How much should an employee at McDonald’s make? How much do they deserve? How much should we get when it is time for raises at work? As we try to split an inheritance among family members? As we divide after a divorce? No matter the setting, we want what we deserve, and we want others to get what we think they deserve. Pretty simple, right? Except that Jesus doesn’t play by these rules, in fact, as we celebrate Palm Sunday, we find that instead of what we deserve, what God desires for us is waiting–if only we can see it!
We are going to look at Matthew 21 with Jesus and his disciples heading to Jerusalem. The roads would have been jammed; some estimate nearly 2.5 million faithful Jewish pilgrims had come from all over the known world for the Passover celebration. Passover marked one of Israel’s greatest moments—they had been slaves for 400 years in Egypt when God made himself known to the people, leading an insurrection when the Pharaoh refused their freedom. They sacrificed a lamb, taking the blood and smearing it on their doorposts and frames, a sign that the angel of the Lord should Passover the house, protection from the final plague, and Israel set out towards the Promise Land. Finally, they got what they thought they deserved, their own nation, their own land, but despite all that changed, a lot stayed the same—hundreds of years later, they found that they had traded one oppressor for another, Egypt for the Romans…
They Deserved a Warring Army, and instead they got a Gentle Donkey (Matthew 21:1-3,6-11 )Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” 6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna[b] to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna[d] in the highest heaven!” 10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” Everyone in the streets had a reason for being there, each person hoped to get what they deserved, some wanted to experience his miraculous power, some were caught up in the processional, others might have had sick loved ones who needed his touch but as the crowd started cheering you heard the dominate demand—“Hosanna”—which means ‘Save.’ They cried Hosanna–cheering for their king, for their warring leader, laying down palm branches-a sign of victory and cloaks for the one who would release them from oppression, and provide their Exodus—from Roman oppression. Yet, while they had an agenda, Jesus had a mission which Matthew references the prophecy from Zechariah 9:9. 5 “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” As they rejoiced at their warring king, they missed the mission of the donkey king: “I will take away the chariots and war-horses, the battle bows will be broken, I will proclaim peace to the nations…Because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
As he rode in to the cheers of Hosanna, Luke 19 reminds us of his response—He wept—he knew the people were expectant only as long as it met their expectations. Jesus strikes at the very core of our definition of victory, he knew that the triumphant entry ended with a tearful exit. How do you define success? Check out Dateline’s interview with Tom Brady, the man who seemingly has everything: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHSfiKAtPzk.
“God there has to be more than this!” All the time people define victory on their own terms, based on what they think they deserve, what they have earned, even when it comes to church. We define success based on the number of people in the building, the amount of money in the plate, the amount of security we make for ourselves, when all along he comes before us to give us what we don’t even have in mind- a transcendent peace. Instead of making war against the world, we find peace in the world at war. But only when we go beyond what we deserve to what he desires: Not worldly success but willing service: Religion that God our father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the orphans and widows in their distress…” Jesus spoke of the “least of these” what you do for the least of these you’ve done for me.