Palm Sunday - Abundance of Patience and Courage
Updated: Sep 9, 2020
Zechariah 9:9-12, 16-17
Psalm 118:5-9, 25-29
Today we are entering Holy Week, just as Jesus entered Jerusalem. To enter into Christ’s suffering during Holy Week so that we can truly enter into Easter joy next Sunday, we have been fasting during Lent. We have been either giving up something or adding something to our lives to help us turn to Jesus. We’ve been talking about how those kinds of sacrifices lead to spiritual abundance. We’ve talked about an abundance of forgiveness, and abundance of hope, and abundance of gratitude, an abundance of generosity, and an abundance of compassion. Today, we enter Jerusalem with Jesus as he makes his journey to the cross, and I want us to talk about an abundance of patience.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, the crowds greet him the way they would greet a king. Matthew quotes a verse from our Zechariah passage this morning, so we can see this either in Zechariah 9:9 or in Matthew 21:5, saying, “Look, your king is coming to you on a donkey.” That sounds so underwhelming to us. Really, on a donkey? But donkeys were how people got around, like a car or a limo for a king. Horses were only used in war, so horses were like tanks. When a ruler would come to a city, this in how people would greet them. The ruler would come in on a donkey and the people would celebrate and roll out the red carpet, so to speak, and in Matthew 21:8, people put cloaks and branches on the road. So when William and Kate come to Canada, their airplane parks, they come out, they wave, the press takes photos and people cheer, while they get into their limo. Jesus was being greeted the way that people in the ancient world would greet royalty.
He’s making a bold statement. He doesn’t tell the crowds to stop greeting him in this way. He comes into Jerusalem identified as a king. When the crowds greet him in Matthew 9:9 (which is a quote from our Psalm 118 this morning) by saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they are also identifying him as a king. Hosanna means, save us, we pray! They want him to come as their king to save them from the Romans. They think he’s going to overthrow the Romans. And this identification of Jesus as king continues throughout the week: when he is crucified, as we will see on Friday (@ 6:30!), they put a charge over his head which said, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Why are we talking about an abundance of patience in the context of this passage? Well, because Jesus had the patience to go through all of this, even though it would be painful, even though people would be disappointed, and they wouldn’t understand. He didn’t just decide to get it over with. He didn’t use his cosmic power to just bring salvation, like why go through this? Jesus humbled himself, and patiently went through the week. He entered Jerusalem to all this celebration, knowing that people did not understand why he was there, knowing he would disappoint them, and knowing that this was the beginning of his final journey to the cross. He spends Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday teaching all of the parables we’ve been talking about during Lent. On Thursday (as we will see this Thursday @ 6:30!), he takes time with his disciples, giving them our sacrament of communion, and washing their feet, even though he knows he’s going to be betrayed and arrested imminently. He endures the suffering on Good Friday, even to the point of death. He knows there is future joy and resurrection and peace coming, but he doesn’t rush there. Instead he patiently does what he is called to do...each...day...even if it’s painful.
I think that often we find ourselves in a very similar situation. We often find ourselves in situations that are really difficult. Often, the temptation is to rush ahead of ourselves to fix it, or to get out of it. Sometimes we actually run away because we don’t have the patience or the courage to face that difficult journey through the mess and the muck and the pain so that we can get to the other side where there is joy and new life and peace. And, I am realizing that patience and courage are actually inseparable: you can’t have patience without courage. And in our passage today and throughout Holy Week Jesus has an abundance of both.
As I was reading this passage and thinking about Jesus on that donkey, slowly plodding along into the city towards his death, it made me think of that trick of the camera that Alfred Hitchcock used and that Peter Jackson used in The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo is on the road and the Nazgul are coming. You see the center of the screen come towards you while the sides whoosh past. I’ve experienced that in real life. We had a baby in between Micah and Junia who died before she was born. We found out she died on a Thursday, but I had to wait until Saturday to go to the hospital to give birth. And I remember being in the car on the way and feeling like I just wanted to go backwards and time was rushing forwards and I was just being pulled. And I wondered if Jesus experienced that as he rode into Jerusalem on that donkey. …
An abundance of patience, and an abundance of courage. What did Jesus do when he got to Jerusalem? Personally, I think I would have hid and not spoken to anyone. What would you have done? What did Jesus do?
He went to the temple and “cleansed” it. The four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each have a different interpretation of what it meant when Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and kicked out the dove-sellers, and quoted Jeremiah saying in Matthew 21:13, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers.” Now, in defense of the money-changers and the dove sellers, they were trying to help people. You weren’t allowed to use Roman coins in the temple, you had to use special temple coins, so people needed the money changers. And the doves were there so that people could make sacrifices for healing. Remember when we learned about the leper? Jesus healed him and told him to go to the priest and make the sacrifice. I’m sure he went to the temple, exchanged his money, and bought a dove, that he sacrificed in thanksgiving for being healed.
All four evangelists have a different interpretation of what Jesus meant when he did this. Mark sandwiches the temple cleansing in between two teachings about the fig tree so the story is about condemnation in Mark. In Luke, Jesus cleanses the temple and immediately sits down and starts teaching. He’s making room for himself to teach. In John, Jesus makes an analogy between the destruction of the temple and his own death, claiming that now he is the temple. …
In Matthew, Jesus cleanses the temple in verse 12-13 and then in verse 14 it says, “The blind and the lame came to him in the temple and he cured them.” And it says in verse 15 that children were crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the son of David!” He clears out the money-changers and the dove sellers and is instead surrounded by the blind and the lame whom he cures, and there are children running around singing praises.
First of all, in the middle of such a fraught moment in his own life, entering Jerusalem, he creates this safe space of hope and peace and new life where the most vulnerable people in society can gather. He had to have the most incredible patience and courage to have the presence of mind to do that. He had to give up his fear, his dread; he had to give up having a focus on his own situation. He had to add patience to his life and live fully in that moment on that day. We know he was afraid because of the way he behaved in the garden of Gethsemane on Thursday. But he didn’t let that fear overwhelm him or take control of him. With an abundance of patience buttressed with an abundance of courage, he gave of himself and created a space of joy, and new life, and peace for people who didn’t have that.
Secondly, I think that the way that Matthew interprets the cleansing of the temple is that he thinks that Jesus is saying that now Jesus is the sacrifice. We don’t need to exchange our money, we don’t need to change who we are, we don’t need to buy anything. We just need to come to Jesus. He is the sacrifice. He will bring healing into our lives, into the darkest places that we thought could never heal. He is the shepherd who will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We will fear no evil because Jesus is with us. As Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus is the great healer. We’ve seen throughout the Gospel of Matthew that that’s just what the son of God does. There are some things that happen in life that can’t be changed. But Jesus can heal our wounded hearts. He has an abundance of patience for that long hard work and an abundance of courage to walk with us through it.
Matthew is making a big theological statement here with Jesus cleansing the temple and then doing this healing in the temple. It’s almost like an invitation. It's like Jesus is saying, "I am the sacrifice, and I can stay here with you in the temple." But that’s not how it turns out.
For my masters thesis I did a lot of research on the use of the word “to throw” in the Old Testament and the New Testament. (Sounds really boring, but it’s not!) Normally, when that word is used to describe people’s relationship with God, it’s used to say that they threw out or threw away things in their lives that prevented them from following God. People threw out idols, people threw out wealth, people threw out sin.
On Thursday we will see that Judas betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. And on Friday, he repents and goes to the temple to find forgiveness, and the chief priests and the elders won’t help him. They tell him to deal with it himself. So he throws the money used to betray Jesus into the temple. He takes something that is corrupt and sinful and throws it in. That’s the only place that happens in the whole Bible. And what it means is that the temple is now corrupted and it is no longer the place that people can go for healing and forgiveness. And when Jesus dies on the cross in Matthew, the curtain of the temple is torn in two which seals the deal. It was behind that curtain that all the sacrifices for sin were made.
Matthew is saying that the place that we go for healing and forgiveness of sins is not a place. It’s not the temple. It’s a person. It’s God. It’s Jesus.
Holy week is here. We begin our journey with Jesus to the cross. Just as he approached this difficult week with an abundance of patience, and an abundance of courage, let us follow Him. Let live with an abundance of patience and courage, walking with Jesus through the long journeys in our lives through to new life in Christ. Amen.