Friends, we have arrived in the Holy City. Finally!
After a long, interesting road journey with Jesus, we just entered in Jerusalem. But Jesus is not an ordinary visitor, which explains how he is received with shouts of welcome and triumph – “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna! “Salvation is here, salvation has come. Hurrah!”
An enthusiastic, cheerful crowd gathered all the way along Main St. for the Jewish Passover welcomes Jesus as their messiah, or liberator, which explains this sort of red-carpet treatment given to Jesus. But in just five days everything will get turned upside down. In fact, five days later the same crowd will shout for Jesus’ crucifixion – can you believe that? As we said last Sunday, whatever happened here in Jerusalem, was no less than a reversal of fortunes.
I know what you are wondering . . . What has changed so fast, so dramatically in those five days, namely, between Palm Sunday and Good Friday? Did Jesus change? I don’t think so. To me, it was that crowd that changed. It was the crowd’ awareness of who Jesus really was –that’s what changed so dramatically in a matter of days.
On Palm Sunday, that imposing crowd overflowing Main St wanted to believe that Jesus was their long-awaited messiah who would overturn the Roman occupation and restore their freedom. Not only that – he was also expected to get rid of the powerful and tricky religious leaders who had placed rules and regulations and ceremonials well above people – ordinary men and women, and their needs. By Good Friday, the crowd realized Jesus was not all they had expected just a few days earlier.
You may remember that Passover was a very special annual celebration when the People of Israel gathered as one to remember how God Almighty had liberated their ancestors from slavery in Egypt and brough them to the Promise Land. For Passover, male Jews from all the world over traveled to Jerusalem to offer altar sacrifices to such a mighty, liberating God. And Jesus was there with his disciples and friends, to join in the celebration and the national thanksgiving.
But in Jerusalem in those “holy” days Passover gave everybody an opportunity to speculate about a powerful messiah who would arrive just on time to spark a revolution against the Roman occupation and its collaborators. They still didn’t have internet, so they didn’t twitter about, neither they used Facebook or cell phones to spread the rumors and rally everybody around the coup. Yet by Palm Sunday the crowd on Main St thought Jesus was leading such a revolution.
So, the Roman army in Palestine and the local police were on the alert to prevent any incident that might arose so much hostility against the Romans and fuel the national struggle for freedom. Everybody was talking – or whispering – about that. Even some of Jesus’s disciples, mainly Judas and Simon Peter.
Many people in that crowd had seen or heard about Jesus’ teaching and healing, also about his courageous confrontations with scribes and pharisees. This Jesus could certainly get rid of the Roman occupation and build up a powerful kingdom like the one built by the legendary king David. All this speculation explains why Jesus, who was riding just a donkey, like Messiah was expected to, for the donkey was a symbol of peace, was received as a conquering king.
People cut palm branches from the trees lining up the main road into the city and waved them in the air. They also spread them along the road as they chanted out loud 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.” What a sight, my God!
Yet a few days later, the same crowd would take to the streets to shout a very different song – “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Once again, what had happened in those five days?
I’ll tell you a story that may help you answer this question.
An elderly woman was driving home one night under a nasty rain. Suddenly she could no longer see anything except for the taillights of the car in front of her, so she decided to follow those lights. After two or three minutes, those leading lights suddenly came to a stop. She 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 woman was furious – “Why has that idiot in the car ahead stopped in the middle of the road and turned off his lights,” she wondered. Suddenly a knock on her window –now she was beginning to panic. She rolled the window down, just a little, and saw a man standing in the rain.
“Why did you stop in front of me and turned your lights off in the middle of the road?” an angry woman asked. The man gently replied that they were not in the middle of road, but in his 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. What about us? What do expect from the Risen Christ as he enters our hearts and minds, our homes, our communities, our institutions, even our churches? Good question!
Quite often 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 political commitments, or professional careers. Whenever 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 gradually learned that his own personal call was of a different nature, which explains why he died –in the words of Albert Schweitzer – “a complete failure.” But Palm Sunday is not 100 per cent 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.