Mark 11:1-11; 14:3-9
(watch here: https://youtu.be/HaxCLupcXpU)
When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open the jar and poured the ointment on his head. But some were there who said to one another in anger, ‘Why was the ointment wasted in this way? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor.’ And they scolded her. But Jesus said, ‘Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.’
Our reading for this morning reminds me of the one about a man who wanted a pet so he visited his local pet shop and inquired. The man said to the clerk, “I want an obedient pet. One that would do anything I ask of it no matter what.” The clerk responded, “I know exactly what you need.” The clerk steps out back for a few minutes and returns with a tiny box containing a centipede. “A centipede, really?” asked the man. “Yes, just trust me,” assured the clerk. “Alright, sold!” The man takes his new pet back home and immediately starts giving orders. “I am going to go cook in the kitchen. I would like you to clean this entire living room. Make it spic and span.” After the man finished cooking and eating, he returned to his living room and found it in the most well-kept state it had ever been. Dusting, organizing, and everything in between was taken care of. He was amazed. “Okay, that was really cool. Now I want you to do the same for the kitchen,” said the man. After relaxing on the couch for awhile, he checked on the kitchen and found it in a perfect state of cleanliness as well. He just couldn’t believe how amazing this centipede was. One Sunday morning, he tasked the centipede with going out and getting the newspaper. The centipede stepped outside to fetch it. 10 minutes go by…30 minutes…1 hour…Impatient and confused, the man stepped outside to see the centipede still at the front of the door with no newspaper. “Where’s my newspaper?! It’s been an hour!!” barked the man. “HEY, I’M STILL PUTTING MY SHOES ON!!!”
Well, it wasn’t for lack of will or obedience that that poor centipede wasn’t able to do as he was ordered to do. Too many shoes to have to put on first! The man should have stuck to indoor chores instead! Which goes to show, perhaps there are some chores that are more difficult than others. Maybe, just maybe, the burden lies with the one assigning chores to consider the abilities and/or handicaps of the one being assigned. I only suggest this as a parent myself who often is more concerned with my child obeying than with the age-appropriateness of my commands. My wife is far better at considering our children’s abilities and/or handicaps when giving out her commands. I only want my kids to obey while she actually makes it possible for them to obey. And not only possible but enticing as well. It turns out that if you ask your children to do age-appropriate things with a warm, encouraging tone, then they’re more likely to obey. Who would’ve thought?!
Today we are celebrating Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week. Jesus had gone into Jerusalem for the last time except he was the only one who knew it. Everyone who gathered to welcome him into the city were overjoyed with his visit. They had likely heard of his teachings and healings and were eager to welcome him. Even the ones who sought him harm were grateful that he had actually come to them. They didn’t have to chase him down in the countryside! Yes, everyone was ecstatic that Jesus had come to the city, so ecstatic that they sang out, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” and laid out leafy branches on the ground before him. It was the beginning of the worst week of Jesus’ life, and with such fanfare.
Now the whole grand entrance relied on two of Jesus’ disciples going into the city ahead of him and retrieving a colt for him to ride on in the procession. And not just any colt but a colt that had never been ridden on. A pretty strange request. Sure enough, they received some flak from some bystanders witnessing it: “What are you doing, untying the colt?” The disciples responded that Jesus needed it and would send it back immediately and they were allowed to take it. It’s a small, almost unimportant interaction that can be easily overlooked if not for what it represents. Yes, it showed those disciples were obedient to their master. No matter how bizarre the request, no matter how much resistance they received, those two disciples understood the importance of obedience as reflected by their actions.
As faithful disciples ourselves, we are all commanded to do things for our Lord as well. Sometimes they’re strange commands. Sometimes they’re commands that receive resistance. Sometimes they’re difficult commands, sometimes easy. Whatever they are, we are called to obey all of Jesus’ commands. This is because they all stand to benefit us and make our lives better and the lives of those around us. Obedience is an important part of being a faithful disciple. Jesus taught and healed so that we may all know life and know it abundantly. Jesus died for us so that we might all know life abundantly. Of anything his life and death reveal to us, it’s the obedience of Jesus. Jesus himself was obedient to his master, the Father. He, too, was tasked with strange and difficult things to do. But he always obeyed his Father. We hear Paul write in his letter to the Philippians, “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.” (2:8) Jesus humbled himself…he needlessly suffered on our behalf. Why? To be obedient to the Father. To do as he was commanded to do–to suffer and die for the salvation of the world. Talk about a strange and difficult thing to do!
Only children and foolish people grumble at the call to obedience. This is because they can’t see the benefits of obedience, only the sacrifices. And obedience to Jesus has nothing but benefits. We hear Jesus speak to his disciples in the book of John, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (15:14) Who wouldn’t want to be friends with Jesus, the great source of life and salvation? In Luke, we hear Jesus say, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” (11:28) Blessed with what? Eternal life and salvation! In Isaiah, we hear, “if you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land.” (1:19) Not only eternal life and salvation but the good of the land! Who among us would forgo eating the good of the land?! Again, Jesus says in John, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (14:23) The Father’s love, the Father’s presence…what gifts in exchange for obedience!
What are we to obey? Love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls and love each other as he loves us. So simply yet so difficult. In the week ahead, let us be mindful of our obedience and the obedience of the Son. The week began with the obedience of two disciples and ultimately revealed the obedience of the Son. Let us be obedient to his commands to love God and each other. In doing so, we will receive true and unending life. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.