(sermon note: 04-02 sermon note)
When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, ‘It is written,
“My house shall be called a house of prayer”;
but you are making it a den of robbers.’
The blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the amazing things that he did, and heard the children crying out in the temple, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David’, they became angry and said to him, ‘Do you hear what these are saying?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Yes; have you never read,
“Out of the mouths of infants and nursing babies
you have prepared praise for yourself”?’
He left them, went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a farmer and his wife who were traveling in their one-horse wagon down the road. At one point, the horse faltered and caused the wagon to jolt. The farmer cried out, “That’s one.” A little further down the road and the horse faltered again. The farmer said, “That’s two.” Not too much further and the horse faltered a third time. This time the farmer stopped the wagon, got out, and shot the horse dead. His wife screamed, “You monster! How could you shoot that poor animal? Have you no compassion?!?!” The farmer sat back down in the wagon and calmly replied, “That’s one.”
Forgive me if you’ve heard me use that one before. It’s a timeless joke, so simple yet so powerful. Sometimes compassion can come across as monstrous. Who’s to say the farmer hadn’t shown compassion by killing that horse?! Perhaps it was old and in pain and gladly welcomed a “mercy killing.” Even if it was a strong and able-bodied horse, the farmer had shown compassion in letting it continue pulling him and his wife after faltering twice before. It had been given two opportunities to correct its disobedient ways. So it’s hard to tell if compassion had been shown at all. That said, having known several farmers and their mentality, I want to agree with the wife’s assessment of the situation as cruel and unjustified. The farmer was a monster…
Maybe I should say that compassion can sometimes come across as radical if not monstrous. Sometimes there is a degree of compassion or mercy that just doesn’t make sense. We might witness a life being spared even though it doesn’t deserve to be. We might see someone show kindness to someone else who has caused them great harm or sorrow. We ourselves might receive radical mercy or compassion in spite of our behavior. We live in a broken world in which people can and do do great injustice towards each other. And yet within that same world people have risen above themselves and their instinctual desire for retribution or vengeance. Radical grace does happen in this world. It’s rare but it does happen.
It’s that time of year again when we remember the radical grace that showed us nearly 2,000 years ago. We’re heading into Jesus’ final week before he was murdered and resurrected a mere three days later. We begin the week by joining Jesus as he rides into Jerusalem one last time. The crowds have gathered and laid palm branches out before him, crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Now I don’t how “blessed” Jesus was riding into that crowd knowing full well it would turn on him before the week was out. Jesus knew the suffering that awaited him and yet he rode on. His stomach must have been all twisted up in knots! And maybe not just because he knew the suffering that awaited him. Perhaps you noticed in the reading that Jesus was somehow riding atop BOTH the donkey and the colt like some flamboyant circus performer!. Minor textual anomaly…
Not only was Jesus riding with an awareness of what was in store for him but he was riding into a crowd of people essentially shouting, “Save us! Save us! Save us!” I imagine their shouts weren’t unheard by all the oppressors in town from the governing leaders to the church leaders. Jesus rode into that crowd with a large target on his chest. Not that Jesus was unaccustomed to having a large target on him but still, I can’t imagine it got any easier this late in his ministry. Yet Jesus rode with his head held high and determined to share his radical grace with that town and ultimately the whole world. Some of the town deserved his compassionate teachings and healings, most did not, which makes them all the more radical. Again, grace that just doesn’t make sense!
And what did he do immediately upon entering that town? He made a beeline to the temple and overturned the tables of the money-changers. He reclaimed the temple from agents of commerce and reinstated it as a place of worship. No one thought commerce shouldn’t be allowed in the temple but Jesus taught them otherwise. Jesus once again shows mercy and compassion to undeserving people. His grace, his mercy, his compassion is nothing if not radical! We know Jesus’ mercy and compassion was unusual from the outset. In Matthew, we hear, “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (9:36) And again in Mark, “as he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” (6:34) Over and over, Jesus looked out upon the crowds and couldn’t help but show compassion. Why would it be any different as he rode in Jerusalem for the last time?!
Such great compassion and mercy and grace! A compassion that we are called, as Christians, to share with others. As Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians, “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2) We show radical compassion by bearing each other’s burdens. It just doesn’t make sense! It isn’t meant to make sense! It’s what Christ did so it is what we are to do. This week our Lord will show us his greatest mercy by going to the cross on our behalf. Let us be mindful of the sacrifice he made for us. Let us be mindful and grateful. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.