Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Palm Sunday this year
Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus had to borrow everything. He borrowed a human father. In Luke’s Gospel he borrows the place of his birth. He tells a would-be follower that while the foxes have their holes and the birds of the air have nests, the Son of Man has no where to lay his head; so he must borrow that, too. When he is asked whether it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman Empire, he has to borrow a coin to illustrate his point.
Today he borrows an animal to ride on to Jerusalem. He doesn’t have one of his own. He sends his disciples to take one. They should say, if anyone asks, “the Lord needs it.” “Lord” being a word for ‘God’ or for ‘owner.’ He borrows a triumphant parade. Unlike a triumphant general or king entering a city, he has no army of his own. His small group of traveling disciples swells a little with locals, but it is a modest parade. At the end of his visit to Jerusalem, he will borrow another man’s grave.
He comes with nothing in hand. It is the great wonder and mystery of Jesus’ life: because he is the Son of God, all things are his; because he is the Son of Man, the Son of a humanity that may keep nothing, nothing is his. So in this world he borrows from the vast store of his own possessions.
I truly wonder what people made of this scene, with all its borrowed trappings of victory. I wonder what I would have made of it, had I been there. When we think of Palm Sunday and Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, we think of the whole city streaming out to acclaim him. Later on, during his Passion, we often imagine the whole city shouting for his death. And we are often invited to imagine ourselves in both positions: we are all cheering for Jesus to enter the city and free it from oppression, and we are all demanding his crucifixion.
But that’s not what we hear about today. In the other Gospels it may be a vast crowd, but in Mark’s story today, we don’t hear about a crowd. Mark talks a lot about crowds, but here he just says “many people” came out. And when they arrive in Jerusalem, at the Temple, it’s late. Jesus takes a look around, and then immediately leaves the city for Bethany with his twelve closest disciples.
So as I say, I wonder what people thought of this strange scene. Here is a traveling healer and wonder-worker from the boondocks, from up the country, coming to the big city with his parade of fanatics and desperate people and the easily-swayed, and he doesn’t even stay in town. He goes right back to the suburbs.
In our Gospel today, and in the passion story that follows in a few chapters, the average ordinary Jerusalem resident is probably not more than a bystander. She may be curious, she may be sympathetic, but she is not so interested as to join a rather risky political demonstration. And that’s what it was: any march by people under occupation into their holy city, calling on the coming kingdom of their ancestor David, is a political demonstration.
Or the average city dweller may have been suspicious or even hostile, but was probably not so worked up about this Jesus to go out and scream for his blood. Or they may not have been paying attention at all. There are always so many tasks to get done, and these religious and political disturbances will come and go no matter what anyone does or does not do.
That, at any rate, is our world. Some people are very passionate about following Jesus. Some people are very hostile to him. But most people, in my experience anyway, are somewhere in between. They are more likely to be lukewarm or even indifferent. On another day, they might have gone down to the big messianic protest to check it out, but they were busy. Or they don’t know if they agree with this Jesus fellow on every point. Or they know that there’s a catch, a downside somewhere. They don’t want to be fooled. They have a lot on their minds.
A lot of our fellow Christians talk about being persecuted, and in many places in the world today that is a real and powerful fear. In our part of the world, I think the real danger is different. The Gospel is lost not in persecution, but in this middle space—the space of distraction, indifference, or inattention.
Jesus enters into our world as he did that day in Jerusalem. He enters a world with better things to do, and with safer bets to make. And he does not seek to overwhelm or overpower us. He does not try to intimidate us. He shows up with his borrowed parade and his borrowed ride and offers himself to praise or scorn, curiosity or indifference. His manner of coming is perfectly consistent with his message. He moves through the world exactly as he says: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed that flowers into a great bush, giving shelter to the birds; unless you become like one of these little ones, you cannot enter the kingdom of God. His borrowed glory reveals the true glory that is coming. His borrowed army of Judeans shows forth the great multitude from every nation that will be washed in the blood of the Lamb. The simple plea—Hosanna, “God, save us!”—gives witness to the great anthem of victory: “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.”
We who hear this, we who see this, are always tempted back from the ragtag parade to respectable indifference. From the foolishness of God’s promises back to the wisdom of skepticism. From the risky demonstration back to the safer bet. These words and these actions plead to us. They cut through the world’s noise and distraction and its thousand other gods and call us here: to the one who accepts the lowly and calls them to greatness. The one who loves sinners but makes them righteous. The one who borrows everything but already possesses all things. The one who refuses to dominate us, who refuses to manipulate us, who refuses to bully us, but who bids us offer up our whole lives to his triumph. Amen.