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.
Preacher David Hoke tells a great story about a weary truck driver who pulled his rig into an all-night truck stop late one summer evening in Broken Bow, Ne. He was tired and hungry. The waitress had just served him when three tough looking, leather-jacketed Bikers of the Hell's Angels type decided to give him a hard time. Not only did they verbally abuse him, one grabbed the hamburger off his plate, another took a handful of his french fries, and the third picked up his coffee
and began to drink it. The trucker didn’t respond as you might expect. Without saying a word, he rose, picked up his check, walked to the cash register at the front of the room and gave the check and his money to the waitress, who watched him through the door as the big truck drove away into the night. When she went back to the bikers’ table, one of them said to her, "Well, he's not much of a man, is he?" She replied, "I don't know about that, but he sure isn't much of a truck
driver. He just ran over three motorcycles on his way out."
Most of us are probably thinking, "Good for him!” That’s the natural human response - to retaliate when we’ve been wronged. As the old saying goes, "Don't get mad, get even!" The problem is, that most of us don’t want to stop there. We really prefer, "Don't just get even, get on top!”
With the current showdown going on over our 24 officers and crew being unlawfully held by the Chinese government, many of us want to get tough, flex our muscles, show the Chinese government who’s boss. Well, at the moment, of course, they’ve got the upper hand, because the lives of our servicemen are of paramount importance to us, and they know it. So we have to bite our tongues