Note the word â€œtried.â€
How interesting, I mused in the sermon, that in Matthew (but not in John, Mark, or Luke) Jesus entered Jerusalem simultaneously riding two animals? I embellished the moment with words and gestures, attempting to help people visualize Matthew 21:6:
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.
There you go. He sat on â€œthem.â€ Mark and Luke only have a colt. John, hedging a bit, claimed it was a donkeyâ€™s colt. But thatâ€™s still singular! Why did Matthewâ€™s author seem to have Jesus straddling two different animals? An easy answer was Matthew viewed Jesusâ€™ life as the fulfillment of Jewish prophesies. One of those â€œpredictionsâ€ came from Zechariah. If you read Zechariah 9:9, with its longing for the coming of a humble king, youâ€™ll run across a reference to . . . one animal. But Matthew, interpreting that ancient verse, conveys it so literally that it’s as if Jesus rode multiple mounts.
In my New Revised Standard Version translation, Zechariahâ€™s statement is, â€œ. . . riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.â€ Whoa! I could imagine interpreting Zechariahâ€™s verse so that three animals were provided for Jesusâ€™ needs. Or two. Or one. Poor, poor Matthew. Whatever translation or interpretation he used, Matthew decided to play it safe. He, since weâ€™re in baseball season, tried to cover his first century bases.
As I recall, only a few chuckled at my failed efforts at humor. Maybe it was because people didnâ€™t get my â€œjoke.â€ Or maybe itâ€™s because the people in the pews were smarter than me. They knew Palm Sunday was serious.
And it is about serious choices. Every year, as Palm Sunday inaugurates Holy Week, I attempt to put myself in the midst of those folks welcoming Jesus. Whether itâ€™s Markâ€™s low-key â€œmany peopleâ€ or Matthewâ€™s more enthusiastic â€œa very large crowd,â€ what do I feel? On Palm Sunday, every Gospel writer transports me (and you) into the crowd.
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Many years ago, around the time I faltered at being a funny (ha-ha!) Palm Sunday preacher, I agreed to spend several hours calling strangers in Texas. I was part of a â€œcrowdâ€ across the country that volunteered to contact other votersâ€”in this case Texasâ€”to encourage voter participation. I wanted, in some tiny way, to make a difference for then candidate Barack Obama. (See, a long time ago!)
I was anxious!
Cold calling strangers!
Interrupting their day!
How dare I tell â€˜em what I believed!
Mostly I dislike â€œpoliticalâ€ calls. If the caller is a recordingâ€”especially a robocall with a computer-generated voiceâ€”I hang up. If the caller is real, but speed-reading a prepared script, I hang up. And yet I also respect the message and the caller if the stranger contacting me comes across as sincere.
I was handed six pages of names to call in or around the Gulf Coast town of Palacios, Texas. Other volunteers worked in the same room, their fingers punching in Lone Star area codes and their voices ebbing and flowing while they encouraged the fine citizens of Dallas or Laredo or Wherever to give a big fat vote to Obama. I started figuratively walking the streets of Palacios. (Later I learned from the townâ€™s Chamber of Commerce website that itâ€™s dubbed the â€œShrimp Capital of Texas.â€)
My task involved attempting over 100 calls. I had a real and really interesting chat with a solitary personâ€”yup, count my success on one fingerâ€”with a potential voter possibly interested in Senator Obama. Another Texas fella, a die-hard Republican (â€œEverybody in this household has always been and always will be Republican.â€), listened politely for an awkward ten seconds and then our conversation ended. Whew.
I bet 80% of my calls went to disconnected numbers or phones that rang and rang and no one ever answered. Mid-way through, I wondered: has Texas outlawed answering machines? I did leave a handful of messages, but I am not exaggerating that 80%.
My pre-call fretting was unwarranted. Except for one guy in Texasâ€™ Shrimp Capital, I never got to share why I thought someone should vote for the Illinois senator. What I should have worried about were my fingers going numb from punching so many disconnected numbers.
But I made a choice. I didnâ€™t have anything against the likes of long-ago candidates like Mike Huckabee, John McCain, or Hillary Clinton. All seemed pleasant and well-loved by their families. But I wanted to do something for the candidate I was supporting. If I wasnâ€™t going to be â€œboots on the groundâ€ in the campaign, I could nervously settle in by a phone and use my voice to share my convictions. And yet, did calling all those numbers matter? I think so.
As Holy Week begins, all of us start in the Palm Sunday crowd. It is easy to just watch, to cheer from a distance. Then or now, we can shout with the multitude for a few moments, and then scurry home to safety. Doing nothing is forever tempting.
But our life, and the invigorating life of our beliefs, is about choices.
Each Gospel, in the time of Holy Weekâ€”Palm Sunday through Easterâ€”has extensive, unique accounts of Jesusâ€™ actions. I donâ€™t think the details were polite history lessons about Jesus. They were written with passion about passion to help us choose if we will remain in the safety of the crowd or risk the daily, demanding call of faith.
[Image: Triumphal Entry (1969), Emmanuel Nsama, mural in the chapel at Njase Girls Secondary School, Choma, Zambia. Work featured at Andrew Mulenga’s blog.]