The Parade: Risking Reputation, Matthew 2:1-11
Plymouth First United Methodist Church, March 1, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
Enter the story
Enter the place you belong
Not just looking on
For this is your story
Enter the story
What did you see the last time you went to a parade?
The last parade Scott and I attended was in the French Quarter of New Orleans during Mardi Gras on February 1st. Chewbacchus, it was called, sponsored by the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, was glitz and glamour, and a little wild and wooly, family-friendly (which isn’t always the case during Mardi Gras), and I believe was related to super-heroes, Star Wars and other-world warriors. It was a little hard to tell, not being a native of the area. It was one of many parades scheduled during Mardi Gras: it didn’t start when it was supposed to, and went on forever (both of which are pretty much expected), but the color and energy and costumes made it fun to watch.
There are certain things we expect in a parade, and the Mardi Gras parade was different from what I usually expect to see. Here in Indiana, we’re used to seeing things like marching bands, twirlers and pom poms, dancers and dressed up young men and ladies riding in open convertibles, sitting at the top of the back seat, waving as they pass by, some participants throwing candy out to, even when they’re really not supposed to. In Indiana, we expect old cars, tractors, and clowns, and in Plymouth we see equestrians. Not every town gets that! Children sit on street curbs, adults stand behind or sit on portable folding chairs. There’s a lot of energy and a few surprises.
There were some surprises in the parade that Jesus was a part of as he rode into Jerusalem with so many others who were entering the city as part of the celebration of Passover. The city would swell as faithful Jews entered to celebrate the Feast of Freedom, the end of slavery, the exodus from Egypt, the time of redemption. Thousands upon thousands would come to Jerusalem—from Athens and Egypt, Babylon and Rome, Damascus and Galilee.
But on this particular day something unexpected happened.
Jesus had instructed 2 of his followers: “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this: ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately (Matt. 21:2-3).
We might imagine this in our context today: A popular leader sends 2 members of his entourage from, say, a respectable suburb (Fishers?) into the downtown area of a big city (Indy?), with the instructions, “You will find a Lexus sedan, and next to it a sports car—bring them to me. And if anyone asks, ‘Hey, what are you doing with those cars?,’ just say, “The Lord needs them.’ They’ll be fine with that.” Or not, we would think. Most likely the next call made will be to 911 reporting 2 stolen cars.
It’s possible Matthew was saying that Jesus had supernatural powers that not only allowed him to know where a donkey and colt could be found, and was also granted with such charisma that his followers could simply take what they wanted. More likely, Jesus had friends in the area, especially if they were somewhere near Bethany, the area where Mary, Martha and Lazarus live, which is just about 2 miles out of the city.
Scripture tells us, “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them and he sat on them.” We could read that as saying Jesus was somehow sitting on both animals (which seems rather awkward), but the “sat on them,” I think, refers to his sitting on the disciple’s cloaks.
When they arrive in Jerusalem, a huge crowd “spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.”
Do you notice what’s missing here?
You have palm fronds in your head, don’t you? The scripture is, after all, talking about Palm Sunday. But Matthew doesn’t say anything about palms. I looked at all 4 Gospels, and only John specifically mentions palms. The others say “branches cut from the trees, or leafy branches, or in Luke it specifies that the branches were cut from the fields. I’m not sure if palms actually grow in fields, or not. But we have palms in mind, so that’s what the people waved and laid out, right?
It might be helpful to admit at this point that our expectations determine what we see. It may seem to be a trivial thing in this particular instance. If John says they were palms, then what difference does it really make if they were really myrtle or willow? (Calling this “Willow Sunday” or “Myrtle Sunday” just doesn’t sound right, does it?) But, maybe we should care because we should listen closely each time we read scripture, so that we’re not imposing our own concerns—or palm branches—on it rather than allowing ourselves to be challenged by the actual words of the story.
Even more than that, those missing palms can tell us something about ourselves: we see what we expect to see, and at times those expectations trip us up. We read what isn’t there, and as a result, we don’t see what is there. But the whole message of the Bible, and particularly as Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, is to see the world through God’s eyes rather than our own. To envision it as God wants it, rather than as it is. That’s why Jesus and his followers—then and now—continue to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” It is also helpful, I think, for us to look at each of the stories we read in the gospels, when there’s more than one story told. That’s why the church preserved four Gospels: all of them together tell the story in a way that no single one of them could do on their own. They each have their own story to tell, and together they give us a fuller picture what God wants us to hear.
Let’s talk a bit about the setting or context of the story. In his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, there are Old Testament prophesies that provide color and texture to what’s going on: the donkey and the colt, the humble savior, the cries of “Hosanna!,” even the palms. We can see some of those from this morning’s reading from the prophet Zechariah. For Jesus, the risk of riding into Jerusalem in a victory parade is very real. Pontius Pilate is also making an appearance as he comes, with his entourage, into Jerusalem to tell the Jewish people celebrating the Passover, the “Feast of Freedom” from slavery and oppression, that Rome is in charge. And Jesus’ entry calls attention to himself in a major way. Tensions are running high, as are expectations: of liberation, of freedom, of autonomy from Rome. As Jesus enters into town on a donkey with the crowd crying out for him, the Passion begins.
This story of the last week of Jesus’ life is often called the Passion narrative, with the word “passion” coming from an old Latin word meaning “to suffer” and “to endure.” Jesus’ suffering and death reveal to us how God’s love works in the world. The Passion narrative isn’t only about Jesus; it’s about his followers as well, and so it is also about us.
No wonder the man on the roof is afraid. No wonder he’s leaving his options open, to be able to escape if the situation gets bad. He wants what Jesus represents, but he knows there is a cost. Will he be willing to pay it, if that becomes necessary?
Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem, and its temple.
Where would we paint ourselves in the story?
Are we in the parade shouting “Hosanna!” or are we on the sidelines, in the shadows or up on the roof, afraid to take part? Following him might complicate our lives, you know?
Can we do more that sing the songs? Can we walk the walk?
What’s happening in our world, or this community that would call for risk in the name of Jesus? What areas of pain in the world call for risk in the name of justice?
Must we move so quickly from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, or can we take the time for Lent to do its work?
What do we know now, and what might we learn if we look again at scripture, at our lives and our world? Might we see and respond differently in the light of the good news?