The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him. The crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to bear witness. The reason why the crowd went to meet him was that they heard he had done this sign. So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.” John 12:12-19
This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. It’s one of the strangest celebrations in Christian Worship. On one hand, it commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. On the other, this entry was really a funeral march. The Gospels record Jesus telling the crowds that he would be lifted up; he would die.
This was very strange for people who were begging him to begin a revolution to overthrow their oppressors. The people who welcomed Jesus with palms were greeting him with a symbol of nationalism. This was a protest march. It was a sign to their Roman colonizers that they were ready to die in order to gain their freedom.
That’s not what Jesus was after. Instead, he told the crowds he would die so they could find freedom. Jesus was not about to give them what they wanted, but what they needed. What’s so interested is that Jesus confuses his own disciples, those closest to him. They wanted a revolutionary leader who would bring about a new kingdom.
But that’s not Jesus. The Gospel writers show him up to something else. Instead of fulfilling a death-wish fantasy to kick out the Romans from Israel, he submits to Rome. He inaugurates his kingdom, not with the blood of his enemies, but his own blood.
When Jesus “does something” in the Gospels, it seems to be so foreign to our experience. People offer him hate; he responds in love. People plot against him; he does not seek revenge. People beat him; he turns the other cheek. People mock him; he keeps his cool.
Jesus operates differently than we do. The story of Palm Sunday should shock us. The people want something from Jesus, but he does not give them what they want. They have an agenda.
We sometimes do that with Jesus. We want him to take care of those people and ignore what is wrong with us. We want him to give us the life we think we deserve. We want him to do things for us. We can be selfish, just like the crowds.
Here’s the good news of Palm Sunday – Jesus did not hold people’s misunderstanding of him against them. He went ahead with the most painful week in history. He did it willingly. And as he hung on the cross, he looked at the crowds who mocked him and the man who said “love your enemies, pray for those you persecute you,” spoke these words, “Father, forgive them because they do not understand what they are doing.” That’s the point of Palm Sunday. Jesus’ grace to people despite our misunderstanding of him.
Bobby Griffith, Jr.