1Palm Sunday 2017April 9, 2017
The story goes of a man and a woman, before they got married the man decided that he as man of the house would make all the major decisions and she, she would make all the minor ones. After 20 years of marriage he was telling one of his friends of the arrangement that he and his wife made those many years ago. His friend asked, “So how is that working out for you?” He said, "Great! In all these years I've never had to make a singlemajor decision." Decisions, decisions, in the gospel accounts we heard today we see a number of major decisions being made.
We heard two gospel Scriptures today. We had the one before the service about Jesus and his entrance into Jerusalem and all the crowds of people waving palm branches, shouting Hosanna, and then we have the gospel we just heard with his trial before Pilate and the crowd of people shouting for his crucifixion.
The two accounts don’t seem to go together very well do they? In the Palm Sunday account we have a crowd of people cheering Jesus and shouting Hosanna to him. Yet only five days later we have what seems to be the same crowd of people shouting to crucify Jesus. People have wondered what in the world was going on. How could the crowd on Sunday be all whipped up cheering for a man and then only five days later want him to be executed? Talk about schizophrenia! This week I watched a program on PBS on the last days of Jesus. They speculated that it actually wasn’t 5 days but it was 6 months! According to this PBS show Jesus had been in Jerusalem for in six months ever since the feast of tabernacles.The show also said that Jesus secretly had been collaborating with Herod Antipas and with a high ranking ambitious Roman military leader whose name was Lucius Sejanus. The plan was for Herod Antipas to become King of the Jews and Jesus was going to get to control the religious establishment. Well, according to the PBS showLucius Sejanus was executed and the plan fell apart. Jesus got found out; his disciples were upset and one of them, Judas,was so angry that he betrayed him and Jesus got thrown into jail. Over the next six months the followers of Jesus were disillusioned andturned against him in front of Pilate and Jesusended up getting crucified. Needless to say, there are some rather serious problems with this new theory. First althoughJesus was certainly a charismaticpreacher like PBS purports he was a lot more than just that. There was a supernatural element to the ministry of Jesus that had made him famous. Jesus gave sight to the blind, gave hearing back to the deaf, cured the paralyzed, raised the dead, fed over 5,000 people, walked on water, and had authority over the wind and the rain. The PBS show totally disregards the supernatural. Also the PBS show ignored the fact that Jesus had been predicting his death for the past 6 months on his way to Jerusalem. He had not been taken by surprise. There were other holes in the PBS theory which we do not have time to discuss, but if PBS 6 month theory doesn’t work then we are once again left with the question of the crowd. Why did they do a complete about-face in only five days?
Well the fact is that they didn’t. It wasn’t the same crowd. In the PBS show they said that the crowd’s fickleness has puzzled Bible scholars for centuries. That is actually not true. Bible scholars have never been puzzled. It is clear from the reading of Matthew that the crowds cheering Jesus going into Jerusalem were the pilgrims who had come from Jericho and Galilee. During the time of Passover there was an influx of 100-200 thousand pilgrims into Jerusalem. These were the folks who had seen Jesus heal people and listened to him preach.The people of Jerusalem were not cheering for Jesus; they asked, “Who is this fellow?” Thursday night Jesus was betrayed and captured. He was taken and questioned by the Sanhedrin, a group of religious leaders headed up by the chief priests between 10 pm and 2 am;later Friday morning at sunrise,Jesus was in front of Pilate which would have been around 6 am. The crowd gathered in front of Pilate was certainly not composed of the pilgrims who had cheered him as the Messiah the previous Sunday. The pilgrims if they were even up would not even be aware of the trial in front of the Roman governor which was adjacent to the temple grounds. The people at the 6 am trial were not the pro-Jesus pilgrims at all; most probably these were the people who worked in and around the temple, people like the money changers who Jesus 4 days earlier had run out of the temple area, people like the ones who sold the animals for sacrifice also like Jesus had run out of the temple area as well. People in that crowd were people who had just earlier that week lost lots of money because of what Jesus had done in the cleaning of the temple. Passover week was the week they made more money than any other week, like our Black Friday weekend and they had been forced to move out of their prime locations and they had lost money, lots of money. This was the crowd of people in front of Pilate; this is the crowd of people who wanted him crucified.
So we really have two different crowds. One crowd, the pilgrim crowd is all for Jesus; thankful for his healings and words of hope. They misunderstood what exactly Jesus was there to do, but they had high hopes that he was going to make their lives better. But the other crowd, the ones who worked in the temple area and made their money from those people who came to the temple were pretty angry about having lost money and not just having lost money but being shamed in front of hundreds of other people.
So as we look back at the situation we see there were two different crowds. Other than perhaps being interesting of what matter is it to us today? We are actually rather like both crowds in many ways. We like the idea of new life and idea of being reborn on the one hand but on the other hand we are not so excited about the reality of our personal lives being disrupted. On the one hand we really like the idea of God being our Father and him loving us like Jesus loved but on the other hand we do not really like the idea of being servants and having to forgive people who wrong us. We want to get even with others. We like the idea of a heavenly kingdom, but at the same time we want an earthly kingdom too, we want health and wealth right now. In other words we are like the pilgrim crowds who like the idea of following Jesus, the idea of Christianity. But like the crowd in front of Pilate when the reality of who Jesus is, what he wants, and how he wants us to change hits us, we don’t like it so much. We don’t want to change. We don’t like being told we are doing something wrong. But we have a third choice. There was one more group of people around Jesus this week. That group was his disciples. They joined in cheering at Palm Sunday. They, like us, have a spotty record. But they truly tried to serve Jesus and after the resurrection God used them to change the world.
This is the first day of Holy Week. This week we consider anew the sufferings of Jesus on our behalf. Today on Palm Sunday we see these two crowds and we are faced with a choice, with a decision, do we step out of the crowds and become a disciple? Are we really willing to truly follow him? This isn’t a minor decision that our wife or our husband or our parents or someone else can make on our behalf; this is a major decision. This is a decision each of us needs to make and as Jesus said we need to daily pick up our cross and follow him. So today,let us truly follow Jesus; let us let Him change our lives that we would be like him. Amen