Walking beside Jesus Mark 11.1-11
There are those who go ahead of Jesus and those who trail behind Jesus.
There are those who go ahead of Jesus and those who trail behind Jesus.
At the time these were the ones who thought they knew what Jesus had come to do: he was coming as a military ruler and he would breath life back into the resistance movement. He would raise an army and by force he would expel the Roman occupiers, and then he would establish the Kingdom of God. Israel would again be free.
The cause was everything and they were believed that Jesus was the man for their cause.
But they had missed the point. This was not what Jesus had come to do.
It is very easy to think that we can recruit Jesus to our cause: the environment or the economy, socialism or capitalism, gender issues or traditional values.
We imagine that Jesus is the champion of our cause, that this is what he is all about, that this is what the gospel, the good news, is all about.
Or maybe we are not quite as idealistic.
We go ahead of Jesus in the sense that we want to turn him into one who will bless us in whatever we choose to do. We make the decisions, we live life our way and then expect him to follow after us, to bless us in our work life and our personal life, and to sort out the messes that we get ourselves in.
It is like the story of the Greek Orthodox priest who was invited by a business man to bless his business. The priest went along thinking that this was a great opportunity to be able to witness to the man, only to discover when he got to the business, that he was being expected to bless a brothel.
And then there are those of us who trail behind Jesus
By this, I mean those of us who are the interested onlookers. Who watch what Jesus is doing, comment on him and comment on his disciples. We applaud him if he is doing stuff that we like, that we agree with; we criticize him if he is doing things we don’t like; we walk away if we get bored or if something else grabs our attention. We are the shallow ones. We don’t really know what we want or what we are committed to. We join in with the crowd, with the acclaim of the crowd, or the rage when it turns into a lynch mob.
And five days later, this crowd of people who were going ahead of Jesus and who were trailing behind Jesus – who today declare that Jesus is coming in the name of the Lord – turned on him. He had let them down. He hadn’t done what they wanted him to do. He hadn’t fulfilled their dreams. And so they cry out, ‘Crucify him’.
Today, on Palm Sunday, we are called not to go ahead of Jesus, nor to trail behind. We are called to be with the disciples, to walk next to him, to be with him in this final journey into Jerusalem.
Because then we will see.
In Matthew 21, we are told of the prophesy of Zechariah who says, ‘See your King is coming, riding on a donkey’
This is Jesus clearly claiming to be the King: he is deliberately fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. He is riding into Jerusalem on a donkey; he is being acclaimed by the crowd as the one ‘who comes in the name of the Lord’, as the one who will bring in ‘the coming kingdom of our ancestor David’.
He is making a dramatic statement: ‘I am the Messiah’.
But he comes not on a stallion, not as a warrior, but on a donkey; in fact not even on a donkey, but on a colt. He comes as a King in peace and gentleness.
When Solomon, the son of David, about a thousand years earlier, had entered into Jerusalem as King, he had entered riding on King David’s mule (1 Kings 1.44).
It was the way of saying that he came as David’s son, in peace.
Jesus knows that he is King. He knows that one day his Kingdom will be established.
He knows that his day will come. He doesn’t have to force anyone or anything to make it happen.
But before that day comes, he knows that he is going to be rejected. He knows that he will be arrested, tried and executed. He comes into Jerusalem as one who has long ago faced up to the reality of his own death, even the nightmare of his death on the cross, and he is already dead to this world, and to the things of this world.
And so he can come in confidence and gentleness.
He has not come as a king to take lives, but in love to give his life, in order to save his people.
And we, his people are called to walk beside our King who is riding on the donkey.
We walk beside our King in obedience.
He is our King; he is our ruler, our Lord and our God.
The first six verse of our reading today are about two of Jesus’ disciples.
They go where he asks them to go, say what he asks them to say and do what he asks them to do, even though it must have sounded quite strange to them.
This really is not about coming to Jesus with our causes and our agenda – however good or worthy they may seem to be to us. Forgive me, but that is extremely presumptuous.
Instead, this is about listening to him, listening to his word and obeying him, even when we do not understand what he is doing.
I’ve mentioned this before when I have spoken on this passage, but I am struck by how they throw the leafy branches on the road to make a royal carpet for Jesus.
It is a way of showing that he is the Lord of creation.
But what about their cloaks?
Some of you will know the story about a man called Walter Raleigh who, noticing that Queen Elizabeth 1 was about to walk through a puddle, took off his cloak and placed it over the puddle so that she could walk on it.
But I wonder whether, when they threw their cloaks before Jesus it was far more than an act of gallantry. The cloak symbolized the person, and in throwing their robes at his feet they are saying that they are willing to lay down their lives for him.
Last Sunday, and in our Bible readings this last week, we heard Jesus say, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also”. (John 12:25-26)
We walk beside our King and he is the one who we are called to obey.
We walk beside our King in gentleness and confidence
In Philippians 4, Paul writes: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.”
I insist on my own way, or react angrily, or try to force things when I feel out of control.
But we do not need to live like that.
As followers of the Messiah, we can be confident, like the crowd who acclaim Jesus, who praise him and declare that he is the One. Yes, it may seem that the world is out of control, at times it may seem a frightening and confusing place, and it may seem that evil and fear is winning – but we can have a Holy Spirit given inner confidence that God is in control, that the one who went to the cross rose from the dead, that Jesus is King, and that his agenda and his will will be done, that one day his Kingdom will come.
And because of that confidence we can come in both praise of him and in gentleness and love.
We do not need to force anybody or anything to make the Kingdom of God happen.
On Maundy Thursday we will remember how Jesus – and this is how John puts it – ‘knowing that he has come from the Father and that he is returning to the Father, strips off his robes, wraps himself round with a towel, kneels down and washes his disciples feet’.
Because Jesus has absolute confidence in who he is, in where he has come from, and where he is going, he has nothing to prove. And so he can do the work of a slave.
So today those of us who are running ahead of Jesus, putting our causes or our self interest ahead of Jesus – that is such hard work, you are exhausting yourself, you are exhausting other people - can stop! Instead just walk beside Jesus and listen to him. Let him set the agenda
And he invites those of us who are trailing behind, wanting to be in on this but not really sure what we think, to come forward. He invites us to listen to him, the King who comes in gentleness and love. He invites us to walk beside him.