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,
Hosanna! 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.
I’m sure we all know the joke about how many social workers it takes to change a light bulb. It only takes one, of course, but the light bulb has got to want to change.
I think it was social workers that were the target of that joke, but it could equally well have been psychotherapists, community workers, youth workers, welfare professionals or almost anyone else in the helping professions where we have this dogma that you can’t really change anybody unless they want to change. Personally, I’m becoming increasingly convinced that this supposedly self-evident truth is rubbish.
I’m not sure anybody spontaneously comes up with the idea that they want to change. I don’t want to change. Do you? We generally don’t have any desire to change unless were pushed.
Most guys who come to me wanting to get over their drug problem – it’s not because they were high one day and thought this isn’t for me. It’s generally because they are facing serious criminal charges and all of a sudden the idea of rehab looks like an attractive alternative to an impending goal term!
We rarely, I think, initiate change ourselves. Did I want to give up smoking after 15 happy years of puffing away? Not a chance. It was that doctor who told me that the effects of my tobacco addiction could be seen on the X-rays of my lungs, and who warned me that I was soon going to be clutching at fence-posts just to make it to the end of the street – that’s what got me interested in change! (nb. it turned out that hed lied to me about the X-rays but it worked!)
And I’ve known quite a number of men who have decided to give away their addictions. What prompted them? Was it a spontaneous realization that their health would be better served by being clean? No. It was generally because their wives threatened to leave them or because their job was at stake or because they were facing bankruptcy because of their gambling.
Someone or something intervened in their lives that more or less forced them to change (or at least to consider change). And I think this approach that, Oh well; we must not try to intrude as there’s no point pushing them unless they want to change is often just an excuse for not doing anything.
Our approach here is to intervene. With the kids at the Youth Centre who get caught up in drugs or violence or other criminal activities, my approach is to intervene wherever possible – to create avenues for change for our young people, and to push them as hard as bloody possible to take them. Our approach to ministry here is interventionist, and I believe that this approach is indeed the natural outworking of our faith in a God who intervenes in history.
The God of the Bible is not one who sits back and watches the world roll on towards self-destruction until its people decides that they want to change. Rather, the God of the Bible is one who takes specific action in history, intervening into human affairs in order to set things right. And nowhere I think do we see this more clearly than on Palm Sunday.
These first eleven verses of Mark chapter 11 recount Jesus triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem on that fateful Sunday we remember as Palm Sunday. Did you notice in that reading, that of those eleven verses, the first seven of them were just detailing the various steps that Jesus and his disciples went through in order to prepare for the event!
The disciples had to go into a specific village where an arrangement had been made to pick up a very special type of colt. There was a code-word associated with the pick-up of the animal that the owners were already aware of, and all this detail is given. The Gospel writer is making a point by giving us all this detail and it is this: that Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem did not happen by coincidence. It didn’t just all occur spontaneously.
Jesus wasn’t just strolling down the road and said, I’m feeling tired and so one of the disciples said, hey, why don’t you sit on this stray donkey. And since it was a hot day a lot of them took their cloaks off and all of a sudden this massive crowd of people suddenly materialized. No! It was all very deliberate. It had all been well-planned. Jesus and His disciples knew what they were doing. And what they were doing was deliberately provoking the authorities and trying to start a fight!
Jesus knew how His actions would be interpreted. He knew the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9: Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. It was no coincidence that Jesus was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy. On the contrary, Jesus had planned it all very deliberately, to make clear that He was fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy. He rides into Jerusalem as the King of the Jews, and the disciples know what to do and the crowds know what to do. They proclaim Him as their king!
And so Jesus rides on up to the temple – the center of worship and the focal point of religious identity for the Jewish people – and Mark says that when He got there He looked around at everything (vs.11). And I would bet you that by the time He got there the money-changers and the animal-sellers were long gone! (In case you’d forgotten what happened last time He was there!)
Jesus rides into town as the King of the Jews and He takes control of the temple, looking around and seeing that everything is as it should be. He knew how His actions would be interpreted. He wanted to be seen as the Messianic King – the fulfiller of the dreams of His people. He knew that this would bring Him into direct confrontation with the political and religious authorities of the city but, rather than shy away from that, He seems to want to bring it on!
Why did He do it? Were things not moving fast enough for Him? Was He concerned, perhaps, that people were getting too used to Him and that the civic authorities were starting to accept His ministry? In truth, we don’t know what was going through the mind of Jesus, as indeed we probably never know what goes through the mind of Jesus, but what we do know is that Jesus here very deliberately embraced His destiny rather than wait for events to take their natural course. And, surprisingly perhaps, it was the path of pain that He chose – the way of most resistance!
Some of you will remember back in 1967 when the Beatles took up transcendental meditation under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and when, in 1968, they travelled to the holy city of Rishikesh in India to study further at Maharishis ashram. I am told that if you visited the Maharishis ashram at the time, you would find alongside that glorious building a small Christian mission focused on helping local girls get out of prostitution.
In some ways the image of those two buildings has always symbolized for me two very different sorts of spirituality. On the one hand is the Let it Be philosophy, so embraced by the Beatles at the time, where you discipline yourself to rise above the worries of the world and so find peace, and the Christian approach where, instead of rising above human misery, you enter right into it and get your hands dirty.
While not wanting to disparage my Hindu or Buddhist friends, nor detract from the significance of the good works done by our local Buddhist community, I don’t think you can find two more contrasting symbols than those that you find at the heart of Buddhism and Christianity. On the one hand are the image of the Buddha, sitting quietly at peace, eyes often closed as he elevates himself to a spiritual plane well above the normal struggles of daily life, and the image of Jesus on the cross, in agony – dirty, bleeding, suffering and dying!
There is no clean path for the Christian. There is no option for lifting yourself above the struggles of human life to exist at peace on some spiritual plateau. There is only the way of the cross that Jesus marked out for us and trod for us and in which He expects us to follow. And so we see Jesus here this morning, not simply drifting along with the natural course of events, allowing things to take their natural course, but rather deliberately taking the reigns of destiny in His hands, and bouncing his way forward on a donkey towards conflict, suffering and death.
It is almost always easier to let it be. And indeed, I do not want to deny that there is a point where you say, Thy will be done, and where you have to let go of any point of control you might have over your life or somebody else’s. But I suspect that for the most part, even this pious statement, Thy will be done, can just be an excuse for giving up.
At such times, when we are tempted to just go with the flow and move with the herd and to let the forces of family or society determine our destiny, consider Jesus, who deliberately opted for the path of most resistance, who strove against the flow and embraced conflict, who chose the way of suffering and violence rather than just let it be – this Jesus whom we, justifiably, today proclaim as our king.
First Preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, April 2009.