Okay, so Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and they had a parade to welcome him. They rolled out the proverbial red carpet with palm branches and garments instead. Why would they do that? Jesus had been gradually building a crowd as his ministry moved from his home town in Galilee to the north, through Samaria, then south to Judea, finally arriving at Jerusalem. His soulful preaching (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7) and his healing ministry among those who were cast out of social and religious circles made him popular with the people. Of course Jerusalem, the biggest city, would have the biggest crowd, but beware of popularity. After all, the most popular restaurant in the US is McDonalds. Let’s that sink in.
The parade would be his undoing. Huge crowds cheering and waving palm branches attracted the attention of the authorities. It looked too much like one of Caesar’s triumphal marches. Who does he think he is? Pronouncing him “King of the Jews,” was nothing less than treason. The Romans tended to crucifiy people who threatened to overthrow their government. Jesus’ tantrum in the Temple also got him crossways with the religious authorities. The Temple was, after all, Jerusalem‘s financial center, and its largest bank. Don’t ever mess with the economy.
Crowds are fickle. Popularity is fleeting. Cries of “Hosanna!“ quickly turn to “Crucify him!” as the tide shifts this week. Popularity is a thing. It’s a real thing. It’s a seductive thing. Ego-expanding accolades can tempt us away from saying and doing the hard thing, the right thing, the unpopular thing. Even Jesus will pray this week, “Let this cup pass from me.” Who doesn’t prefer popularity to the way of the cross?
Preaching the truth about this world will not make you the most popular preacher in town, but the truth will set you free. We know the world is messed up, but we prefer rose-colored glasses here in the “developed” world. People want to hear preaching that tickles their ears. Please don’t disturb me with the troubles of the world.
The Good News isn’t all that good if it doesn’t confront the most brutal facts about the world. Jesus breathes our poisoned air. He confronts reality as it is. He is not exempt from the suffering we see every day, if we open our eyes. He casts his lot with the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. God shows up in a violent world, and engages the forces of death by giving away his life in an act of selfless, sacrificial love. God on the gallows. God on the lynching tree. We who follow him believe it’s either Jesus’ way of being in the world, or it’s game over.
Easter proclaims that life conquers death, all evidence to the contrary. God is revealed in the common, ordinary, humble, suffering of this world and in the companionate who care about them, not in those who seem to dazzle us with their wealth or self-proclaimed greatness. Hope is more tenacious than despair. Love is a more powerful, life-transforming force in the world than hate. This trust in a love that is stronger than sin, death and the grave is an absurd faith, which is probably why the apostle Paul called it the “foolishness of the cross,” and those who follow it “fools for Christ.”