When palms gave way to an incredible love. . .
A little less than 200 years before the birth of Jesus, a terrible thing happened to his people. The brutal and genocidal Syrian king forbade the practice of Judaism on the pain of death, and he offered swine to the pagan God, Zeus, upon the high altar. Women and children were particularly vulnerable. They were killed on a whim.
A small Jewish contingency led a revolt that lasted for twenty years. They prevailed against all odds.
It was obvious to everyone that this called for a celebration. In the first book of Maccabees, the celebration is described:
On the twenty-third day of the second month, the Jews entered Jerusalem with praise and palm branches, with harps and cymbals and stringed instruments . . . because a great enemy had been crushed.
Now we have a clue as to why the people waved palm branches on that first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered the Holy City. Those palm branches screamed out: We don’t want to be second class. We want to be number one again. We want Jesus and his small contingency to crush all our enemies. We are pleased to have a warrior king mounted on a mighty horse enter our city and speak to us about conquering the enemy and setting up a throne in Israel.
While all the people lining the street that day had their minds on the Maccabean Revolt, Jesus had his mind on something else, something considerably less popular. As someone once said:
Jesus has come to conquer not Rome, but the world. He has not come to cause death, but to meet death head on. He will soon conquer the world by being willing to die.
Right after this triumphal palm waving entry, Jesus makes it clear what he means by winning. He says, When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.
Jesus didn’t risk his life for responsible Christians; Jesus came to bring all people into his embrace. What we re-enact on Palm Sunday is the incredible fact that Jesus’ final parable, acted out on the cross, symbolizes that God intends to save all people, every single last one of them.
We should also remember that Jesus purposely chose to ride in on a beast that represented peace, not the mighty horse of war. Palm Sunday is the one day of the year when we should come to church and check our agendas in at the entryway. In a world that all too often places ultimate value on less than ultimate things, we are all too often tempted to come with our wish lists. Our tendency toward nationalistic and exclusive religion is called into serious question as Jesus submits to Pilate and eventually to Calvary.
The Palms we hold on Palm Sunday remind us of an approach to the world that has always been found lacking. Exclusion never works. Discrimination is a prescription for disaster, and when violence becomes necessary, we have already lost the war.
Jesus is not glorified because people were shouting his praises, he was glorified because he was willing to engage in sacrificial love for the whole world. . . for our enemies as well as our friends. . . for those who love us, and for those who wish us harm. Our Palm Sunday hero’s love knows no limits, no boundaries.
And now, The Passion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
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