Reading palms

Signpost for Sunday 29 March, 2015, 6th in Lent, Palm Sunday: Ps 118: 1-2, 19-29; Mark 11:1-11 OR John 12:12-16.

Last year the lectionary gave us Matthew’s version of Yeshua’s entry into Jerusalem. This year we get a choice of Mark or John. John, like Matthew, references Zech 9:9 (John12:15), Mark doesn’t, but both echo the Psalmist. That’s the way the Jews tell their important stories – by constantly referring back to older important stories.

Just like Jesus, Judas Maccabaeus had arrived in Jerusalem about 200 years earlier and was greeted by crowds shouting hosanna! Or more likely it’s the other way around. The New Testament writers are almost certainly telling the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem as a parable that would remind first century Jewish Christians of the arrival of the warrior ‘king’. They would be highlighting the differences between Judas M and Jesus C. The ass replaces the warhorse; the man of peace replaces the man of war.

And in more concrete terms, a crowd almost certainly replaced the crowds. Everyone knew Judas Maccabaeus was on his way and they couldn’t wait to see the man who had defeated the mighty Seleucid army. Not quite so many people knew Yeshua was on his way; in fact Johns tells us (John 17-18) that the people who went to see Jesus riding on the ass were those who had heard about Lazarus’ remarkable recovery just a few miles away.

Of course if you were a gentile, the symbolism of Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem might be more reminiscent of something you had seen elsewhere – a Roman general’s Triumph – the procession granted to all victorious Roman generals on their return home. Once again there’s that contrast between the man of peace and the man of war.

Although, the gospels appear the be giving us a parable that accentuates the difference between Jesus and heroes like Judas Maccabaeus, it’s interesting that Mark and Matthew tell us that the very first thing Jesus did in Jerusalem after Palm Sunday was lose his rag with the money lenders in the Temple and smash their tables. Some people must have thought Jesus was a fighter after all. No wonder the disciples were baffled and confused by the man who washed their feet a few days later (John 13:3-16).

Paul

P.S. don’t forget Sheila’s helpful tip: make your palm crosses out of palms. Flax is sooooo difficult to turn into ashes!

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