Palm Sunday (Mark’s Story)

kid riding donkey
Photo credit: <a href="">Liam Moloney</a>

Mark 11:1-11

As they approached the Capital, at the house of unripe figs and Bethany near Olive Mountain, he told two of his students, “Go into town ahead, and just as you arrive, you’ll find a colt tied there. Nobody has ever ridden it before, but untie it and bring it back. If anyone asks you what you’re doing, tell them, ‘the Master needs it and will return it when he’s done with it.’”

So they went off and found the colt in the road, tied to a front gate. As they untied it, some of the people standing around there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” When the students told them what Jesus had said, they let them go with it. The students brought the colt to Jesus and put their coats on it, and Jesus got on.

Some people started throwing their coats down on the road in front of him. Others cut leafy branches from the fields and spread them out along the road. Then, some went in front of him, and others behind, shouting out,

God save the King!

We love the new God-sent savior!

We love the new King of the Old Empire!

God, the Almighty, save the King!

So Jesus entered the Capital, and went into the National Cathedral. By the time he’d looked around at everything, it was late, so he went back to Bethany with the twelve.

Perhaps the most notable thing about Mark’s version of this story is how anti-climactic it is. All the excitement of the parade, the crowds chanting, the road strewn with coats and branches – it all leads up to, well, nothing. Jesus looks around, and then turns around and returns to Bethany.

Whatever the disciples expected to happen, and whatever the crowds expected, just didn’t happen. Their expectations and Jesus’ agenda are worlds apart.

Their agenda is a coup d’état. Jesus’ agenda is to scope the place out for a teach-in.

Their agenda is a revolution that will sweep away one empire and replace it with – a new empire. Jesus’ agenda is a revolution that will replace empires altogether with a humanity in which everyone is included.

Their agenda is to co-opt God to legitimate their vision of utopia. Jesus’ agenda is to realize the divine image that lives in every person.

So, at the end of the day, after all the excitement, nothing happens. The expectations are utterly unmet. This is indeed the beginning of the end, where the unmet false expectations turn the crowd’s adulation to disappointment, and finally to bloodthirsty anger.

It’s fine to have great expectations. But what happens when your expectations go unmet? Do you turn to thoughts (and actions) of vengeance, or does it cause you to consider whether your expectations were what they should have been to begin with?

Palm Sunday (John’s Story)

Photo credit: <a href="">Ahron de Leeuw</a>

John 12:12-16

The next day it got out in the huge crowd that had come to the festival that Jesus was coming to town. So they tore the branches down from palm trees and ran out to meet him, chanting:

God save us!
Here comes the King of Israel!
Hooray for God’s man who’s coming!

Jesus found a donkey to ride. The scripture says, “Don’t be afraid, child of Zion. Look! Your king is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt!”

His students were mystified by all this at first. Later on, when Jesus had gone to heaven, they put together what had been written about him with what had been done to him.

In John’s version, unlike Mark’s version, the crowds are clearly driving the story at this point. The best Jesus can do for initiative is to grab the nearest donkey that happens to be handy as the crowd whisks him along. The disciples are equally useless. All of it, as John says, is being done to him.

If the expectations of the crowd were misplaced in Mark’s version (and subsequently Matthew and Luke’s), the misunderstanding of the crowd is all there is in John’s version. There is no more intention of Jesus at all, and the whole episode is that much more happenstancial evidence that the prophesy about Jesus is being fulfilled as proof of who Jesus is.

Of course, nobody in the moment has any idea of who Jesus really is. And that’s the fourth gospel’s primary narrative means of communicating the story: nobody understands who anybody else really is. Those who appear to be in control never are, and those who appear not to be in control really are at the center of power.

In this scene, the crowds seem to be controlling everything, and yet have no idea what they’re doing. Jesus, who seems to be just passively along for the ride, is the one who is “being glorified.” The students, who represent the best of what can be understood, have no idea what’s going on until it’s all over.

So, what about it? Have you ever realized, only after it was all over, that something momentous was happening, that nothing really was what it seemed to be, until it was already over? Are you passively letting everything happen to you, or do you know exactly where all this is leading?