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.”
Crowds are fickle. Watch the supporters of any professional sports franchise and you will see. When the team is winning the stadiums are full, when the team hits a losing streak, the gate monies diminish.
Be they political supporters, pop idol followers, or sports fans; crowds are at their best when they are cheering on a winner.
Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was a public relations winner. The messiah hungry crowd witnessed and interpreted the arrival as it was cast in the all the old testament trappings and nuances of a royal arrival to the capital. This was a hero’s welcome. This was the Jerusalem equivalent of a ticker tape parade, or a coronation cavalcade.
The mystery that confronts me every time I reflect on this passage however, is how quickly this crowd in Jerusalem changes their mind and their allegiance. If we follow the liturgical sequence and timing, which may not be quite the lost historical schedule, we have Jesus the victor on Palm Sunday and Jesus the villain by Thursday night! That is a serious drop in the ratings! I doubt Charlie Sheen nor Tiger Woods could top that!
What could Jesus possibly have done in one week that so disillusioned his supporters that they turned on him, called for a criminal in his place, and were happy to see him killed?
Perhaps the key to understanding this falling away lies in what Jesus does when he gets inside Jerusalem. He goes and overthrows the tables of the money lenders in the temple.
I remember reading somewhere that at the time of Jesus, almost the whole economy of the temple was based upon the temple and its sacrificial system. The buying and selling of sacrificial animals, and the forex generated by changing money into the exclusive temple currency. The religious industry was what made Jerusalem work economically.
If you ask me as a white South African, who has lived long enough to be immersed in Apartheid for 37 years of my life and the New South Africa for the balance (since 1994), “What ended Apartheid?” I would tell you what brought the Apartheid regime to the negotiation table was primarily economics. The sanction blockade enforced by the global community made the old ways unworkable. What is important not to forget is that at the heart of that sanctions campaign was a diminutive, ever smiling Archbishop named Desmond Tutu. If the Apartheid rulers could have crucified him they would have! You challenge my treasury at your peril. Hadn’t the Nazareth Rabbi said it, “Where your treasure is, your heart will be also”?
The arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem, turned out to be, not the arrival of a club member who would endorse the status quo and conform to the messianic agenda formulated by the stakeholders; but rather emerged to be the arrival of a table turning radical, who had justice at his core. Once that realization dawned, assassination and not worship was on the agenda.
A Jesus who “refuses to be an insider but who always sides with the outsider”, as Richard Rohr puts it, will always upset our carefully laid economic tables and status quo scenarios.
I have some understanding for the fickle crowd. I have felt their vacillation in my own heart. The real, radical Jesus, from time to time, evokes deep visceral anger in my carefully crafted concepts. At these moments of challenge I could gladly do away with him.
It is at times like those, with Jesus upturning my values and attitudes, that I fight hard to remember the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “The truth will set you free, as Jesus said. But first it will make you very angry!”
Angry enough to kill?