We remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem this Sunday. We know the story: everything seems right with the world, with people cheering God’s prophet as he comes into the city and starts cleaning out the corruption of worship. In the following days he astonishes the crowds with his teaching. He has to be the liberator. He has the applause of the crowd—for a while. Again.
He’d had crowds of disciples following him before, and something happened: many quit following him. Can you blame them? Jesus wasn’t making sense. Who could accept this kind of teaching?
And in the same way the crowds of Jerusalem, feeling betrayed by the man they thought would liberate them, called for his execution as a false prophet. Would a real redeemer of Israel have let himself be ignominiously captured?
After the Resurrection we learned that Jesus came not to rescue Israel from the Romans, but from themselves, and the Romans from themselves, and us all from the slavery to evil. He came not to make a paradise for the lucky few who survived, but redeem catastrophe for everyone; and by sharing the night with us all, to show us God in the dark times. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil—for God is with me and lived this too.
Can you blame the crowd? Even we who know better, and are eager to follow Jesus when the road looks bright, are apt to feel betrayed when it leads into darkness and shame. “Surely he can’t mean that I have to show up for service with everyone looking at me after what I did.” “Why does the nursery worker never get applause, and dozens lining up to shake her hand after the service?” “I tried to help that couple and they stole my kid’s purse.”
Our church doesn’t celebrate Palm Sunday, unfortunately. It is useful to remember the difference between natural celebration of what even the world can recognize, and Jesus' call.