“When [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’ ” (Matthew 21:10-11 NRSV)
Crowd hysteria – you know what I mean. It’s when someone famous or maybe even infamous arrives in our area, and tons of people go to catch a glimpse or wave, maybe even with the hope of getting an autograph. For most of us, it’s probably not a huge deal, but we get caught up in the excitement and want to be part of the “goings on.”
During our life time, it’s probably a very LOW possibility that we will meet someone famous. I remember being at Disney World in Florida and eating at one of the star restaurants there (because it came with our package) when there was a flurry of activity as a group of people entered the dining area and were seated. I looked at the man thinking I recognized him, and then realized when I saw the woman with him that it was indeed former President Jimmy Carter with his wife and family. No one bothered them, and of course, the Secret Service made sure they were able to eat in peace.
I like to bring up the fact that I went to college with Mary Hart who used to host Entertainment Tonight, and she even said “hi” to me once when we passed each other on campus! But that was pretty much the extent of our encounter. So, what is it about celebrities that make us all a-twitter? Is it because we really see that they DO exist or that we watch them on the news or other television shows and they become familiar to us? Maybe it’s a little envy that we, too, would like to be rich and famous (I don’t REALLY care about being rich or famous, but I would like to have a tenth of the money so I could help others!).
Since Jesus didn’t have the news media, television, and tended not to sign autographs, what was it that led people that day in Jerusalem to throw down their cloaks and palm branches for him to ride into the city as if he was a king? Were they drawn along in the crowd. That’s perhaps the most logical explanation since verse 10 shows them asking, “Who is this?” They didn’t know. What I didn’t realize in all the years I have preached on this passage (where have I been?) was that on the other side of the city was another parade taking place.
Pilate and his soldiers apparently had a parade and show of power, carrying their swords, decked out in full armor, riding their magnificent steads, and making a statement that Rome was in charge, and the Jewish holiday of Passover was only taking place at the “good will” of the Emperor. Their show of power and might was to remind the people that they really didn’t have a lot to say about what was happening in their lives or their city or their world. Rome was in charge.
Jesus’ entrance was not showy, but humble. He rode a simple donkey, wore no armor, and smiled sadly at the crowds. He knew that this was only the beginning of something much bigger than Rome’s show, than Passover, than anything that would take place in the week to follow. This was the last week of his life, and he began it by sort of “thumbing his nose” at the Romans. The ultimate message was that Rome would never prevail, and that God would. In the end, God had and still has, the final say. Good will always overrule evil and oppression even though it might not seem that way.
The biggest thing of all is that God overcame death so that we might have life. That’s the start of something big that we remember every year at this time. During Holy Week, I hope we all can journey with Jesus and see what he endured for our sake and how God overcame sin and death. It makes our Easter celebration even more joyous to have taken the journey through the temple clearing, to the Upper Room, in the Garden of Gethsemane, at the trial of Jesus, and kneeling at the foot of the cross. May this week be holy in many ways as we journey toward Easter and the celebration of the resurrection. Amen.