- Advent 1.16 “Who is This?” Matt. 21:1-11
Who is this? That’s the question everyone has about Jesus, then as now. This is how we begin a new church year today, the first Sunday in Advent, with Jesus riding into Jerusalem as King. There’s a line from one of my favorite hymns, a Holy Week hymn on the triumphal entry that goes: “O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin/ O’er captive death and conquered sin…” And indeed they do today, anew. But can we get those triumphs if we don’t get Him, don’t really know who He, what He’s doing, and why? It seems to me a problem that has been from the start with Israel and continues with the Christian Church still today. Who is this King who comes humble and lowly, riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a beast of burden? (which, it occurs to me suddenly could also be a good title for a song? If you were hard enough, rough enough, rich enough, and not too blind to see, you could maybe write it, see where it takes you 🙂
The crowd who hailed Jesus as King that first Palm Sunday in Jerusalem though, they were too blind too see! I mean, they saw, but they didn’t see, they heard but without understanding, which is pretty much what Isaiah was told to expect of the crowds. They will throng Jesus now and again, say some nice things about Him, welcome Him when He comes riding into their city (because who doesn’t like a parade, right, especially this time of year?) but in a few days they will totally change their tune and be shouting “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Though, strangely, that will fit right into His plan and accomplish His ultimate purposes quite nicely, thank you very much! “Bow Thy meek head to mortal pain/ Then take, O God, Thy pow’r and reign!” But what kind of reign is it that begins with bowing His meek head to mortal pain? What kind of God could it be that rides in humble and lowly to die for us? I thought God could never die? Can we ever understand such a God? Could we worship and adore Him?
Who is this? The crowd asks as Jesus comes riding in on the donkey and the colt (I do like how Matthew mentions both a donkey and a colt that Jesus rides. Did He ride one and then the other, or, I like this better: maybe He rode them both at the same time, kind of a cool trick and not easy to do.) Speaking of cool tricks, the way Jesus comes by the donkey and the colt is worth a moment’s reflection as it is one of my favorite parts of the Scriptures and where I think George Lucas stole the idea of the Jedi mind trick from…
Since no one really understands who Jesus is or what He comes to do, Jesus has to take matters into His own hands and arrange it all as the Scriptures say it must be. For instance: David and his sons rode around Jerusalem on white donkeys when he was King in Jerusalem. One of those “so uncool, it’s cool” kind of things. Most Kings favored war horses or elephants as royal transport. David went with the humble and lowly donkey to show he didn’t require the trappings of office that other kings needed to project power—just like he didn’t need normal weapons to kill a giant: just a rock, slingshot, a Word, were all he needed to triumph (you can always borrow the giant’s own sword, once he’s down, to cut off his ugly head). The more humbly David lived, the more regal he was. The donkey was kind of a sign of that, like Prince Albert of Monaco who used to tool around the principality in a cheap little Volkswagen. Reverse snobbery.
Jesus is all over that and goes David one better. This isn’t even His own donkey or colt that He rides. They are, uhm, “borrowed” and I love this part! As the Story requires a donkey and a colt for Him to ride into Jerusalem, and since Jesus doesn’t own either, He sends His disciples into this random village where they find a donkey and colt tied up right where they enter, and He says: “just loose them and bring them, and if anyone says ‘hey, hey!—where are you going with my donkey and colt!?’ Just [with a two-finger wave] say ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will go ‘Oh, the Lord needs them. These are not the donkeys we were looking for’ and he will send them at once.” Slick! And it works like a charm, just like it does for Obi-Wan! Gotta love it!
Our lack of understanding causes Jesus to take matters into His own hands, by His own divine and mysterious power. But He doesn’t force or coerce anyone. He simply knows the Story better than anyone else, because it’s His Story and we just fit in here and there, His way. Now, we can insist on telling our own story and trying to make Jesus fit into our story where and how we would like Him to. And most people inside and outside the church do this, I think, or try to. But it will not work. Our idea of power and glory and honor and might is all wrong—180* off to be precise. What we think is strong is weak and vice versa. Because we are not the Author of the Story, Jesus is. And His Story is so much better than any we could write ourselves. Maybe quit trying to be Director? Maybe let Jesus fit you into His Story as He pleases…?
But that is sooooo much easier said than done! If you do not know who the King is, it is very difficult to follow Him. If your idea of King requires all kinds of props and displays that Jesus eschews, Faith will be a challenge for you. If your idea of “King” means having an army and power and pomp and war horses and earthly wealth and ordering people around and never being humble, never dying, never messing about on boats or colts, with the poor and the lame, the maimed and the blind, well, you are just not going to get Jesus very well, I’m afraid…!
As the Jerusalem crowd does not: “Who is this?” they ask, as Jesus goes riding by on both the donkey and colt. And their answer is “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.” And well, how shall we put it? Wrong!! This is God Himself visiting His people from Heaven as the Story always said He would. This is the King of Kings laying aside all His power and privileges to bow His meek head to mortal pain, to die for us and our sins, and in this way to take His Power and reign…(!!!)
I’ve been reading how the early church struggled to confess that Jesus is true Man and True God (and I pay for that—a certain member of my household goes “oh, what are your reading?” and when he sees it’s “Arius: Heresy and Tradition” he goes, rather snidely, “How many weeks did that sit at the top of the best-seller lists.” I do it for you—but I learned they all (Arius and Athanasius alike!) had this idea of God that did not allow weakness, change, sympathy, or death. They didn’t see how God could fall asleep in a boat or die on a cross, so they came up with all these complex formulas to explain the inexplicable. They never seemed to see that it might take more power to make the Rock so big you can’t lift it!
Death is the Rock too big for God to lift, which lifts Jesus to the heights when He’s crushed by it on the Cross. Our ideas of power hem God in and keep us from seeing a Mystery too great to comprehend. So, let ‘em go! Sometimes you just have to let Art flow over you! Let the Story tell you instead of you telling IT…! Let the lowly, crucified, donkey-stealing Jesus be King—only One you need; and Peace surpassing all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.