Matthew 21: 1-11 (Brirarwood, 2011).
Do you remember the financial crisis of 2009, when Washington was handing out money to companies in crisis? Do you remember when leaders of the major car makers went there to ask for funds? They received all kinds of bad press for the way they arrived. For the way they entered that city. Do you remember how got there? On the way there, on the way to ask for emergency money for their companies, on the way to ask for cash they desperately needed to stay afloat, on the way to say they were out of guilders, they came to Washington by private jet! Each on their own jets. No car pooling. Or jet-pooling. $20,000 a round trip per person. At least a $60,000 entry. Everyone can understand how it happened. It’s just the way they travelled. How they usually got around, keeping a very busy schedule. But the image, the image of entering Washington on Leer jets spoke volumes to the people of that country. How they entered, said a lot.
Jesus could have come to Jerusalem by limousine, or a private jet plane. And not just any kind. He could have entered on the best of the best. The newest and fastest kind with the longest range. The kind of jet that when you go in and sit down, you’re surrounded in rare and well polished mahogany, and attendants who serve cool champagne and sherbet from the foothills of Malaysia. Who could have argued? This is the Jesus who had just healed two blind men. This is the Jesus who made well the boy tormented by a demon. This is the Jesus who fed the 4,000 and the 5,000. And walked on water!! A man who somehow, was preaching, teaching and bringing God’s Kingdom to earth.
But Jesus doesn’t come to Jerusalem in limousine or jet. Chauffeured, hidden away in the refreshment of privacy. And the accruements of his day. Instead, Jesus, the Son of Man, the one who people were calling the Messiah, the one who Matthew takes great pains to show is descended of David and must be the chosen One, this Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey. It’s an image that speaks volumes to the people of that city. How he entered, says a lot.
The donkey shows that is the long prophesied King. It also shows Jesus as humble. The word Matthew uses, literally, is not humble, but prau, or gentle. “Look your king is coming to you, not on a jet plane or in a black limousine, not raised up, high or mighty, but gentle, and mounted on a donkey.” Jesus could have entered Jerusalem with a small army. His disciples could have raised one. They could have gone in, swords flashing. A King coming to conquer. To triumph. To defeat. But he doesn’t. In this story, Jesus comes humbly, as our gentle king.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus teaches about gentleness. His most famous line is just that: Blessed are the meek – the prau – the gentle – , for the they shall inherit the earth.
For Matthew, who we believe Jesus is and how we follow Jesus, matter equally. The how counts. How he entered, says a lot. For Matthew, it’s not enough that someone believes in Jesus, their life must also show it. Who we say Jesus to be matters as much for Matthew as the how, the acts, when it comes to following him. In Matthew, gospel and ethics come to together. Faith and morality fuse. When we see Jesus enter Jerusalem the way he does, as the gentle king, we have to ask ourselves^ whether our lives and living conform to the genuine faith we confess. The entry of Jesus to Jerusalem says something about him, yes, and about the Son God sent, but also, we’re confronted with the way Jesus acts near the pinnacle of his life, and we see him against all odds as the gentle one, at a time when many would have understood and called for an aggressive, angry and even violent entry to Jerusalem, and we’re confronted with the question of whether our own lives reflect that quality in the king we follow, who entered Jerusalem in gentlenes.
What does it mean for us to be gentle? It doesn’t mean being a doormat. It doesn’t mean living without a backbone. It doesn’t mean always deferring to the person with whom we might disagree. It doesn’t even mean avoiding confrontation or conflict. Jesus is the gentle king and all the way from the cradle to the cross he avoids none of these. Being gentle is similar to the being careful. Of noticing things and people. Of not acting too hastily. Of being mindful. Aware. It is like being tender, sympathetic, considerate, understanding, compassionate, benevolent, good-natured, humane, lenient, merciful, clement, mild, sweet-tempered. In gentleness, there is no cruelty, viciousness, ferociousness, brutality, callousness, or heartlessness. One of the gentlest things I seen, is a boy go over to a toddler, who was crying, bend down on his knees, give her a big hug, kiss her cheek, and say, in her ear, Don’t worry, it’s going to be alright. It was a shocking scene because the boy had been running around with other friends, jostling, jumping, rolling around on the ground; but his manner changed from roughness, and wrestling to such a lightness and carefulness; and his embrace was what you could only call gentle. It was different. Set a part from what was going on around him. And in it there was no violence. The Greek word for gentle actually comes from a Psalm, where gentle farmers are contrasted to wicked land-owners who oppress them, who take by force but never give back. In a word then, here, in Jesus: Gentleness is the opposite of violence.
If there was one mark of the early Christians, one mark of the ministry of Jesus, it is that they embodied a different way of living, that was hands on, that when push came to shove, when the rubber hit the road, there was a difference in how they interacted with each other and those in the world around them. And they became known for it. In a time when we’re debating nationally about what kind of government we want, it’s a worthy thing for us to ask: how is Canada known in the world? Are we violent? Are we gentle?
I remember hearing a lecture on the bombing of Afghanistan right after 9/11. It was a strange moment in the world because, here were some countries, for one thing, dropping bombs on another. But at the same time, they were dropping humanitarian packages. You know, Bombs then Bandaids. One question always stayed with me, and I think, if we call ourselves Christians who follow this Gentle King, needs to stay with us, and it’s this: is ever right to drop bombs down on people? It’s question we need to ask because right now Canada is dropping them in Libya, and the Libyan army is dropping the UN outlawed cluster bombs on its own citizens.
When Jesus rides into Jerusalem the people get excited; they shout, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest. They see Jesus the gentle King and they embrace him. In their Hosannas, is a yes to the way this Jesus lives and a yes to way he calls them to live. There is a yes to his Kingdom, where gentleness matters. There is an agreement to it. But are they superficial? Do they only agree with the way of this gentle King on the surface of their lives? Is this Jesus the one for whom they live and die? In only a week, after all, their shouts of Hosanna, turn to shouts of Crucify Him; and he is deserted.
It’s a hard message for us, as it was for the Christians who first heard this story. It’s a hard message. Because we’re asked at what level we shout Hosannas with the crowd. In what way we want to follow this gentle King. It’s a hard message, because, as Jesus says earlier in Matthew, Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” That’s a hard one. Do we shout Hosanna today, only to shout at our spouse tomorrow? Do we yell Hosanna this morning, only to let anger rule our lives all day? Do we sing praises to this Jesus right now, but live in a way he wouldn’t recognize? It is a call for us to always keep side by side, the faith we hold in God and the way it is played out in our living. And today, it’s about, like Jesus, being gentle.
The ancient pilgrims who went to the Temple in Jerusalem are described in the Psalm we read. They go up to Jerusalem to the Temple, and enter that city’s gates. The image is great crowd going up, and entering that city of old. A great crowd winding itself through the countryside and into the city. A great crowd gently weaving itself down Jerusalem’s streets and up to the Temple’s doors. And all the while, the Psalm describes to us, they are singing. They are singing to the Lord. Their procession is an act of praise. Their entry represents their desire to follow God’s ways of justice, love, care for the widow and the orphan. And as they go, they sing and they shout among other things: This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. Shall we join them today? Shall we join the Palm Sunday crowd who welcomed Jesus? Shall we welcome that King in our hearts, and in our lives, and live with God in justice, love, and gentleness? If we do, once again this week, if we do, it won’t be just us shouting Hosanna, but the angels in heaven will join us. For in these ways, and in the way of Christ’s gentleness, heaven itself rejoices.
Thanks be to God. Amen.