Hespeler, 20 March, 2016 © Scott McAndless – Palm Sunday
Isaiah 50:4-9a, Mark 11:1-10, Psalm 18:1-19
n the Gospel of Mark we are told that, as Jesus was approaching the city of Jerusalem, he stopped and he pointed at two of his disciples and asked them to do something for him. He told them to go into the village just ahead of them, find a donkey, and untie it and bring it right back. He said he needed it in order to make his big entry into Jerusalem. It doesn’t say which two disciples he sent in the gospel. I’ve always wondered about that. Who were they? Surely, if it were two of the famous twelve, they would have been identified. If it had been Peter, James, John, or even Bartholomew, wouldn’t Mark have wanted to tell us?
So do you know what I think might have happened? I think that Jesus went to the second string. He didn’t send any of these big name disciples or top talent. He sent a couple of the other guys, the ones who didn’t quite make the cut. They were the sort that history doesn’t quite remember, of course, but I’ve heard that their names were Donald and Ted.
And, in fact, I have some good news. It seems that an amazing new archeological discovery has been made in the Holy Land. Apparently, Donald and Ted kept a record of the conversation they had as they made their way to pick up the donkey. And eventually this conversation was written down as the Gospel of Donald and Ted which was, unfortunately lost to history when one of them left it behind one day in the back room of the Jerusalem Tim Hortins. Well, that long lost gospel has finally been found and I am pleased to announce that I have it here today.
So here’s what this long lost gospel says: “And lo, it came to pass that as the two disciples made their way even unto the village where the donkey lay, Donald did say unto Ted, “Hey, Ted, I am just so excited about this assignment. This is finally it. We’re going to Jerusalem and the teacher has obviously decided to make an entrance. And we get the job of making sure that it’s spectacular. It’s going to be huge.”
“Yeah,” replied Ted, “it’s all finally happening. Jesus is going to restore the kingdom of David. It’s going to be the glory days of the past all over again. Jesus is finally going to deport all of those Romans from the country, he’s going to make sure they never come back again. In fact, you know what I heard some of the other guys talking about? I heard them say that he’s going to build a wall around the whole country so that they can never come back here again.”
“I heard that too,” said Donald. “But that’s not all. I heard that he’s going to get the Romans to pay for the wall. And if they give him any trouble, he just said that the wall got ten feet higher.”
“Yeah, I heard that too. But I was wondering, everyone seems so sure that this is what it is all about, but nobody seems to have heard Jesus say exactly that. How can we be sure that that is what he’s going to Jerusalem to do? I mean, maybe he’s expecting something different to happen there.”
Donald thought about this for a few moments. “Well, I do remember a few months ago he said something about going to Jerusalem and then being arrested and put on trial and something about dying, but I think that Peter told him off about that – said that he shouldn’t talk like that – and I’m sure that must have straightened him out. After all, he’s been going on and on about establishing a kingdom. And everybody knows how kingdoms work. A kingdom is only established through strength.
“And now he’s sent us to fetch him a ride for the grand procession that will start his great revolt. What an honour! When people look back on this day, they’ll remember that it was us who started the whole thing, you mark my words!”
“Yeah,” said Ted, “but there’s one thing that’s been bothering me. Why did he send us to get a donkey? Why not a beautiful white horse or, I don’t know, an elephant or a tank to ride on? Wouldn’t a conquering king ride something like that? A donkey is, well, just not so impressive.”
Donald smiled, “Don’t you worry, I’m sure it’s going to be the biggest, most impressive donkey you have ever seen. It is going to be huge! Did you hear him tell us what we’re supposed to say when people yell at us for stealing the animal? We’re supposed to say, ‘The Lord needs it.’ Get it, we have to call him ‘the Lord.’ and everybody knows that being a lord is all about being big and impressive and strong and huge.”
And so it came to pass that Ted found that his fears were assuaged and, greatly comforted, he and Donald pursued their road to find the donkey. And lo, as they walked they began to make up the cheers that they would get the people to shout as they entered the city. They decided that they would get everyone to chant “HO SAN NA” They liked that one because it meant “save” and they figured they knew exactly how he would save the nation from all their enemies. And then Ted came up with on that went, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” which Donald thought was good, but maybe not everyone would get it because some people weren’t that great with history.
“Why don’t we just yell, “Make Judea great again”? That’s what bringing back the times of King David means, isn’t it? Oh, and wouldn’t it be great if we made up some hats and put that slogan on them. Man, Jesus is going to be so happy that he sent us to do this job, won’t he?
Here endeth the lesson from the Gospel according to Ted and Donald. And I know that you of have figured out by now that there is not and never has been a Gospel according to Ted and Donald. But the creation of this gospel seemed to me to be the best way to make a little bit of sense of a pretty amazing phenomenon that we see taking place in the United States these days.
I don’t know how many people I’ve had express to me their dismay at what they see happening in American politics right now. People just don’t understand the rise of Donald Trump and the likelihood that he will be the Republican nominee for president. They also express even more dismay at the thought that he could actually becomepresident. And, of course, a lot of it really is very hard to understand. But, as I was reading again the story of Palm Sunday this year, it seemed to me to be a story that might help us to understand some of what is going on.
It seemed to me that the crowds that were shouting out to Jesus that day, many of them at least, had a lot in common with those who cry the name of Donald Trump these days. Now, I know that the two men, Trump and Jesus, don’t really have a lot in common. In fact, I think that they would disagree profoundly on a number of topics such as money, how to treat strangers and outsiders and poor people just to name a few. But Jesus, at least for a certain time around that day that we call Palm Sunday, seems to have attracted a crowd who at least thought that Jesus was promising to give them very similar things to what Donald Trump seems to make his followers today expect, despite the fact that Jesus made his very best effort to tell his followers that he was heading for something quite different.
What were they expecting? We cannot know exactly, of course, but they seem to have been looking for some sort of shortcut to glory and the solution of all their problems. The word most associated with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day is the word “Hosanna,” a Hebrew word that means “save” or “help.” It is a phrase that is sometimes used as a prayer for help or salvation in the Bible, but in the stories of Palm Sunday, it is used in a different way because the people shout it as a sort of a cheer. It is a hurrah as much as it is a call for help. This makes it clear that the kind of salvation that they are looking for is an immediate triumphant victory. They are looking for their enemies to be swept away before them, for everything to be immediately made right as they understand it.
The other phrase that they are shouting, according to the Gospel of Mark is, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” I find this one particularly telling. It is not even immediately clear what this means. How could people be welcoming the arrival of the ancient kingdom of a long dead ancestor? But the recent rise of Donald Trump in the United States has helped me to understand what this actually means. It means the same thing as the Trump slogan, “Make America Great Again.”
That slogan also doesn’t make a lot of logical sense. People have just been accepting it at face value and without asking critical questions like, “When exactly was America great before and at what moment did it stop being great.” It really works best if people don’t think about it very much at all because it works in the same way as that slogan shouted out by the crowd on Palm Sunday: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” Basically they are holding up a past idilic time that nobody actually remembers and saying, if we just go back to that time, everything will be alright and it will happen with no trouble or pain or difficulty. That’s what I mean when I call it taking a shortcut. It’s the idea that all you have to do is set the clock back to an earlier time that no one actually remembers and every problem is just solved.
And I get why people want that and I certainly don’t blame them for that. There are lots of good reasons why people are upset at what has gone wrong in their society, the lost opportunities, the corruption of a political system and a party system that doesn’t really listen to what people want. There is a lot that is right about that impulse to tear apart the whole system so you can rebuild it all from the ground up. But the thing that people miss is that are no shortcuts to the kind of change that is really needed. You can’t just get there by marching into Jerusalem or by building a wall and making Mexico pay for it or slapping on a hat that says, “Make America Great Again.
The thing that sets Jesus apart from Trump and others like him is that Jesus kept repeating over and over that there were no shortcuts to glorious victory. He chose to ride a donkey into Jerusalem and that was no traditional mount for a great victor according to the rules of this world. He had told his disciples at least three times that he was going to be arrested and killed when he went to Jerusalem. He knew what was in store for himself and he had decided that he couldn’t avoid that route. There really were no shortcuts to the victory that Jesus was heading towards.
Jesus has a plan for bringing redemption, hope and new beginnings to this world in spite of all its troubles. He probably would have had the power, had he called on it, to sweep into Jerusalem and take over and drive out his enemies and impose his idea of the kingdom of God by force. Does anybody believe that would have ended well? Jesus knew that it wouldn’t. People still try and take that shortcut, though. Some are pushing for it right now. That is why I will put my faith in someone who chose to ride into town on a donkey and who knew that rejection, suffering and death were what waited for him. He may not be the saviour that people are shouting for in the streets, but he is the kind of saviour we need.