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Wrong Expectations – A Palm Sunday Theme

Psalm 118:14-29;  Mark 11:1-11

Our Lenten journey continues –in a few more days Jesus and his disciples will arrive in the Holy City to celebrate Passover. But Jesus is not an ordinary visitor, which explains the way he will be received by a huge crowd along Main Street –with shouts of welcome and triumph.

“Hosanna! Hosanna,” a Hebrew blessing meaning “Blessed is he who comes in name of the Lord” – or something like “Hurrah, Hurrah, Hurrah to Jesus!”

An enthusiastic crowd will welcome and embrace Jesus as their messiah, another Hebrew word, this one meaning “liberator,” which explains this sort of red-carpet treatment for him. But in just five days after such a triumphal entry in the walled city, everything will get turned upside down, and the same crowd will shout for Jesus’s crucifixion –can you believe that?


What will change so fast, so dramatically in those five days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday?          Will it be Jesus? I don’t think so. The way I see it, it will be the crowd that will change. Now we know that it was the crowd’s awareness of who Jesus really was – that’s what changed so dramatically in a matter of days.

Let me explain — on Palm Sunday, that imposing crowd overflowing Main St. wanted to believe that Jesus was their long-awaited liberator who would kick the arrogant Romans out of there and restore their freedom. Jesus would also get rid of the powerful and tricky religious leaders who overwhelmed and even scared them with endless religious and moral regulations and rituals. By Good Friday, the crowd will realize that Jesus is not all they had expected just a few days earlier.


As we said last Sunday, the festival of Passover was their most important and significant annual celebration, when every Jew remembered how God Almighty had liberated their ancestors from slavery in Egypt to bring them to the Promise Land. And Jesus will be there with his disciples and friends, to join in the celebration and the national thanksgiving.

Year after year, during those “holy” days in Jerusalem everybody speculated about a powerful messiah who would arrive just on time to spark a revolution against the Roman occupation and its local collaborators. This time won’t be different, so rumors of a revolution, perhaps a bloody one, will go around as fast as a tsunami.

The Roman army in Palestine and the local police will be on the alert to prevent any incident that might arose so much hostility against the Romans and fuel the national struggle for freedom. Everybody will be talking – or whispering – about that. Even some of Jesus’s disciples, no doubt Judas and Simon Peter.


Many people in that crowd had seen or heard about Jesus’s teaching and healing, also about his courageous confrontations with scribes and pharisees. This Jesus could certainly get rid of the invaders and build up a powerful kingdom like the one built by the legendary king David.

All this speculation explains why Jesus, who will soon ride just a donkey, like Messiah was expected to do, for the donkey was a symbol of peace, will be received as a conquering king. People will cut palm branches from the trees lining up the main road into the city, and wave them in the air.

They will also spread them along the road as they chant out with booming, deafening voices – “Hosanna, make us free! Long life to Jesus! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the king if Israel.” “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!”

What a sight, my God!

Yet a few days later, the same crowd will take to the streets to shout a very different song – “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Once again, what is it that will turn all those expectations upside down?


I’ll tell you a story that may help us answer this question. An old gentleman was driving home one night under a nasty rain. Suddenly he could no longer see anything except for the taillights of the car in front of him, so he decided to follow those lights.

After two or three minutes, those leading lights suddenly came to a stop. The gentleman waited patiently for a few seconds, then a few more seconds, but the car ahead would not move.

A few moments later the car ahead turned off its lights. The gentleman was furious – “Why has that idiot in the car ahead stopped in the middle of the road and turned off his lights?”, he wondered.

Suddenly a knock on his window – now he was beginning to panic. He rolled the window down, just a little, and saw an old lady standing in the rain. “Why did you stop in front of me and turn your lights off in the middle of the road?”, an angry gentleman asked. The lady gently replied that they were not in the middle of road, but in her own driveway.

It seems to me that’s what might have happened with that crowd in just those five days.

They were so blinded by their own expectations that they ended up following the wrong leader, or the wrong lead. And sometimes the same may happen to us – won’t you agree?

So, then, what do we expect from the Risen Christ as he enters our hearts and minds, our homes, our communities, our institutions, even our churches? What are our expectations? What do we expect to happen?

Because this same kind of confusion and disappointment may happen to us, we ought to check on our own expectations about this Risen Christ, for he might be asking us to walk a road of service and obedience we might not be willing to take.


Whether is business partnerships, or marriage, or partisan commitments, or professional careers. Whether we must make decisions about where to live, or where to retire to, how to face a critical illness or how raise our kids. From time to time, my friends, we ought to check our own expectations lest we may end up betraying something beautiful in our lives that we had embraced and cheered up just at some point in the past.


I have no doubt that Jesus sided with the poor and the outcast – all his teaching and healing points out in that direction. I have no doubt that Jesus wanted the Romans out and the arrogant, overwhelming, self-righteous religious leaders out as well.

Yet during his Lenten journey he will gradually learn that his own personal call is of a different nature, which explains why he will die – in the words of Albert Schweitzer – “a complete failure.”


But Palm Sunday, my friends, is not 100 percent about the crowd – about us and our misplaced expectations. Palm Sunday is also about God even though I still don’t fully grasp how God eventually managed to turn around so much hatred and evil the way he did.

All I know is that early on Easter day, even before the sun had risen in all its splendor, the meaning of both life and death and forgiveness were changed forever –and so were us.