Rev. Tom Sorenson, Pastor
April 1, 2012

Scripture:

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

They didnít get it. The crowds I mean. The crowds that greeted Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed burro. They didnít get it. They didnít get what Jesus riding into the seat of political and religious power on a donkey meant. What was going on here? Why would Jesus ride into Jerusalem on a donkey when whenever he went anywhere else he walked? He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey because doing so wasnít just a way to get into the city. It was a prophetic act. In riding into Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus was enacting that scene from Zechariah that we heard. It probably isnít obvious to us that when Jesus rode into the city that way he was precisely presenting himself as a king; but he was, and the people of Jerusalem would have known that he was presenting himself as a king because, I think we can assume, they knew that passage from Zechariah. But what kind of king rides a donkey? Thatís what the crowd didnít get.

To see how they didnít get it compare that scene of Jesus on a donkey with another scene that took place in Jerusalem every year at Passover. The Roman occupiers of Judea got really nervous at Passover. At Passover the number of people in Jerusalem would swell to something like three times the cityís normal population because of all the people coming into the city to celebrate Passover at the temple. There had been disturbances before. There had even been rebellions against the Romans before, and the Romans were vigilant to see that it didnít happen again. Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, didnít normally reside in Jerusalem. He stayed in the Roman city of Caesarea Maritima over on the coast, a pagan city that was much more comfortable for him than was very Jewish Jerusalem. But at Passover Pilate came to Jerusalem to oversee the Roman efforts to maintain order and prevent rebellion.

He didnít come alone. He came with a significant detachment of Roman soldiers. We can imagine him riding into the city on a magnificent charger, or perhaps in a chariot pulled by magnificent Arabian horses. With him come the soldiers carrying their spears and swords, wearing their armor, marching with their military pennants flying high and waving in the wind. It is a grand procession in pure imperial style. It is the might of the Roman Empire on display. It is the dominant kingdom of the world putting on a worldly display of its version of power, the power of the sword, the power of violence.

Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey is a great parody of that Roman procession. More than that, it is a symbolic act that says I am a king, but I am not that kind of king. I am not the worldís kind of king. I am Godís kind of king, a king whose symbol is a humble animal of the farm. A donkey of peace not a steed of war. An animal whose job is to pull the cart taking produce to market, not an animal whose job is to carry the soldiers to the field of slaughter. Jesus is saying through his use of symbols I am a king, but my kingdom is not from this world. It is from God, and it is a very, very different kind of kingdom. It is a kingdom of peace, not a kingdom of war.

And the crowds didnít get it. We know they didnít get it because of what they shouted as they marched ahead of and behind Jesus as he rode that donkey into Jerusalem. They shouted ďHosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.Ē Up to that point they were OK I guess. ďHosannaĒ means ďsave us,Ē but it isnít specific about how we want to be saved. Itís the next line that they shouted that shows that they didnít get it. They shouted ďBlessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!Ē That line tells us that they thought that Jesus was coming to recreate the kingdom of David. The kingdom of David had existed one thousand years earlier. It had been a rather typical ancient kingdom. It had a kingóDavid of courseówho had come to power and who extended the reach of his kingdom by military force. By the time of Jesus the kingdom of David had taken on a kind of mythic status for the Jews living under Roman occupation. It had taken on symbolic significance. It had become a symbol of Jewish freedom. Of Jewish independence. Of Jewish power. Of Jewish equality with the other nations of the world. Most of all it had become a symbol for the longed for overthrow of the Roman oppressors. Many Jewish people in Jesusí time yearned for the recreation of that ancient kingdom of David as a way to get rid of the Romans. That certainly is what crowds meant when they shouted ďBlessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David.Ē They meant: Here comes a new king, a new David, who will drive out the Romans and establish our own kingdom in place of the Roman Empire that so oppresses us. Thatís what they meant, and thatís how we know they didnít get it.

They didnít get it that Jesus was not that kind of king. They didnít get it that God is not that kind of God. Itís not that Jesus and God didnít want people to be free. Itís not that God and Jesus didnít want a world of justice. It is precisely that that is what God and Jesus did, and do, want. But God and Jesus know that violence only begets more violence. They know that in war every person who dies, every person who is maimed, on every side of the conflict is a beloved child of God. But Jesus taught and lived nonviolence. He taught and lived nonviolence because he knew God as nonviolent. Jesus is a king, but, very unlike the kings and other rulers of the world whatever their title, he is nonviolent. His kingdom achieves peace through justice not through war. Thatís what the crowds didnít get about him.

They didnít get it. Thatís an interesting fact about the story of Jesus that we find in the Gospels, but itís just an interesting fact. Hereís something much more important. Itís a question not a fact. They didnít get it. Do we? Do we get how different the Kingdom of God is from the kingdoms of the world, however they are organized and whatever they call themselves? And hereís another one: If we get how different the Kingdom of God is from the nations of the world, are we prepared to commit ourselves to Godís Kingdom, even when it means not being committed to the earthly kingdom in which we live? Today we too shout Hosanna! But are we like those crowds that shouted Hosanna to Jesus so long ago? They didnít get it. Do we? Amen.