Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Who is This?

Matthew 21: 1-11; page 697

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethpage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you,

gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from trees and spread them on the road. The crowds went ahead of him and those that followed shouted:
”Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!”

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”


“Who is this?” A strange question, or at least it can seem strange to us as we have all heard the answer many, many times.

Reading this passage, knowing what’s going to happen, we wonder why anyone would ask, but especially the ones who had the privlidge, or the burden, of being alive while it all unfolded. And if the miracles, the virgin birth, and Jesus’ words weren’t enough for everyone there to figure out his identity, in our passage Jesus makes sure to do certain things to show everyone who he is. In our passage for this morning he gives everyone a big hint by fulfilling a prophecy. By riding on top of not only a donkey, but a donkey and the foal of a donkey, the author takes pains to show that Jesus fulfills what was spoken through the prophet: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

Maybe he should have stuck one of those Jesus fish on the back of his ride. Then everyone would have gotten the idea.

I see those fish a lot these days. They are pretty popular – so popular that they are now parodied. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but on some cars the Jesus fish has evolved, sprouting legs with the word, “Darwin” on the side of it.

To counter evolution I have seen bigger Jesus fish with the word “TRUTH” written on the side and the Darwin fish in its mouth being eaten.

And given this advancement, I should have seen it coming, but I was still surprised to see our friend the “TRUTH” fish being eaten by a now, even bigger fish, with the words “Reality Bites”
on the side.

I didn’t know whether to gawk at how sacrilegious people can be, or to applaud a person willing to say exactly what they are thinking. And as the events following Palm Sunday unfolded, I think this fish would say what a lot of people were thinking – that reality challenged, and for some, completely consumed, their faith in Jesus.

It may be hard to believe that anyone would ask the question, “Who is this?” just as its hard to believe that anyone today wouldn’t know who he is, but as fear would replace these revelers with an angry mob, that not long after this joyous entrance, his disciples would disown or deny him, he would be tried and condemned while the crowd called for his death, it would seem as though no one completely knew the answer to the question, “Who is this?”.

But such is faith.

We have faith in prayer, so we pray for healing, and sometimes it comes, but can faith remain the same if it is based on a string of unanswered prayers that were supposed to be answered? What does praying and praying for a grandparent, parent, spouse, or child, do to our faith if our prayer is not answered? Can we ever believe the same way once we have prayed for a healing that never came?

We have faith in God, trusting that God has ordained our leaders, trusting that God works through them, that God has put them in our churches for a reason, but what happens to our faith if that leader falls from the pedestal? Can our faith stand the trials of believing in some pastor, believing that he or she could truly speak the word of God, would listen, give the right advice – but in the face of temptation or when his or her power was threatened, that pastor turned to be no better than you or me and maybe even worse – falling from grace, falling and possibly taking faith in God and faith in the church down also.

We have faith in the Bible, teaching us to honor our mother and father, an easy command when your parents are honorable, but to see and know parents who act un-honorably, poses the question: is the Bible wrong – is God too naive for our reality?

We have faith in beliefs we expect to stand the test of time. We are taught certain things about wrong and right, taught standards of ethics and sexuality, but when a loved one tells you about their love, their love that contrasts what you have always been taught, can we go on with the same standards of right and wrong? Can homosexuality be wrong when it is given a human face, when this issue takes the face of someone you love?

Just as we have faith, so the disciples had faith in Jesus, but the reality of where that palm and cloak strewn road led, threw them all into doubt, took them to a place they were not willing or expecting to go, inspired not the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest” but the wailing of grief.

They assumed he was riding that donkey to his coronation as the Son of David, that he was on his way to a throne room in the palace, that he was steadily on the path towards making the path straight, putting the unjust in their place, lifting up the weak, honoring all, not thinking how this donkey was also the symbol of sacrifice.

So they mourned the death of their leader, they mourned the death of all that they believed in, they mourned the death of all their hopes, too afraid to approach his grave they mourned while Mary Magdalene, the other Mary, and Joseph of Arimathea prepared his body and laid him in the tomb.

Like them we mourn, as his path is not the one we expected, his destination is not where we wanted to go, and we are ashamed for not having gone with him. So we mourn the loss, we stand at the tomb asking why, not realizing that the one who we are looking for is not here.

Who is this?

See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Thanks be to God.