An old Sunday school teacher once told me when I read the Gospels, I need to “get my feet dirty with Jesus.” She meant I can’t just absorb the words on the page as if I am reading a textbook — these were real people, and I need to truly put myself in their shoes.
Earlier this week, Christians marked what we refer to as “Palm Sunday.” While we all know about the donkey and the waving branches and the “Hosanna!”, I believe we can gain some more insight if we get our feet a little dirty.
Allow me to set the scene.
According to John’s Gospel, a large crowd had gathered in Jerusalem specifically because of the healing of Lazarus — a man who was dead was walking again, and they wanted to see the healer who had pulled off the impossible. People in those days wore two garments: a tunic and a cloak. The cloak could be used as a person’s sole source of warmth and comfort, and each person owned only one, yet they laid them on the ground so Jesus’s colt could walk upon them.
They did this because they had seen it before. In II Kings 9, a prophet anointed Jehu to be the King of Israel. A major problem was that King Ahab was in charge. In response, though, people took off their cloaks and laid them out for Jehu to walk on.
What a message the people of Jerusalem are sending to Caesar, huh?
Have you ever been to a rally for a major political candidate? I have once — a band blared, confetti exploded through the air, the candidate stood onstage pumping his fist and yelling, the crowd chanted and cheered. Even after the event was over, the electric atmosphere didn’t settle down because every single person was just so excited.
I would never compare Jesus to a politician for many, many reasons. I do think, however, the crowd in Jerusalem that day was very similar to a crowd at a political rally. That day, the Jews in Jerusalem believed the man called Jesus would make their lives better, overthrowing Rome and reinstating the old kingdom.
People at political rallies think real change is coming — taxes will go down, income will skyrocket, or whatever is on the agenda. Sometimes, we see Jesus through the same lens: “As long as he comes through, answers the prayers and acts in a way that meets my expectations, then I will follow him. But if he doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, I must reassess the value of our relationship.”
I don’t think the crowd in Jerusalem really knew what was going on. The very same people who yelled, “Hosanna in the highest!” five days later chose Barabbas and yelled, “Crucify Jesus!” They no longer saw him as a viable candidate to meet their expectations.
Every day, we are tempted as this crowd was with the idea of “conditional discipleship.” When the wheels of life come off and he manages to put them back on, then I’m okay with him being my Lord. If he gives me the things I really want, then I’ll follow. But when he doesn’t come through, I waver.
We tend to think along the lines of, “I’ll follow as long as he doesn’t ask too much of me. I have some ideas too, and he has to listen.” We try to bend his will to fit ours because, ultimately, that cross doesn’t sound very appealing.
No, those people yelling “Hosanna” didn’t know what they were witnessing. They thought they were at a parade for a soldier who was going to be their champion, but in reality, they were at a funeral procession. But Jesus knew what was happening, and he may have been the only one. They thought he was going to deliver them from Roman rule, but Jesus knew he was going to do a lot more — he was going to save them from death itself.
Jesus had his own agenda for his people — a good, holy, life-changing plan. But it didn’t line up with theirs, and once they realized this entrance wasn’t a parade but a funeral procession, they turned their backs to him.
This Good Friday and Easter, I implore you to remember Jesus’s plan won’t always line up with yours. Yes, following him will lead down a celebratory street, with people cheering for you, but it will also lead to the cross. In good times and bad, never lose sight of the third day when death is defeated. Don’t be a conditional disciple.