Palm Sunday

       It was not by coincidence that Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey; no coincidence that the crowds greeted Him with shouts of "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." ( Ps.118.26). It had been foretold in the scriptures that Israel's king would reveal himself in Jerusalem to be a humble man—"Rejoice greatly, O Daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, our king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey" (Zech.9.9).

       About a year earlier, Jesus performed a great miracle. While preaching to a crowd of thousands in a wilderness area in Galilee, recognizing that the crowds were hungry, he fed them all by "multiplying" five barley loaves and two fish (Jn.6.9-14). Like God providing manna for the Israelites in the wilderness, He did this by the power of His word alone. Those who witnessed this dramatic exhibition of divine omnipotence wanted then and there to make Him king (Jn.6.15). But He withdrew from them. He would not allow it, not because He was not their king, but because He wanted to control the timing of events. He wanted to do things His way; that is, according to God's plan, not man's. The people wanted Jesus, a hero with divine power, to cast down lightning on the Romans and set the Israelites free. "We want it now!" They didn't want to live one more day under Gentile oppression. Their hope was that Jesus was the man who could lead this labor of liberation for them. Their plan was take Him to Jerusalem and have the leaders of the nation accept him a king asap! That was their hope. That was their plan. Jesus had other ideas.

        God had a plan. Christ knew it, and He was bound to fulfill it, whether the crowds understood it, which they did not. This put an awkward distance between Him and them. One puzzling aspect to the life of Christ is that no one, but no one, understood Him because they didn't understand God's plan for their salvation. He said to a crowd on one occasion, "For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father" (Jn.10.17-18).  He was, we know in retrospect, speaking about His death and resurrection. He meant that He would accomplish this in obedience to God, when the time and place was right. Unsurprisingly, the people who heard Him say these things didn't know what to make of them." Many were saying, "He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?" (Jn.10.20). One is not unsympathetic with those skeptics. Many of us today, though we are believers now, might have been among the skeptics then. We might have doubted Jesus's sanity and honesty for one simple very human reason: His words and behavior radically contradicted the expectations the people of that generation had for the messiah-savior-king. People tend to be averse to others whose behavior challenges convention. They didn't want a leader who spoke in Asian riddles, indecipherable parables, and enigmatic figures of speech that alluded to his death. They wanted a man of action, a man like King David, a man's man who would take the Roman bull by the horns and kill it. Jesus was hard to figure out. That is why more that a few thought He was mad or out of His mind (Mk.3.21).

        On the other hand, his disciples gave Him the benefit of the doubt. He seemed in every way to be a man entirely in control. Psychotics cannot put one logical sentence together with another. Their thought descends into gibberish. Their attempts to communicate become frustrated by their mental illness and we pity them. No one pitied Jesus. His words were strange to the ears of those who heard Him teach, but His speech was not gibberish. He was strange but not psychotic. Still, that dichotomy only intensified their curiosity; what was He up to? On Palm Sunday He gave them a partial answer. He was about to reveal Himself as the long-awaited king of Israel—the one who was fulfilling God's plan, right down to the donkey on which He humbly sat. The irony was that no one but Christ alone understood the plan.