Parades should be easy to understand, but sometimes at a parade we just don’t get it. When my daughter Abbey was about four years old, we took the entire family to downtown Toledo for a Fourth of July Day parade. It was a beautiful day. The parade featured school bands, politicians, a few floats from local groups, Shriners in their little cars and of course clowns.
One particular clown zipped around on a minibike doing stunts and such. One stunt was to drive up next to a kid about Abbey’s age, put them on his minibike and drive them around, dropping them off safely where he found them. Abbey watched all of this with huge eyes. When the clown drove his minibike next to my beautiful family of blonde haired children, Abbey started screaming at the top of her lungs. The clown tried to console her and that just made her more terrified. Her screams went to a higher pitch. Eventually, he rode off. After she stopped hyperventilating, we found out what the screams about. It wasn’t that she was terrified of clowns in general but this clown in particular. In her four year old sensibilities, the clown was obviously stealing children. She saw the clown putting the kids on his minibike, then seconds later riding alone. Clearly something bad had happened to the kids who got on that bike. Her screams were making it clear to him, us, and the world, that she wasn’t falling for that trick.
Parades should be easy to understand, but sometimes at a parade we just don’t get it. The Palm Sunday parade of scripture is one of those parades that for very different reasons, the crowd, many of the disciples, maybe even us don’t quite have it right what Jesus is doing. Like the clown in Abbey’s eyes, Jesus’ parade in Jerusalem was widely misinterpreted.
Jerusalem was definitely not the biggest city in the ancient world, but far bigger than all the other places in scripture Jesus visited. Jerusalem is the city that King David made the seat of power for Israel. Jerusalem is where the temple of God was built by his son Solomon. Jerusalem is the center of the world for a Jewish man or woman then and now. Jesus wasn’t just visiting on any day, either. He entered the city when it was brimming with religious tourists. Jews from around the world come to Jerusalem on the week of the holiest day, Passover. Thousands more Jews meant hundreds more Romans, too, in the day of Jesus. Extra soldiers were called into Jerusalem that week to handle the Jews that Rome ruled with an iron fist. Roman rulers came to Jerusalem that week too, to make clear Rome’s absolute power over the Jewish people.
Clearly, Jesus wanted to be a part of a parade in Jerusalem. He could have just come into the city quietly and unnoticed. Instead he arranges for a special ride, sending out a few fixers ahead of him. Those fixers, his disciples, probably spread the word that the great, wise and healing rabbi is about to enter the city. At least some of the disciples believed that the powerful Jesus was finally going to reclaim the glory of Jerusalem and put on the crown that God intended for the Messiah. If the Jewish crowds didn’t know that the Messiah was coming into Jerusalem before the disciples came in to arrange for a donkey, I bet they did after they left.
The crowds, hearing the buzz, understandably got excited. Jerusalem was an occupied city. You couldn’t spit and not hit a Roman soldier. If God was going to send a Messiah, it made sense that it would be now, right? They needed a king, a Messiah, to lead Israel to glory like in the time of David and to stop the daily humiliation of all Jews by the Romans. Why not now? Why not Jesus? They start lining the streets while Jesus prepared his borrowed donkey for his entrance. The crowds throw down their coats so that his donkey won’t have to ride on the dirt road, like they would for a king. They grab palm branches to wave, like we would put on a big foamy number one mitton today to add to the excitement. They shout Hosanna! Which kind of in a religious way means, hip, hip hooray! Jesus wanted a parade. The disciples and the crowds give him a parade. Their parade was for the Messiah, the King of Jews who would squash Roman rule.
Abbey got most of it right. A clown riding a minibike in a parade, plucked kids from the crowd and put them on his minibike. Moments later that clown was riding alone. For my smart four year old daughter, one plus one equals two. Abbey got most of it right, but the part she missed, the clown dropping the kids back off safely with their parents, made all the difference in the world. The crowds and the disciples got most of it right. Jesus was entering Jerusalem, the center of God’s chosen people, in a parade fit for a king. Jesus is the Messiah, the promised king sent from God to restore glory to Israel and reconcile the creation. What the crowd and the disciples got wrong, though was what kind of king. They thought he would be a king for the Kingdom of Man, ruling a new and more powerful state of Israel. Jesus is the king of the Kingdom of God, reigning over all people.
Jesus wanted a parade that day I think so that the most ears could hear and eyes could see what God was doing through his ministry. The Kingdom of God has drawn near, is what his royal entrance into the center of the world announced. This is what his miracles and teachings are all about in the gospel of Mark, proving the Kingdom of God is drawing near because the blind see, the disabled walk and teaching that that kingdom will be ruled by love for each other. That Jews and Gentiles were abundantly present in Jerusalem the week of Passover seems crucial for Jesus’ parade. Jesus is not just a Messiah to save Israel. He is a Messiah to save everyone.
Nothing is worse than an angry crowd. When this crowd catches wind that Jesus isn’t going to kick Roman butt but save them, too, their chants of Hosanna! Hosanna! move lightening fast to Crucify him! Crucify him! First century Jews, like 21st century Americans, aren’t much interested in a king sent by God who doesn’t have their political concerns and priorities at his center. Sure God loves all the creation, but let’s be honest who here doesn’t believe just a little bit that God loves our corner of creation more than the rest. The crowds and disciples were giving a parade that day for their savior, not the world’s savior.
King Jesus came to save, but it wasn’t to save Jerusalem from Roman rule. King Jesus came to save both Roman and Jew, black and white, poor and rich, American and Iranian. Parades should be easy to understand, but sometimes at a parade we just don’t get it. King Jesus wanted a parade that day to announce his rule and the closeness of the Kingdom of God. We live under the rule of King Jesus when we accept that love and forgiveness is the most powerful weapon we have. May our cries of delight in this parade, never turn to screams of fear because we misunderstand this truth. Our King has arrived. Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!