A Homily for Palm Sunday
“Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written.”
Every Breath You Take” by The Police was the biggest selling UK single of 1983 and is still well known. Yet despite the song’s huge popularity, its lyrics are commonly misunderstood. The singer, Sting, talks about watching the one he loves everywhere she goes. People have assumed this means he is so besotted with his lover that he simply cannot stop thinking about her, which is why the song has been played at many wedding receptions. But this is no happy love song. Sting was really describing an obsessive ex-lover stalking someone. Rather than being romantic, the lyrics are, in fact, extremely sinister.
Why is this song so commonly misunderstood? Possibly because people have failed to see the clues in the lyrics: they have not looked closely enough. They have allowed their preconceptions to prevent them seeing how different this song is from a normal love song.
Similarly Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was misunderstood. The crowd, too, had preconceptions that prevented them from really understanding Jesus’ arrival. While they realised that he was claiming to be their long-awaited king, their Messiah, they made wrong assumptions about what kind of king he would be.
Jerusalem was packed with Jews from all over the country, who had come to celebrate Passover, and many had heard of Jesus and his miracles. Jesus arrived on a donkey as a sign that he was the Messiah for, as John makes clear, this fulfilled Old Testament scripture about the coming saviour (Zechariah 9:9). The crowds clearly understood that Jesus was claiming to be their king. They shouted out verses from Psalm 118, a psalm associated with the arrival of the Messiah who would come to save them. Indeed Hosanna means “save now”. The waving of palm branches was also something done to celebrate the arrival of an important person.
Despite this rapturous reception, many who shouted “Hosanna” would soon be calling for Jesus to be crucified. Why this change? Because they came to realise that Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they had been expecting. They were looking for a warrior king who would lead them into battle against their Roman oppressors. They had missed the clue in Jesus’ entry – his arrival on a donkey rather than a war horse. He was coming in peace to save them from their sins, not to fight against the Romans.
The crowds would soon turn on Jesus because he did not go about things in the way they had expected. We may have little sympathy for the crowd, but we all have times when we think we know better than God and are frustrated when things do not go how we expect, especially when we have been praying for something that does not happen. Surely it would be better if we had got that job, or had more money, or did not have to go through troubles, we might think.
The crowd, too, had opinions on what was best. They supported Christ when he first arrived in Jerusalem because they thought he would give them what they wanted and be a warrior who would overthrow their enemies. Yet God knew what they really needed was a saviour who would sacrifice himself for their sin. Just as we can see that God’s salvation plan is better than the desires of the crowd, so we can trust that God’s ways of doing things are the best for us too.
Corrie Ten Boom, who suffered in a German concentration camp, used the illustration of a tapestry to encourage us, as Christians, to keep on trusting God even when we do not understand what God is doing in our lives. From our limited perspective our lives often look like the back of a tapestry – messy and purposeless. Yet on the other side of that tapestry will be a beautiful picture formed from all those seemingly random threads. This is God’s perspective. God sees the whole picture and is working purposely in our lives. Let’s not be like the crowd who wanted things their own way. Instead, may we pray for the faith to trust that our heavenly Father knows best.