Make no mistake about it, this is a political parade. The coincidence that occurred on the same day when Rome held a bigger and grander parade on the other side of Jerusalem is too great. That parade, like this parade, culminated in the ruler riding alone on a beast of burden. The crowds cheered for Pontius Pilate on his magnificent horse, throwing down their coats and waving palms, signs of respect for royalty, just as this smaller crowd cheered for Jesus that day.
Jesus’ attention to detail for the parade also indicate that some thought went into this event. He paused outside of Jerusalem to make sure the event would go well. The pause was also a part of the timing of his parade to match the other parade. He had his followers enter Jerusalem to secure the colt or donkey, which it seems he had prearranged months before for this event. Even his primary mode of transportation were his feet on this day he decided it important not to walk but ride into town. Plus, surely those same disciples also spread word about Jesus’ arrival in order to gather a crowd to welcome him. Jesus was announcing that he was a king. The crowd’s excitement was because they understood that Jesus was a king. They hoped that Jesus was a king sent by God.
My guess is that by the end of the week, that crowd was disappointed in King Jesus. Ten, twenty or thirty years later, they had to wonder, what if. What if Jesus had seized the moment and challenged Rome right then with the crowd behind him. What if the people of Jerusalem had kept faith in their king and not instead demand that he be killed at the end of the week. What if God had said yes to the prayers of his followers and saved not just Jesus but Jerusalem, too. They knew Jesus was a long shot, but what if.
It is hard to keep faith in God when life does not go as it seems only right and fair that it should go. Disappointments mount up and before we know it, there is nothing left of our belief. The problem we all have is trusting that God is bigger than our dreams. The problem is when we start dictating to God what should happen rather than trusting God with the journey we have been given. The problem is when we forget that Jesus came to save the world, not just me. The god that too often we reflexively believe in is a god who is always on our side and puts our interests ahead of the interests of all others-friends, neighbors and of course enemies. Just as the crowd at Jesus’ parade wanted a different sort of king, we find ourselves hoping for a different kind of God.
Jesus was declaring that day he was a king, but knew he was not the kind of king the crowd wanted. Jesus is always turning the tables on us in his stories. The rich fool who has been blessed beyond our imagination, who has received so much that he can’t build barns big enough to hold it all, suddenly dies and his stuff just gathers dust. The good, Godly people ignore the traveler beaten and dying on the road, while the hated neighbor, the Samaritan does the Godly thing and rescues him. The father throws a party for the son who treated him poorly, robbed him of his wealth and wished he were dead, rather than the son who stayed home and worked hard in his household. It is the dishonest tax collector that prays the honest prayer that pleases God. It is the stock characters in Jesus’ stories that we think we know that always seem to surprise us.
So, we should be ready for a surprise when Jesus declares that he is a king. Jesus was a king, but no ordinary one. He was a king humbly riding a donkey while the king on the other side of town rode in on a majestic horse. He was a king whose followers were not the richest and most powerful in the kingdom as in the other parade but the poorest. Both crowds threw down their cloaks to honor their king, but his crowd quickly picked up their tattered shawls after he passed because they were the only coat they owned. And unlike the other king, he was a king who not only lacked an army but taught his followers to love their enemies by not striking back when someone attacks you.
Make no mistake about it, Jesus knew what he was doing and on this day he was declaring that he was a king. The crowds knew what they were doing and they were ready for Jesus to be their king. It is just that they were bound to be disappointed in the king Jesus would turn out to be. The crowd longed for a king that would take their poverty and replace it with wealth, take their enemies and punish them with the sword, take their humiliation and oppression and give them a people to humiliate and oppress. This is the sort of king most of us long for. Someone that will lift us up on the backs of those who have harmed us. And, it is the god that we long for, too.
Ten, twenty, thirty years later, did those who had been in that crowd see a lost opportunity that day? Or, did the resurrection on Easter morning help them understand the bigger story, God’s story? King Jesus won victory in death by staying faithful to God’s plan rather than the more narrow plan of the crowd. King Jesus came not to rule Jerusalem, but all of the world. Maybe, this is the work of all of us in Holy Week, to force our hands to let go of our narrow hope for God and in order for them to be ready to fully embrace God’s broad hope for our world. Amen