Year A Palm Sunday Matthew 21 2011
When the Cheering Stopped
On his first visit to Paris after the war Wilson was greeted by cheering mobs. He was actually more popular than their own heroes. The same thing was true in England and Italy. In a Vienna hospital a Red Cross worker had to tell the children that there would be no Christmas presents because of the war and the hard times. The children didn't believe her. They said that President Wilson was coming and they knew that everything would be all right.
The cheering lasted about a year. Then it gradually began to stop. It turned out that the political leaders in Europe were more concerned with their own agendas than they were a lasting peace. At home, Woodrow Wilson ran into opposition in the United States Senate and his League of Nations was not ratified. Under the strain of it all the President's health began to break. In the next election his party was defeated. So it was that Woodrow Wilson, a man who barely a year or two earlier had been heralded as the new world Messiah, came to the end of his days a broken and defeated man.
It's a sad story, but one that is not altogether unfamiliar. The ultimate reward for someone who tries to translate ideals into reality is apt to be frustration and defeat. There are some exceptions, of course, but not too many.
It happened that way to Jesus. When he emerged on the public scene he was an overnight sensation. He would try to go off to be alone and the people would still follow him. The masses lined the streets as he came into town. On Palm Sunday leafy palm branches were spread before him and there were shouts of Hosanna. In shouting Hosanna they were in effect saying "Save us now" Jesus. Great crowds came to hear him preach. A wave of religious expectation swept the country.
But the cheering did not last for long. There came a point when the tide began to turn against him. Oh, you didn't notice it so much at first. People still came to see him, but the old excitement was missing, and the crowds were not as large as they had been. His critics now began to publicly attack him. That was something new. Earlier they had been afraid to speak out for fear of the masses, but they began to perceive that the fickle public was turning on him. Soon the opposition began to snowball. When they discovered that they could not discredit his moral character, they began to take more desperate measures. Before it was all over a tidal wave welled up that brought Jesus to his knees under the weight of a cross.
Why did the masses so radically turn against him? How did the shouts of Hosanna on Sunday transform into the shouts of crucify him on Friday? I am not just talking about the immediate events that may have brought it about, but the deeper root causes. What were the underlying issues? In five days it all fell apart. Why? That is the issue that I would like for us to concentrate on this morning. Why did the cheering stop?
- Jesus Began to talk more and more about commitment.
- Jesus dared to suggest that all people are worth loving.
- Jesus began to talk more and more about a cross.
When to Take the Shirt off Your Back
One of the most gruesome, hopeless places in early nineteenth century England was "debtor's prison." Charles Dickens described it, but thousands of England's poor lived it first-hand. Everything the debtor owned was confiscated. Nothing was left. If any debts still remained, debtors were imprisoned until the balance owed could be paid. Which, of course, could never be, because the debtor was locked up. It was a situation without hope.
That was "civilized" nineteenth century England. But according to ancient Jewish law, there were moral limits on what could be demanded in payment for debts. Among those things that were legally "off-limits" was a person's most important piece of clothing, their "cloak." Less substantial garments could be held as collateral. But a person's cloak was considered to be in a category by itself. A cloak offered warmth and protection. It provided modesty, shielding nakedness. A cloak doubled as clothing and shelter, functioning as haberdashery by day and as a bedroll by night.
You could take a lot in payment for debts, but you could not take the cloak off someone's back.
But a cloak could always be OFFERED. Sir Walter Raleigh legendarily swept his cloak off his shoulders and flung it over a mud puddle so his Queen's foot would not be dampened. In today's gospel text cloaks were offered for theological, not meterological reasons.
As Jesus prepared to enter into Jerusalem proper, he intentionally "changes things up." The Galilean ministry is at an end. The time for keeping a low profile is over. It is a new messianic moment. Jesus had announced to his disciples the fate that awaited "the Son of Man" once he entered into the city of Jerusalem. As Jesus crossed into Jerusalem the Calvary cross already stood before him. He chooses to embody the image of the humble king, the meek Messiah, riding on a small and simple donkey. Jesus moves into Jerusalem with obedience and humility. Symbolically his back is already bared, readied for the cruelties and sacrifices that await him...