Mark 11:1–11 (NRSV)
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
(Mt 21:1–11; Lk 19:28–40; Jn 12:12–19)
11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Last week I posed a question, “what do people see, when they see me?” This week I want to consider a similar question, “What do people hear when I speak?” I might be the only one, but have you ever been misunderstood? You say one thing that in your mind is seemingly innocent, yet those innocent words cause sparks that ignite into a wildfire on the plains on a windy day? What was once an innocent statement has now scorched the earth and is threatening to displace families from their homes.
This week as I studied, I thought about many things. To be honest I read through it all and every initial thought I had, I gave in my sermon three years ago. I nearly wanted to present that same message because It has been a long but good week. If you want to read it you can always find it online, and from what it looks like there might be some congregations hearing it since that sermon has been viewed several times this week. But as I usually do I stopped to breath, and I began to slowly reflect on the passage as I prayed.
This is a prayer method that has been used for centuries in monasteries, it is often referred to as holy reading. The process is much like the Quaker’s open worship. You slow down and center and quiet your mind. Then when you are ready you slowly read the passage, stopping when you feel the need and just letting things soak in for a bit. As you read in this fashion questions often rise in your mind and then it is as if you sit there having a conversation with God. I often begin the week in this way, I read through all the passages of the lectionary and I find one that engages my mind more than the others. Usually it is the gospel reading because I love Jesus and for some reason as I read the gospels it is almost as if I am transported to the scene as an observer. And when I read the other passages I usually end up in the gospels anyway.
That is how I begin my study personally. I have tried other bible study methods, and they are wonderful, but so often I found myself getting into the bible with them instead of the bible getting into to me. I would know how many times a word was used in a chapter and why those words were unique, but often those words would not soak into my soul. Now that being said, I still uses those bible study methods, I still look at the scriptures from a knowledge stand point. I just do not begin there. I begin with prayer. I begin by letting the God that inspired the scripture to be written read those words to me. So, what happened this week? Initially I saw my king riding a donkey. I initially comparison of a worldly king parading through a city in a chariot or on a war horse and Jesus riding a donkey. And I see in my mind the contemporary example of the presidential motorcade coming into town in comparison to the influential teacher who inspires the students of today to become the leaders of tomorrow driving to work in their used rusted out Kia. Our king rode a donkey.
The creator of heaven and earth, the king of kings and lord of lords rode in on a donkey. Just that image in your mind is something quite profound. The splendor of earthly kingdoms demands the king have some symbols of wealth and power, yet the donkey symbolizes commonality and poverty.
But as I reflected on that it was as if God said to me, “nope do not look at that.” And my attention was directed instead to the part of the story that I have always overlooked:
[H]e sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.
I say I overlook this, but that probably is not the full truth. I know that this happened I read this passage at least once a year I could probably tell it to you from memory without even trying, but It is not the part of the story we generally focus on. It is the dialog that fills space between the more important scenes. It is the conversation that prepares us for the climatic event. All this leads up to Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey, so this is just letting us know how they got the donkey. But it is also telling us more.
What do people hear when they listen to us? The disciples had spent three years walking and talking with Jesus, they had witness his miracles and heard the sermons and parables we love to hear. This portion of scripture gives us a glimpse into their faith.
If we take a step back from this and look at it from a different perspective, maybe instead of as a disciple but as the owner of the donkey, we might have a different view. Two men just walked up to a random house, untied the donkey from whatever it was tied to, and were attempting to take it. They were doing this because Jesus told them too. If we did not know the whole story we would be witnessing theft. Jesus was telling his disciples to go get a donkey so we can take a joy ride. Of course, this is not what is going on, but it looks like it from the outside. Imagine yourself in the sandals of those disciples? You did not have the luxury of centuries of tradition or even a glimpse a couple of hours into the future. Jesus asks you to go into town and get a donkey and if anyone tries to stop you just say the lord needs it and we will bring it back. People have been killed for less.
They did not know what to expect. They could not understand fully what Jesus was about to accomplish. They were just as confused as we would be. It appears on the surface that Jesus is telling them to sin or at least sanctioning sinful activity. Yet these two men did what Jesus said. The point here, the message God was giving me as I prayed was that I do not always understand what he is doing around me but trust him. This past week people asked me questions about why I do things that I do, things that baffle them about my personality and lifestyle. They ask why do you continue? The only answer I can give is because I have not been released to do anything else. I know I was called to be a minister, that is as clear as anything in my mind, there terms and conditions are kind of foggy though. I only know right now this is where I am to be. Just as those disciples knew that Jesus asked them to get the donkey, they did not know why but they knew they had to get it.
Moving now to the next scene. The two enter the town and they begin to untie the donkey. I wonder if their heart was racing, or if they looked suspiciously around. Because I am certain I would be. They were probably praying that no one would see them at that moment and they could just get the job done and get out without any incident. But right as they begin to untie the colt bystanders come and begin to ask questions. “why are you untying this colt?” I am sure you could add a few more questions to them. If someone was trying to get into your car imagine the questions you might as the individual. At this moment I began to listen deeply to the words. “They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it.”
What do people hear when I talk, and what do people see when they see me? They spoke the words of Jesus to the bystanders and they allowed them to take the donkey. Do you see just how crazy this scene really is? There is no good reason that telling someone that they lord needs this donkey would appease anyone. If someone said that to any of us our cell phones would be in our hands and the police would be called. Yet that is not what happened. That is not what happened because these men were speaking the word of God.
Often, we read through these passages and we often forget who these men were that walked with Jesus. After two thousand years, it is quite easy to forget that these men were just like us. They were blue collar laborers, white collar government employees, young millennials, and some were even former gang members if not gang leaders. They were not minor gods in a pantheon of gods and goddesses but they were human. The reason we can forget that is because we read their testimonies about life with Jesus and we see them as being great men and women of faith. But these stories were written down in the twilight years of their lives. They did not write them during the event. At that moment they were most likely just as confused as each of us would have been, yet they stepped forward in faith.
They believed that Jesus was who they hoped for and when He spoke they listened when he directed they did what they could to get the job done. At times they questioned him, but only when the feat at hand looked too great, like getting food for over five thousand people in the middle of nowhere. Yet when they spoke people listened. The Lord needs it and the people responded by saying ok take the colt. They could do this because of their relationship with Jesus. Which is why the question today is, “what do people hear when we speak?”
I engage in conversations every day. I am actually a very quiet person and I do not like to talk all that much, so to engage in conversations is actually pretty stressful for me. The times it is not overly stressful is when I speak about my faith or speak through my faith. I have been told that I am a very confident person on many occasions because I will speak boldly in certain situations, for example if I feel that there is an injustice happening I will speak out for those that I see as being treated unfairly, even if it could cost me personally. I can easily speak for hours with other when it comes to scripture or theology, yet what we call small talk is the subject matter, I am spent in five minutes. If you want to speak about deepening your spiritual life of prayer you might have to remind me that I need to eat, but if you are talking about sports other than hockey I will probably find the quickest way out. What do people hear when you speak?
Do we speak out of our relationship with God, or do we speak out of our human understandings? I mention these conversations I have had, conversations about scripture, theology, prayer and spirituality, often those conversations are not with people of the church. In many cases some of the deepest and longest conversations I have had with individuals have been with people claiming to be atheists or even Muslims. They are not necessarily attempts to convince them to my way of thinking but were conversations that they initiated with me because they had a question and for some reason they felt comfortable asking that question to me. Am I a saint like those disciples, no. I have driven people to swear and cuss. I have in my own ignorance started wildfires, I have even said things that threaten my job. Yet for some reason people continue to talk to me. But are we speaking out of our faith or out of our own worldly wisdom?
These disciples could have just as easily told these bystanders to mind their own business. And instead of taking the donkey to the Lord, been taken to the authorities. But they spoke out of their faith. They spoke out of an understanding that this does not exactly make sense but Jesus said he needed a donkey and we are taking it to him. Their lives were devoted to Jesus, when they spoke it directed people’s attention to Jesus and people listened. They took the donkey to Jesus and Jesus took his joy ride. We then see the result of speak in our faith. Those along the road took off their cloaks and spread them on the roadway before Jesus, they broach leafy branches they had cut from the fields and they covered the path before the colt carrying Jesus. What they are doing is the equivalent of rolling out the red carpet so that their king would not be soiled. To do this is not just a sign of respect but it is a pledge of allegiance. I give my own self for their glory so to speak. Their honor is worth more than my dignity or my rights as an individual. This one act would be enough to start an investigation for the Roman officials. That Jesus could enter into the city in this manner with the city literally busting at the seams with people and accepting this kind of praise was a strike against his future. Yet this happened because two people out of their limited knowledge spoke according to their faith instead of their wisdom. What do people hear when we speak?
This coming week we will reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus. The great love he so passionately offered to each of us. We walk with Jesus to the cross where he took on our sin and our shame, dying there on the tree for us. Buried in the grave with us. And then we will celebrate his victory over sin and death as he stepped out of that grave to live again, giving us hope in a life and lifestyle greater than we can imagine. A life freed from the trappings of this world and filled with a hope that trails are only for a time. Common men and women lived and spoke this faith for generations, they spoke it in their words and their actions. Lives have been changed throughout history around the globe, because people somewhere at some point spoke through their faith to them and to each of us. Our life has power to change the world. Each individual is important and significant because they are loved by God. But what do people hear when we speak? Do they hear through our voice Jesus calling them to Follow?
Image from: http://www.davidlose.net/2018/03/lent-3-b-a-thin-place-every-place/