In the Safety of the Crowd

nsama paintingOnce—but only once—I preached on Palm Sunday and tried to be funny.

Note the word “tried.”

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 “them.” Mark and Luke only have a colt. John, hedging a bit, claimed it was a donkey’s colt. But that’s still singular! Why did Matthew’s author seem to have Jesus straddling two different animals? An easy answer was Matthew viewed Jesus’ life as the fulfillment of Jewish prophesies. One of those “predictions” came from Zechariah. If you read Zechariah 9:9, with its longing for the coming of a humble king, you’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. Continue reading →

Just Another Morning?

It’s known as Palm Sunday now.

And yet on a particular Sunday two thousand years ago, wasn’t it just another mundane day?

The Jewish Sabbath had ended after Saturday’s light faded into darkness across first-century Palestine. Was that Sunday a morning where coolness lingered, providing a brief respite from the day’s inevitable heat? Or—as women hurried to make the first trip to lift cooking water from the wells or men trudged toward a field to capture wandering sheep—did sweat already slick cheeks before the new day’s mean-spirited sun cleared the horizon?

*          *          *

Just another morning?

A Roman Centurion gazed at the empty desert sky, wondering what Rome really looked like. He’d never been there.

The blacksmith stoked his fire. An order for nails today. Thick ones. Long ones. Damn Romans and their damn demands.

While his youngest daughter trimmed his beard, a Jerusalem shopkeeper debated about raising his prices. After all, the demands would increase as the crowds multiplied around Passover. Continue reading →

Waving Which Palms?

Matthew 21:1-11Palm Sunday – for Sunday, April 9, 2016

“Now a large crowd spread their clothes on the road. Others cut palm branches off the trees and spread them on the road.” (Matthew 21:8)

Soon there will be fists.

But first there were palms. Open. Fingers spread. Waving.

With those palms waving, did hoarse voices bellow, “Look here! Remember me, Jesus?” Or were the loud words, “God bless you! Thank you, Jesus!” Wouldn’t that second variation be closer to the Biblical Hosanna?

Hosanna! Palm Sunday!

Did those witnessing Jesus’ arrival wave leafy branches or palm leaves? (Only John referenced palm trees, the—in Greek—phoinix)? Some, according to several Gospels, placed cloaks on the road. Whether it was a few supporters or a rambunctious crowd, the Gospel writers depicted the greeters honoring Jesus. However, the honor was tempered by humility. There’s that colt he’s astride rather than a stallion girded for war. And the cloaks on the ground were, well, clothes still sweaty and dirty from wear. Nothing fancy. No red carpets. No paparazzi. Continue reading →