Hosanna in the highest

April 10, 2013

Dear brothers and sisters,

I am taking the good news today from Mark 11:1-11.

When they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately on entering it, you will find a colt tethered on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it here.; If anyone should say to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ reply, ‘The Master has need of it and will send it back here at once.'” So they went off and found a colt tethered at a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They answered them just as Jesus had told them to, and they permitted them to do it. So they brought the colt to Jesus and put their cloaks over it. And he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. Those preceding him as well as those following kept crying out: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple area. He looked around at everything and, since it was already late, went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

Marcus Borg in Jesus explains, “[I]t (Jesus’ instruction about the colt) was not the fulfillment of a prediction. Rather, it was what scholars of the Jewish Bible call a ‘prophetic act.’ Prophetic acts were provocative public deeds preformed for the sake of what they symbolized, and they are called prophetic acts because they are associated with the prophets of ancient Israel. As Mark tells the story, it was deliberate, planned, and prearranged; Jesus set it up in advance.” Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem echoes the prophecy of Zechariah, “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” However, Zechariah goes on, “He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” Borg contends, “By riding into Jerusalem on a young donkey, Jesus enacted his message: the kingdom of God of which he spoke was a kingdom of peace, not violence.”

That’s not what the Jews anticipated. They wanted the Son of David, the Messiah, to overthrow the Romans and re-establish the kingdom of Israel, God’s promised land. And so it was as Jesus rode into his final days that he would be misunderstood and his mission misinterpreted. The Jews lusted for conquest and Jesus taught submission and love for one’s enemies. “When the people shouted Hosanna it was not a cry of praise to Jesus, which it often sounds like when we quote it. It was a cry to God to break in and save his people now that the Messiah had come,” according to Barclay. The salvation that the Jews yearned for was not the salvation that Jesus preached. In fact, Jesus prophesies the destruction of Jerusalem.

How often I yearn to be saved, yet fail to hear the message of salvation that Jesus proclaims. I am so set on salvation as I want it, as I anticipate it, that I pay him homage in misguided excitement and invocation of his name. And I miss the point. Jesus comes to me as the prince of peace, as the lover of all, as one who tells me I must turn the other cheek and forgive those who have harmed me. Wait,wait, wait! That’s not what I want or expected. You, Jesus, are supposed to vanquish my enemies and allow me to enter the kingdom of God before them. I don’t want to hear that God loves Fred Phelps. That’s not justice; that’s an insult to everything I know to be right.

Jesus rode into Jerusalem as an act of acceptance of suffering and death at the hands of the powerful and as an act of submission to his Father’ will. Mark tells me here that my “Hosanna,” my cry of “Save me” or “Grant me salvation” is not a plea of salvation from my enemies; it should rather be a cry of release from my desires, my expectations, my immersion in my own self-centered world and acceptance of God’s plan for a world of harmony, peace, selfless service, and humility — of submission to His will. That’s what this story is all about — am I the author or is God? Do I create the plot or does God? And who is the hero, the savior? Is it the character that I have created and want to empower or is it Jesus, the one through whom all things have been made? What do I mean when I sing out “Hosanna?” Is it a momentary cry of praise of the one I expect and cast into the role of my making or is it a heart-felt cry for salvation from my own sin and limitations? A cry to God for forgiveness and mercy?


P.S. I will be out of town for a few days.


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