Sunday, April 05, 2009

Palm Sunday

The crowd
Let’s get a few things straight. Every year, thousands of pilgrims came to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. Every year, they sang psalms as they came into the city. Every year, they sang Psalm 118: the pilgrims calling on the citizens to open the gates for them to come in; the citizens extending blessing to the one who comes in the name of the Lord, to whoever comes with peaceable intent to celebrate the festival with them; all taking palm boughs in their hands and waving them in worship. Let’s get this straight: the crowd weren’t doing this for Jesus. This was what they did, as they arrived. Jesus would have been here before, in previous years. Nonetheless, this year would be different…

Just as he would do later that week, with the Passover meal, Jesus takes something familiar and pours new meaning into it. Coming into the city, he rides on a donkey. Yes, the crowd come in the name of the Lord; but he comes making a specific claim. A claim on the words of the prophet Zechariah, that one day the Lord would send his chosen king to Jerusalem, to rescue his people from their enemies, riding on a donkey.
Zechariah’s prophecies are key to Jesus’ self-understanding, and to who the Gospel writers in turn understood him to be. The king riding a donkey…Joshua, the high priest…The rejecting/rejected shepherd, worth thirty pieces of silver…The one pierced by the people…The prophet with wounded hands…The shepherd struck, so that the sheep scatter…And therefore, by implication, the Lord who will come to reign…

The crowd
Let’s get something straight. This is not a crowd who have decided that Jesus is their king; a crowd who will have their opinion turned in just a few days time. This is a crowd who are trying to make sense of what Jesus is doing. This is a crowd, among whom are some who do see him as coming king…some who see him as an upstart…some who don’t see him at all. This is a crowd, of pilgrims mixing with citizens, who will discuss this Jesus over the coming days, and come to a wide range of conclusions…

And Jesus doesn’t make it easy for the crowd. Is he a king, or a high priest, or a shepherd, or one who will be publicly executed, or a prophet? Jesus claimed - and the Gospel writers restate the claim - that the various ways in which the relationship between God and his people is described in Zechariah’s visions all point to Jesus; all converge in this one man…Like Picasso, every angle is covered, to build the fullest representation of a complex subject.

What do you see?

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