By Dr. Keith Wagner
The Palm Sunday experience is about nobodies being somebodies. When you consider all the names and places that appear in the Palm Sunday story you find nothing but obscure towns and underdogs. Jesus had just come from Bethphage and returned to Bethany, two insignificant small villages. He is surrounded by the blind, the disabled and the poor, the powerless people of society. He enters Jerusalem on a donkey and/or a colt, not exactly the favorite pets of the rich and famous.
The prophet Zechariah proclaimed that a king would come, riding on a donkey (Zech. 9:9). However, this was in retrospect. The event of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day was more a serendipitous parade. It evolved as bystanders, followers and others whose lives had been touched by Jesus rallied around his mission. Shortly before, Jesus was in Jericho where he restored the sight of two blind men. The crowd was already growing. By the time he reached the oustskirts of Jerusalem it gained momentum.
These were powerless people that rallied around Jesus. They could not compete with the leaders of Jerusalem or with the military might of the Romans. This was no Olympic Gold Medalist’s parade or a parade for returning sailors from the Mid East. There was no organization or resources to support what took place. They were just excited about the fact that someone actually reached out to them. The event was one that took on a spirit of gratitude and hope.
The Palm Sunday event was a validation of Jesus’ ministry by the powerless people in society. At the same time it was an opportunity for Jesus to make a profound theological statement. He sent for the donkey and the colt because they are symbolic of restoration. This is what Jesus is about, peace; peace of mind, heart and soul. The underdogs of the world cannot compete with the privileged. However, they are not without a place in God’s kingdom. The good news is they have one primary resource that can enable them to withstand any of life’s giants they face. That resource is faith. Such a faith was evidenced by the actions, words and life of Jesus.
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Since the events of September 11th and the “War on Terrorism” we have witnessed a number of occasions where government officials and military leaders have made appearances and given speeches. We have memorialized the dead, praised the brave men and women in the armed forces and saluted those heroes who have either rescued lives or put their own lives on the line to prevent further terrorist attacks. This has helped to acknowledge the innocent people who lost their lives in September and given support to the families who are grieving. It has been a demonstration of support to stand for democracy and peace. Because we have an abundance of resources we have been able to provide quality events.
Imagine what it would be like to have no resources. That instead of being supported by your government, your government was actually in opposition to your cause and indifferent to your needs. Let’s say for example you were like those two blind men in Jericho. Society had no structure to provide resources for them and their only way to survive was to beg for mercy. If someone like Jesus had reached out to you, you too would have had a sense of loyalty and would have demonstrated to the world that there was hope. Unless we have experienced a liberating moment in our lives it may be difficult for us to understand that kind of enthusiasm.
As we have watched the refugees in Afghanistan struggle for survival we have observed a people in tremendous despair. It is difficult for us in the free world to relate to such adversity. That doesn’t mean there isn’t hope or that God had abandoned them. Last week one hundred women in Kandahar removed their birqas and exposed their faces, demonstrating the participation of women in that society. They were not persons of notoriety, like for example, Katie Couric, speaking out for cancer. They were unknown women who had the courage to speak out against oppression. It must have taken tremendous courage and faith to take such a great risk. We may never know their names but I believe it could be a “watershed” moment in the restoration of that society.
The desperation of the Afghanistan people has now been in the headlines for months. That is just one example of people who have little hope of living a normal life. There are countless other peoples whose lives reflect the plight of the two blind men in Jericho. Despair is everywhere, even in our midst.
While I was visiting my parents in Florida last week they reminded me of some of the problems of getting old. They are in their eighties and they are worried about the cost of healthcare and the dilemma of living once they lose their independence. In their church there are over sixty couples with the same problem. I interpreted their plea as a “cry for help,” only I wasn’t sure how to advise them. It’s not that I am insensitive or indifferent, its just that I’m not sure what to do.
In our story the powerless people in society did three things. (1) They cried out for help,
“Hosanna,” which means save us now, (2) they rallied around Jesus because of his history of helping those who had infirmities and (3) they worshipped him.
Since we have society that encourages us to be independent we are not in the habit of asking for help. Pride and stubbornness tend to keep us from reaching out to others. Just recently my wife and I flew to Florida to visit our family. We were struggling to find a flight that met our schedule. My older brother mentioned to me that there was a new airline that flew directly from Cincinnati to Sanford, Florida, just minutes away from my brother’s home. We had never heard of it. Apparently they just began flying in December. It wasn’t perfect but there were some advantages. But, had we not asked for help we would have never known it existed. The two blind men cried out for help and it came. Sometimes we have to do the same.
Liberation comes from the recognition that we are first, dependent on God. We can’t always look to government or families or our communities to help us. Liberation is also contagious. Once the word spreads that there is a better alternative you can bet people will take advantage of it. When one person is willing to proclaim that God has helped them, others will join in.
Liberation deserves our homage. God wants us to remember that God is the primary resource who can set us free. God wants to be thanked and praised. The countless hundreds of people whose lives had been touched by Jesus showed their gratefulness by laying their garments and palms on the road. This was a symbol of their adoration just as worship is a symbol of ours today. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!