But wait ... This king isn’t wearing fancy robes or a gold crown or riding on a fiery, mettlesome war-horse. He’s dressed simply, in everyday clothes, on a humble donkey.
This is an acted parable. The entrance that Jesus made announced, without words, that a new kind of kingdom was at hand. This would be a kingdom that would not rule with economic or military power.
But somehow they missed that part. And of course you all know how the story ends; the cries of “Hosanna!” ringing out on that spring afternoon become “Crucify him!” before the week is out. And I think - along with most other scholars - that what turned the people vicious was their disappointment, their unmet expectations. The Jews - understandably - wanted to be free from the Romans, free from ruinous taxation and disrespect for their traditions and general
intimidation. They expected the Messiah to provide those things for them. And once they had acclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, in a sense they felt that he owed them, that he had an obligation to deliver on their expectations. And then they felt betrayed, and justified in turning against him.
Now, mind you, it wasn’t wrong to want those things - freedom from tyranny and oppression and injustice. But the people’s response when disappointed was a problem. Having been betrayed, as they thought, they felt justified in betraying in return. That’s what we do, don’t we? An eye for an eye, you hit me, I’ll hit you back - even harder, if I can get away with it.