Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week. On Palm Sunday we remember Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem. Jesus travels on a borrowed donkey, The crowds hail him as “Son of David” – meaning the king. The writer of the Gospel of Matthew tells us “the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ ”
Who is this indeed?
There were a variety of expectations in those days about what the Messiah would do and who the Messiah would be. Would he free Israel from Roman occupation? Would he be a great general? A king? A prophet?
Jesus however, was not the Messiah they were looking for. Military heros ride horses not donkeys. They enter with armed soldiers. And of course Messiah’s don’t get themselves killed. Especially killed without a fight.
We shouldn’t be too hard on the crowds who didn’t understand what sort of Messiah Jesus was. We don’t understand either. We struggle with giving up our war horses. We struggle with giving up the thrill of military power. Jets flying overhead, tanks on parade, rows of highly trained soldiers. We struggle with non violence. We are afraid not to react to any provocation. We are afraid of being seen as weak.
This past week, we launched missiles into Syria. We have maneuvered war ships nearer to North Korea. We warn others not to “cross lines”.
Why did we do this?
Fear, I think.
Fear “they” will think the President is weak. Fear “they” will think the US is weak. We have been warned, this past year, that “they” are taking advantage of us, “they” are laughing at us, and “they” want to control us.
And so we fire missiles and maneuver war ships and sober faced officials give statements.
To what end? Is the world safer this week? Has anything actually changed? Syrian leader Assad is still brutally killing his own people. Most of the rest of the Middle East is embattled. North Korea continues to dare the world to react to their missile tests.
We, like first century Israel, are confused about who the Messiah is and what the Messiah requires of us.
The Messiah we want, the one who wins wars and punishes enemies, is not the Messiah we have. The Messiah we have, rides a donkey, not a war horse. The Messiah we have does not strike back. The Messiah we have prays for enemies. The Messiah we have treats everyone with respect because they are a child of God, not because the earned it. The Messiah’s way is not the way we have always done things.
To follow this Messiah is hard. Perhaps even impossible. Oh, I can follow for a day, especially if I don’t leave the house. But to follow when I encounter difficult people? Nearly impossible.
So if following the Messiah we have is so difficult for us as individuals, how much more difficult it is for nations.
What if we lose? What if the “bad guys” win? I don’t know. I don’t know what happens if we “lose”. But when so many suffer because of the status quo, can anyone really “win”? Are we willing to give up some security, possessions, privilege so others can have more?
I have no idea what this looks like for me, for a city, for a nation. And it is more than a little scary to think about. I mean, exactly how much would I need to give up? How dangerous will this be?
But what we have now, the way we do things now, is scary too. Most of us have managed to isolate ourselves. Many of us can, for the most part, avoid seeing the suffering of others. We can take a break from the suffering of others. But suffering persists whether we look or not.
Following the Messiah we want has not and is not working. Perhaps it is past time to trust and follow the Messiah we are given. Riding a donkey, not a war horse. Loving our enemies, Blessing those who curse us. Sharing what we have with those who have less.
We have the Messiah, we have been given, Jesus. The question is can give up our false messiah and will we follow him?