Worship Reading for Palm Sunday
April 13, 2014
Peace Mennonite Church, Lawrence, KS
Roger Martin and Joe Casad

Bart: My family placed me by the road, so that I might ask for alms. The sun felt hot on my face. Suddenly I heard a commotion. It was Jesus of Nazareth! I shouted, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people around him ordered me to be quiet, but I yelled even louder. “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And he told them to bring me to him, and he said, “What do you want me to do?” I cried, “My teacher, let me see again,” and he said, “Your faith has made you well.” Suddenly my eyes opened and filled with colors and the beauty of God’s creation. The first thing I saw was Jesus. Then I saw the road where I’d been sitting, and the crowd that I had been hearing and feeling. I could see the sky, the ground under my feet. I looked back toward Jericho, but when Jesus and the crowd continued down the road, I knew they were headed somewhere – and that I was with them now.

So I followed.

Joey: Who’s this blind guy? Since when is he part of the Palm Sunday procession?

Derek: That’s Bartimaeus, you know. Jesus heals him.

Joey: I got that part.

Derek: It’s in Mark, Chapter 10. Restoring Bartimaeus’ sight is the last thing that Jesus does before the Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem.

Joey: Doesn’t Jesus help his followers see by showing them the path to salvation? Is that why the gospels show him healing a blind man?

Derek: Well, Joey, not all the gospel writers put Bartimaeus into the story. Matthew makes it two blind men. Luke and John put Bartimaeus elsewhere and use this spot before the Palm parade to talk about other things.

Joey: The gospels don’t agree? Something must be wrong. I thought the Bible was inerrant?

Derek: The gospels agree AND disagree about a lot of things, Joey. Thomas Jefferson said about Jesus: “His parentage was obscure, his condition poor, his education null, his natural endowments great, his life correct and innocent; he was meek, benevolent, patient, firm, disinterested and of the sublimest possible eloquence. . . .But the committing to writing of his life and doctrines fell on unlettered and ignorant men: who wrote from memory, and not till long after the transactions had passed.” You see, Joey, these points of agreement and disagreement help bring the text to light. It’s as if God wants us to sort through these details, to find the real story inside these reports of old folks recalling long-past events.

Joey: I would rather learn about Jesus by watching that Mel Gibson movie. I can see it now, the bare feet and palm branches, the togas, the helmeted Romans.

Derek: Shhhh…I think Bartimaeus is going to talk again…

Bart: I could see a mountain up ahead that I heard them say was the Mount of Olives. We were very near Jerusalem. Jesus told his disciples to go into the village and get a colt. And they brought the colt to him, and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it.

Joey: Colt? I thought it was a donkey.

Derek: In the Bible, a “colt” can be either a young horse or a young donkey. In Matthew, Jesus says they’ll find two donkeys – a baby and an adult. By the way, if that’s what actually happened, it would fulfill a prophecy from the Old Testament that a king would come to Jerusalem mounted on an ass and a younger ass, its offspring . The book of Matthew is the gospel that’s most interested in tying the story of Jesus to Hebrew law and prophecy, so maybe that’s why Matthew’s the one who puts in two donkeys.

Joey: But isn’t that a little weird? I mean why would Jesus need to ride two donkeys? And in another gospel, Jesus says it should be a donkey nobody’s ever sat on. What’s up with that?

Derek: There have been all kinds of guesses about why Jesus needed two donkeys. One scholar says that Jesus needed a more sure-footed grownup donkey to ride down from the Mount of Olives, but then switched to the little donkey at the city gates. I guess a donkey that no one had ever sat on was extra special, signifying that this wasn’t an ordinary donkey ride.

Joey: But really, a donkey? Like Eeyore? Was that supposed to impress people?

Derek: You’re right. An earthly king would have ridden a big horse – a declaration of his status as warrior. So some scholars believe Jesus chose to arrive on a donkey as a parody of the Roman governor, who would have ridden into town on a mighty steed. Other thinkers say Jesus opted for a donkey to indicate he was a man of peace.

Joey: I think Bartimaeus is going to say something!

Bart: Jesus rode to the city mounted on the colt. Some who watched spread their cloaks onto the road, and others spread leafy branches they’d cut from the fields. And they surrounded him, shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Joey: Something’s wrong with this picture. Where are the palm leaves?

Derek: Matthew, Mark, and Luke don’t say anything about palms. Only John lets the people wave palm leaves. In Luke there are garments spread on the road and branches cut from trees. In Mark it’s garments again and “leafy branches cut from the field.” And in Matthew it’s garments only on that road.

Joey: So why don’t we call it Garment Sunday or Branch Sunday instead of Palm Sunday?

Derek: Or, as is the case in Latvia, Pussy Willow Sunday. Not only are willow branches used instead of palm branches, children are often awakened on Palm Sunday morning with swats of a willow branch.

Joey: Did the people throw their garments in front of Jesus to show their reverence for his high status? Like maybe they didn’t want the son of God splattered with mud?

Derek: That’s about the size of it Joey. And if you go back to the theory that they were making fun of a Roman procession, with Jesus leading by riding on a donkey instead of a stallion, the branches or palms or whatever they were could be a parody of the swords carried by the soldiers.

Joey: Wouldn’t they get in trouble for making fun of the Romans?

Derek: Maybe not. Maybe they were just making a statement. . . . commiting a non-violent act of unity in defiance of the Romans . . . . or just pushing the limits in a playful way. The Romans were badly outnumbered in Jerusalem. Are they really going to wade through the whole crowd just to apprehend some barefoot peasants walking along with branches?

Joey: Parades mark important events, right?

Derek: That’s right.

Joey: So maybe the people who first started telling this story needed a strong, vivid way to describe Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem — a way of saying “OK, everybody stop and pay attention, because we’ve reached a turning point in the Jesus story.”

Derek: Are you saying it didn’t really happen?

Joey: No, I’m saying it did happen. But a lot of stuff happens in life that isn’t in books. The events we write into books are the events that help to tell the story.

Derek: Wow, Joey, you’re really picking up on this.

Joey: Oh thanks. We’d better listen though, because I think Bartimaeus is going to speak again.

Bart: After the parade, Jesus went to the temple, and later retired for the night with his disciples. The next day, he came back to the city and eventually went to the temple with his followers. They overturned the tables of the money changers and the people who sold doves, crying “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers!” What a commotion. Coins were rolling about on the stone floor. People were shouting. The priests were shocked, the temple guards overwhelmed. There are a lot of important people in this town who could have ignored the parade, but not this. We all had a feeling that we’d turned a corner. Now there was no going back.

Joey: Jesus was really mad when he got to the temple.

Derek: Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the same story, but with subtle differences. In Luke, Jesus goes right in and starts overturning tables–almost like a spur of the moment thing. In Mark, he goes to the temple the day before, THEN overturns the tables the next day — like it was more premeditated.

Joey: Why didn’t the guards and the priests stop him?

Derek: Mark and Luke say the priests were afraid to do anything, because so many people were gathered around Jesus. But you can bet they were paying attention. Something happened in that temple. Something big. You know, most of the New Testament is stories of Jesus telling stories. The scene with the money changers is something else. It’s vivid and very public: an action film starring Jesus.

Joey: So could you say that the branch parade was for Jesus and his followers, a moment they created together? And then the action in the temple represents their pushing out against the world?

Derek: I think so.

Joey: So it’s kind of like the palm parade was organized by the PMC social committee and the cleansing of the temple was planned by the Peace and Justice committee?

Derek: Exactly. And like Bartimaeus just said: there was no going back after the temple incident. At the end of the parade, Jesus could have just marched the donkey right back up the hill again and walked away. But overturning the tables was a direct challenge to Roman culture and the authority of the priests. For the rest of his days, the circle tightens around him.

Joey: That’s a pretty good summary, but let’s give Bartimaeus the last word . . . ..

Bart: Jesus continued to teach, and the crowds followed him wherever he went. He spoke in parables–riddles for us to contemplate and understand. The Sadducees, who knew all the rules, tried to trick him, but they couldn’t. The scribes tried to prove him wrong, but they couldn’t.

But it wasn’t just the believers who followed him around. So did spies, who reported back to the priests.

Jerusalem wasn’t like the little villages. Its walls are thick, and there is no open space. So Jesus taught in crowded markets and on busy street corners. The shadows of the buildings fell across the crowds that packed in around him, from wall to wall. A horse cart couldn’t even pass. I listened to him every day until, one day, I waited and waited, and he didn’t come. I slept on the streets, on the hard earth. Finally, then, an old woman, who I remembered from the days of the crowds, said to me, “Come quickly if you want to see him. He’s dragging a cross up a hill.”

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