Reference Texts: The Triumphal Entry (Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11;1-11; Luke 19: 28-44; and John 12:12-19).
It’s Palm Sunday. The day we commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Here we see the people cutting down palm fronds and waving them as Jesus enters the city on a donkey; others laying their cloaks on the street. It’s a paradoxical beginning of Holy (Passion) Week since by Good Friday (or Thursday by some accounts) we see Jesus on the cross.
Time for Jesus is starting to wind down. As noted in the last post, Jesus knew what he was going to face: his trial; his crucifixion; and, his resurrection. Those of us on this side of history knew what happened in the Gospel Passion narratives. Every year at this time, we have our Palm Sunday services where we recount the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, we start having Passion dramas portrayed (my church had its Palm Sunday musical re-creation, “The Crucifixion” this evening), palm crosses dot rows of cemeteries, and preparations are being made for the week ahead up to Easter. Like watching a favorite movie for the umpteenth time, we know how it will all play out.
But for Jesus it was a whole different story. He would see it as the “homestretch” of his life; likened to the races at the Roman hippodromes that dotted Judea in his time where runners (or charioteers) would have that last stretch of track to conquer before reaching the finish line. Jesus was eying his “homestrech” leading up to the cross.
Jesus knew that his teachings already got him in deep shit with the religious and political elites of his day; and with Rome’s boot on Israel’s neck, some would see him as an enemy of the State to be crucified. Even now, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, he knew that some of those praising him would one day call for his head. Whether we see him as the Divinely-infused rabbi or a political leader using the Scriptures of old to start a movement, Jesus knew he was taking a big risk entering that city.
A more recent example was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon delivered in Memphis, Tennessee on April 3, 1968-the night before he was assassinated. Many of us remember his words (I edited out the audience noise references so you can read):
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out, or what would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers.
Well, I don’t know what will happen now; we’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter to with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life–longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I’m happy tonight; I’m not worried about anything; I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Like Jesus, Dr. King knew trouble awaited in Memphis. And like Jesus, Dr. King voiced this fact to his people. However both men stared down their respective homestretches and made that move.
How many of us would stare down our “homestretch” to whatever end we have to face? How many of us would enter a place or situation for a Higher (Divine) purpose, for a greater good, knowing full well we may not come out alive? And it may not be physical death, like with Jesus and King: we may “die” by losing a part of ourselves that we may hold dear like a relationship, a position, our reputation, etc. We may be tried, threatened, falsely accused, and/or abandoned in the process as well. If you ask me, I think very few of us would. Given a choice, I’d avoid the whole thing altogether and be gone.
However, Jesus didn’t (neither did Dr. King). And because they didn’t and went down their homestretch, the world took one step closer to being a better place.
Grace and Peace.
Image: Palm Sunday fresco by Giotto di Bondone, 1266–1337. (Thanx to Bible Gateway)