19 January 2021
Who is he?
?Hey sanna, ho sanna, sanna, sanna, hey, Hey, hey JC, JC won?t you smile at me. Jesus Christ, if you?re divine, turn my water into wine. Prove to me that you?re no fool. Walk across my swimming pool. Hey sanna, ho sanna, sanna, sanna, hey sanna, ho sanna.?
Weber and Rice?s rock opera, ?Jesus Christ Superstar? captures the glimmer of that first Palm Sunday parade; that nationalistic religious fervored carnival of Hey sanna, ho sanna, sanna, sanna, hey sanna, ho sanna; Jesus Christ if you?re divine, turn my water into wine.
It was like a carnival. It was like the first America's cup parade in downtown Auckland when we won Hundreds of thousands of Jews were jammed into the holiest of holy cities. into those narrow little streets. Shoulder to shoulder. Body to body. You couldn?t walk.
You couldn?t squeeze through this mob of people crammed into those little narrow streets of Jerusalem.
It was Passover time and the city was jammed.
Who is this Man who comes riding into the turmoil of Jerusalem? Who is this man of whom our more sedate closing hymn looks at the ending as says with hindsight " the winged squadrons of the sky - the angels - see the approaching sacrifice? The bitter sweetness of Palm Sunday.
What is Matthew trying to tell his readers - it seems so neatly scripted if we read it with no background understanding.
As though God had it all planned out, and Jesus had no choice but to follow the script: "Send some disciples to Bethphage. Tell them to untie a donkey and a colt. Recite the ancient prophecy. Ride into Jerusalem..."
But is this really what Matthew is telling us?
That Jesus is merely on automatic pilot following a dreadful sadistic God- Plan for a bloody tortured sacrifice? Is Matthew really interpreting Jesus' death in the way so many of us have been taught as "required by God in repayment for sin." As though it is a fact rather than a metaphor. Theologian Elizabeth Johnson among many others says, "Such a view is virtually inseparable from an underlying image of God as an angry, bloodthirsty, violent, sadistic father..."
And how does this sort of interpretation of the good news equate with Jesus own teaching about the father who weeps and waits, the God who seeks us out and loves us with an everlasting costly love?
Or Is Matthew looking back and saying something much more challenging about this man Jesus.
Is this the man whom God has sent? The Messiah. And if he is the Messiah, what sort of Messiah is he? What we expect or someone who will shake to the foundations our self made images of God?.
Coming into Jerusalem, Jesus heals two blind men, and they can now see. The crowd want to see more miracles. Just like on television. They want to see the healer in action, this mighty miracle worker. And if they see, let me tell you, if they see a man actually raised from the dead, they would believe. If they actually see a blind man be given sight, they would then be true believers.
There's another group of people. They weren?t looking for magic tricks. They were looking for a political revolution. It was like a mass political rally, with all its intense fanaticism. Imagine your great political leader and savior has been exiled, and you read in all the newspapers and see it on all the television news that your leader is flying back home after many years of exile. What a mob at the airport. What a mob in the streets because the great political leader was returning to save his nation. That is the atmosphere of that Palm Sunday Passover Procession - tonight when we celebrate the Passover meal you will see the nationalistic fervour it could generate. There was political revolution always brewing , and to understand Palm Sunday, we need to understand the nationalistic fervor behind it.
Since Pompey had conquered Israel 63 BC there had been consistent resistence to the Roman occupation, About 16 years before Jesus' death , Zaduk the Pharisee led a revolution in and around Jerusalem and two thousand of his followers were killed. The Romans hung them up on crosses. Can you imagine the Southern Motorway from Auckland to Papakura, with two thousand men hanging dead on crosses, not for one Kilometre but for about 40 Km .. Two thousand dead men hanging on crosses for the entire world to see? What a message for the Jewish population about what the Romans do with political revolutionaries?
And on this Passover week, when Jesus came riding into town, there had already been thirty-two political riots ? in the previous five years. As a young man, Jesus with his fellow countrymen had experienced thirty-two riots, six major riots per year for five years. And according to the Bible story for today, they were on the edge of another riot. Jerusalem was volatile.
It was political pandemonium. It was chaos. Thousands of people were jammed into that town, and it was ready to ignite.
?Hey sanna, ho sanna, sanna sanna hey sanna, ho sanna, Jesus Christ, if you?re divine, throw out those Roman swine.?
Who was this Messiah? a miracle worker or a giver of Political freedom. Both groups chanted, ?Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna to the Son of David. The king of Israel has come.?
But Matthew says Jesus is neither. The expected One comes God's way, that's why he's difficult to recognise, because our expectations have over shadowed the surprising love of God..
As the prophet Zechariah had said - Jesus rode on an animal of peace, not of war. The crowd wanted him to grasp a sword in his hand to show what he and his followers would do to the Romans, but he had an olive branch of peace in his fingers. The crowds wanted him to give enflamed and impassioned oratory to inspire them into revolution; they wanted the shouts of soldiers but they heard only the songs of children. And Jesus? Jesus didn?t say a word. Not a word as he rode into that city.
And Matthew looks back after the puzzling events which follow and says is he the one? Yes. And this is the One we have been waiting for but he comes in peace to take another path, a dangerous path.
Yes, he comes to do what he has to do, Not to appease a bloodthirsty God but to show the way to lasting life, God's own way of peace and he faces death.
Jesus rode through the crowds into the heart of our violence and our humanity. He knew what the consequences would probably be - - everyone watching knew that. That's why the children sang. Notice even today - it?s the children who throw stones in riots, because they don't get arrested. Matthew takes great pains to tell us that the children were those who were left singing in the presence of danger.
The adults, those who weren't already plotting to kill this dangerous , gentle one, were silent, scared and their hosannas were to be overturned by the manipulated mob shouting crucify only too soon. This man faces Jerusalem freely and courageously because the world needed to know the way to life, despite the chants for the way of death. God's way, we find is God's Passion.
For Jesus' death was an act of violence brought about by threatened human (beings), as sin...His death occurred historically because of Jesus' fidelity to the deepest truth he knew, expressed in his message and behaviour, which showed all twisted relationships to be incompatible with God's shalom.
Its not surprising the early church saw his actions within the sacrificial understanding of the Passover meal and called him the Passover lamb for the new freedom.
Matthew puts the old scriptures together to show a new thing is happening, even to the old expectations of the Messiah.
Who is this man? Some of the old answers may no longer hold for you or for me. That doesn't mean we've stopped believing; but we need to look again and see afresh what we didn't see before, daring to be surprised by the man on the donkey.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer met a God he had never known while he was confined in Hitler's prison. "God allows himself to be edged out of the world and onto the cross," Bonhoeffer said, "and that is the way, the only way, in which God can be with us and help us...Only a suffering God can help."
Jesus comes riding into our world this Palm Sunday. He comes not bound by time nor the turning of calendar pages. On that horrible day December 26 Jesus came riding into the churning waves of the tsunami left.. Only a suffering God can help in chaos of death and pain.
Jesus comes riding into my broken life and yours, into this week at St Johns.
And we find that the God we meet in Jesus is never a spectator standing at a distance. I guess we should have remembered this from the beginning of Matthew's Gospel. Even before Jesus was born, the angel whispered to Joseph in a dream, "You shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us."
Who is this man? This is Immanuel, God with us. God with us in the broken places. God with us in the spaces filled with fear. God with us in the very heart of suffering. Praise be to God.
Let us pray.
Blessed Jesus, ride into our city today, into the ruined places, into hearts broken and afraid, come into the midst of all that has changed, assure us that you will be with us, even to the end of the age. Amen.
Refs Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad [professor of preaching at Union Theological Seminary in New York City],
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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