Matthew 21:1-17 (The Message)
When they neared Jerusalem, having arrived at Bethphage on Mount Olives, Jesus sent two disciples with these instructions: “Go over to the village across from you. You’ll find a donkey tethered there, her colt with her. Untie her and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you’re doing, say, ‘The Master needs them!’ He will send them with you.”
This is the full story of what was sketched earlier by the prophet:
Tell Zion’s daughter,
“Look, your king’s on his way,
poised and ready, mounted
On a donkey, on a colt,
foal of a pack animal.”
The disciples went and did exactly what Jesus told them to do. They led the donkey and colt out, laid some of their clothes on them, and Jesus mounted. Nearly all the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from the trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”
As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”
The parade crowd answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, the one from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus went straight to the Temple and threw out everyone who had set up shop, buying and selling. He kicked over the tables of loan sharks and the stalls of dove merchants. He quoted this text:
My house was designated a house of prayer;
You have made it a hangout for thieves.
Now there was room for the blind and crippled to get in. They came to Jesus and he healed them.
When the religious leaders saw the outrageous things he was doing, and heard all the children running and shouting through the Temple, “Hosanna to David’s Son!” they were up in arms and took him to task. “Do you hear what these children are saying?”
Jesus said, “Yes, I hear them. And haven’t you read in God’s Word, ‘From the mouths of children and babies I’ll furnish a place of praise’?”
Fed up, Jesus spun around and left the city for Bethany, where he spent the night.
From the Song of Faith:
We find God made known in Jesus of Nazareth,
and so we sing of God the Christ, the Holy One embodied.
We sing of Jesus,
born to a woman in poverty
in a time of social upheaval
and political oppression.
He knew human joy and sorrow.
So filled with the Holy Spirit was he
that in him people experienced the presence of God among them.
We sing praise to God incarnate.
Jesus announced the coming of God’s reign—
a commonwealth not of domination
but of peace, justice, and reconciliation.
He healed the sick and fed the hungry.
He forgave sins and freed those held captive
by all manner of demonic powers.
He crossed barriers of race, class, culture, and gender.
He preached and practised unconditional love—
love of God, love of neighbour,
love of friend, love of enemy—
and he commanded his followers to love one another
as he had loved them.
Because his witness to love was threatening,
those exercising power sought to silence Jesus.
He suffered abandonment and betrayal,
state-sanctioned torture and execution.
He was crucified.
But death was not the last word.
God raised Jesus from death,
turning sorrow into joy,
despair into hope.
We sing of Jesus raised from the dead.
We sing hallelujah.
By becoming flesh in Jesus,
God makes all things new.
InJesus’ life, teaching, and self-offering,
God empowers us to live in love.
In Jesus’ crucifixion,
God bears the sin, grief, and suffering of the world.
In Jesus’ resurrection,
God overcomes death.
Nothing separates us from the love of God.
Learning Time: “King Me?”
Over 30 years ago I lived in Southern Georgia, in a Christian community called Koinonia Farm. I had amazing experiences there, including meeting Jimmy and Rosalind Carter, and their Secret Service detail, the men and women with the ear buds, and the coiled wire running down under their collars. I can’t imagine what it would be like to need 24/7 protection.
The former U.S. President lives about 10 miles away from Koinonia, in Plains, Georgia. I have mentioned before what a kind, humble, and thoughtful man I found him to be. I have thought about Mr. Carter a lot over the past four years.
The president is the closest thing the Americans have to royalty. They fought a revolution to be free of the tyranny of a king, but still have a love affair with the idea of a powerful elite. Their president, more than just a person doing a big job, is a symbol of the power of the nation.
To a lesser extent, I think, we in Canada do this to our politicians. When things are going well, we praise them. When things are not as we would like them to be, or if they fail to satisfy our wishes on our pet issues, we vilify them. Either way, we kind of forget our elected leaders are actually just humans.
While living at Koinonia I played a lot of checkers with the father and two adult sons of the Renderos family. They were undocumented migrant workers from El Salvador, who lived at Koinonia while we worked with the Canadian government on their applications for refugee status. Mr. Renderos had been mayor of his town in El Salvador, and fled for his life, and the lives of his wife and two sons, when guerillas took over his town, and forcibly drafted all the teenage boys to be part of their army. They left behind their home, their business, family and friends, and survived picking vegetables in the American south, moving from place to place with the harvest.
I was their volunteer English tutor. We’d drive into town and walk around in the Piggly Wiggly and look at the groceries, and I taught them English words for the fruit and vegetables they used to pick.
Mr. Renderos, who had even less English than I did Spanish, loved to play checkers, which he called “damas”. Whether you play in English or Spanish, the rules are the same. You have to advance your pieces towards your opponent. If you have an opportunity to jump, or take an opponent’s piece, and you don’t do it, you lose yours. Before long, there are fewer and fewer pieces on the board.
If you get a piece all the way to the other side of the board, you say “king me”, and your opponent crowns it with one of your lost checkers. Now you have a king, that can move in all directions, which you use to chase your opponent’s pieces. The little pieces get eaten, to make kings.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of the Passover Festival, he came in riding on a humble donkey. There were some in his country, in that time, who hoped God would send a Holy King, a Messiah, to lead an uprising against the Roman-sponsored King of Israel, take over the throne, force out the Romans, and begin a new kind of rule.
Jesus had developed a following, and was loved by the poorest of the poor, the dispossessed, those with nothing left to lose. The Romans, and their puppet government in Judea had reason to pay attention to him.
A love/hate relationship with kings was part of the history of Jesus’ people. Kings were typically warrior chiefs, who commanded armies, and took control of territory and people by force. They took what they wanted, when they wanted it. The story of King David claiming the wife of one of his generals, and then sending him off to war, to be killed, is a cautionary tale of the danger of kings.
Most people, especially the poor, those who did not own their own land, and who depended upon others for work, and places to live, had no say about who their king would be. No more say than the people of India, or Africa, or North or South America had, when white men with armies landed on their shore, and claimed their countries in the name of kings, or queens they’d never heard of before.
For the peasants of Israel, and for the local populations of all the lands claimed by kings with big armies, the most they could hope for is the new king would have some human decency.
One powerful theme in the Hebrew Scriptures from well before the time of Jesus, was that if Israel could only have a righteous king, then the land would flourish, the people prosper, and the country would be the envy of its neighbours, and strong enough to fend off attack from other nations.
People would pray “God bless the King,” partly because even if the current king was greedy, and self-serving, and abused their power, it was still thought to be better to have a bad king, than have no one in charge, and allow chaos to reign.
One function of religion in European feudal societies was to bless the monarch. The head of the church would crown them, to make their rule official, and to remind them to behave more like a holy servant than an armed bully.
Over time, this idea of blessing, and praying for the ruler, and hoping they behave, turned into an official church doctrine called the “Divine Right of Kings”. Like the changing of the seasons, the life cycle of plants, and the endless progress of day into night and back again, God placed Kings and Queens in charge- as part of the order of the universe.
This very civilized, Christianized idea is like a new coat of wallpaper in a beat up old shack. It’s an effort to clean up a mess, patch some holes, make things look better. It sets aside, or covers over the atrocities that happened when the army of one warrior chief attacked another army, to become the ruler in the first place.
When armed representatives of European kings landed on the shores of what they saw as undiscovered countries all over the world, they did not just claim the land. They claimed the people, as subjects, the property of their kings. They were not above using violence to back up their claims.
How many millions of people were captured, put in chains, thrown into the cargo holds of ships, and transported from Africa, to white owned plantations, farms, factories, mines, households in the Americas, in the Caribbean? How many castles, palaces, cathedrals, morning suits, fancy gowns, and crown jewels were bought and paid for with the sweat and blood of enslaved people?
One by one, nations are leaving the Commonwealth, and repudiating the very idea of the monarchy. In some Caribbean countries, there is talk about seeking reparations for the horrible treatment of their ancestors, by trading companies run by Sir Somebody, and Lord Whosits, in the name of their kings and queens, who gave them royal charters.
Built into the notion that one family is better, because of its bloodline, is the idea that other families, other whole populations are not as good, and are worthy only of being the property, or servants of the people descended from conquerors.
Kings. War Lords. Powerful figures on big horses, or mighty chariots. Pomp and circumstance. They roll into town with a big entourage- a show of force that is impressive but also meant to intimidate. My army is bigger, stronger, more fierce than yours. Show the peasants, this is the strong man who will keep you safe from the other strong man.
Don’t worry, our ruler won’t be like the others. Ours will be holy, be good, and take care of us.
We can trust our ruler. They’re on our side, and God is on their side, so we should pay our taxes, and support them, and their kids, and grand-kids, for every generation. They are special people. Chosen by God to rule.
Even today, in countries where folks try to distance themselves from actual royal families, we like dynasties. We follow the antics of celebrities as if they have been anointed to rule, and entertain us. Sports heros. Movie stars. Internet influencers. Successful business people. Families of politicians. We buy into the idea that certain people are destined to be famous, rich, powerful. So many people are famous, well, for being famous.
They are different. Somehow above and beyond the rabble. They are people to look up to, and their lives are the stuff of dreams and fantasy.
Fantasy is the operative word. Because in reality, no person is actually better than others. We are all humans. We all have nobility, and pride, and goodness in us. We all have greed, and ego, and depravity in us. We are all saints and sinners, and none is actually better than anyone else. God loves us all, equally, and does not recognize the assumed privilege we try to claim over others.
Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to say “King me”. He did not come to reform, or to prop up the corrupt, broken system that caused so much pain and distress for the poor, the sick, the landless, the widows, orphans, the enslaved of his time.
Jesus was, I think, performing a bit of street theatre. He entered the capital city on the back of a donkey, on the same day that Pilate, the Roman Governor was coming into Jerusalem, with his entourage of troops and chariots and weapons of war.
Pilate came into town as a representative of the might and power, and threat of the Roman Empire. Mess with him, and you are in trouble.
Jesus came into town as the humble, vulnerable servant of God. Join with him, and place your faith, not in a figurehead, or a system, or an army- but in God, the source of love, and real meaning, and real hope. Amen