Was anyone listening?
Was anyone really paying attention, noticing what was going on as Jesus entered Jerusalem in the way he did: riding a colt (or donkey as other Gospel versions have it)… on a simple, humble, unadorned, yet-untrained, colt….
Who was really paying attention?
Of course, human nature being what it is, in every time and every place:
Listening doesn’t come easy.
I like the example of the dad and his three-year-old daughter, who is persistently tugging at her dad’s pant leg as he stands at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes for supper.
“Daddy. Daddy!” she persists, tugging at his pant leg.
“Uh-huh” he repeatedly replies, staring ahead, half-listening as if in a daze, preoccupied and distracted by many thoughts.
Finally, after about five minutes of pant-leg tugging, and her dad ignoring her, she gives one big tug,
…and no sooner does dad bend down toward her, then she, with her chubby, little hands, takes hold of her dad’s face, turns it directly to her line of vision, and says,
“Daddy, will you listen to me with your eyes?”
“Listening with your eyes.”
Now, that’s giving 100% focussed attention to what you’re doing, or the person right in front of you, or what’s happening around you.
But human nature being what it is, we’re a people easily given to distraction, to multi-tasking, and fragmented thinking.
In fact, we often crave distractions to break up the monotony of daily life.
We want to be entertained, wowed and dazzled by what appears spectacular, exceptional, larger-than-life.
And so we turn to our mobile devices – an addiction if ever there was one – to play Candy Crush, Scrabble, Netflix or even check up on the latest emails at 1 am in the morning!
Back in Jesus’ day, in 1st century Middle Eastern society, they didn’t have iPhones, TVs, Netflix and Candy Crush to offer entertaining distractions.
But they did have, from time to time, parades and processionals, where military rulers would ride in on their muscled warhorses and chariots, colourful banners unfurled, complete with royal fanfare, trumpets, pomp and pageantry.
And so people flocked to these grand entrances of dignitaries, luminaries and governors to be entertained and distracted.
Palm Sunday is when we remember the grand entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.
But his wasn’t the only “parade” in town.
Scholars tell us there was another grand entrance by the governor of the region: Pontius Pilate.
Jesus was entering on the east side of Jerusalem, on the side of the Mount of Olives.
Pilate was entering on the west side, wanting to assert his military presence during the Passover – this high Jewish Festival – as the city swelled in number from 40,000 to 250,000.
Both processional drew crowds of curious, distraction-craving onlookers.
But the similarities stop here.
These two processions couldn’t have been more different from each other.
Pilate and his entourage swiftly approach the city riding large warhorses, brandishing weapons, ready for violence to assert the power of the Roman Empire.
Pilate is accompanied by a squadron or two of battle-hardened soldiers, cheered on by the enthusiastic crowd, fist-pumping the air.
Jesus, on the other side of the city, is riding alone, slowly, on a small, humble colt, and the people lining the road are laying down their cloaks and branches on the road.
Pilate’s world was one where the Roman regime would stop at nothing to brutally, violently, enforce its control over the people, its “Pax Romana” or “social stability.”
Jesus on the other hand was proclaiming a different kind of world, a world where God was Supreme Ruler, and whose reign was built on non-violent, compassionate care for the lowly and the least, forgiving love and reconciliation between peoples and nations.
Quite a contrast!
But even the crowds around Jesus – did they really know what Jesus was all about?
Had they been noticing what Jesus had been doing and saying the past three years of his ministry, teaching and living out the ways of God?
Had they been paying attention to Jesus who was saying that God was about the business of mending the universe, healing, restoring and reconciling people, especially among the marginalized and forgotten?
Had they been watching Jesus closely enough as he brought truth and understanding where there was discord and factionalism, as he brought warmth and softness of heart to people with hardness of heart, and over-attachment to rigid and unbending views?
Had they been seeing how Jesus always brought a strong, renewed sense of new beginnings, fresh starts to a people weighed down by weariness and despair?
Had they been “listening with their eyes?”
One wonders, because it appears as though the crowd was really hoping Jesus was some sort of King like King David of old; yes, a man of God, but also a military ruler able to violently overthrow oppressors like the current Roman Regime.
Regardless of being repeatedly ignored and misunderstood, Jesus presses on, fully committed to God’s way.
We sometimes forget how such a determined commitment to God’s ways can be dangerous, and deadly.
This was definitely the case with Martin Luther King Jr. who worked tirelessly for restored relationship between white and black Americans in the 1960s.
His passion and commitment to this mission eventually cost him is life by an assassin’s bullet.
Listen to what he was recorded saying to his supporters the very night before his assassination…
…Eerie, foreboding words, as if he had some premonition of his impending assassination:
“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land.”
King knew his work was dangerously provocative and potentially deadly.
He knew he was a target. And yet he pressed on, right to the end.
Jesus knew that his passionate commitment to the reign of God was dangerously provocative and deadly.
He knew he was a target.
But he presses on, faithful to God’s way, right to the bitter end … trusting God, and knowing that in God’s eyes, that would be enough.