— Rev. Phil Hobson

April 13, 2014
Palm Sunday

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Matthew 21:1-11

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

In Biblical scholarship great emphasis is placed on drawing forth from the text its meaning, regardless of who we are or what our own context may be. To be accused of reading our own biases, agendas, assumptions into the text is an insult reserved for those “other” scholars “over there.” But the notion that there is one single, universal truth to be distilled from scripture that can be obtained if we are simply objective enough denies two things about faith that I find to be true:

The Bible speaks in many different voices, through many different genres, written in many different circumstances, and when read closely it resists any attempt to distill it down to one idea. The writings of a people on the edge between life and death in the midst of the parted waters of the Red Sea or in exile are very different from the writings of a king on his throne. We all have biases and assumptions and experiences and to try and deny these in an attempt to get at the Biblical truth is to miss the fact that scripture speaks to each of us, not just to some imagined, objective person.

The Bible is messy. (I find this a comfort, because life is messy.) And everyone, conservative and liberal, reactionary and radical, we all work out our interpretations from where we are.

This is not to say that anything goes, and if it feels good, believe it. We are aware that we can read it to simply shore up what we have already believed or we can find something that dramatically changes our lives. When white South Africans gave Bibles to black South Africans, the whites thought they were shoring up the structures of Apartheid, giving divine mandate to the racist system in place. The blacks read stories of Exodus and exile and resurrection and discipleship and found strength for resistance and defiance and a new way.

This morning is Palm Sunday. A day of celebration at the end of a long season of penance. A day of waving palms and joining the crowds in the shouts of:

Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

(Of course, they shout “Hosanna!” because it is Lent and we’ve removed all the “Alleluias.”)

Reading closely we notice that once again Matthew has taken Hebrew poetry and made it literal: Jesus is riding on both a donkey and its colt. Either Matthew is very, very literal minded or, as a good Jewish writer, Matthew is doing midrash, the Jewish practice of imaginatively interpreting a story through the use of other stories, of drawing meaning out by connecting it to other moments in the life of faith.

This is not about trying to ride two animals at once, but about seeing that this story is no normal entry into the city of the Temple.

And while we enjoy a break in the Lenten penitence, we must be careful about our projections of Christ’s triumph in this moment. This is a moment when the projections of the crowd will be part of what gets Jesus killed.

The crowd which now shouts “Hosanna in the highest!” will soon be screaming “Crucify him!” The ones who have a stake in the status quo have no wish to hear of the disruptions that Jesus is causing:

  • Those who support Rome want him silenced, as do those who fear Rome.
  • Those who claim authority need to prove he has none.
  • Those whose livelihood is dependent on empire or on self-serving ways cannot abide the distraction, the possibility that there is another way.

They themselves are caught in the impossible place of being between the God they worship and the empire whose food they eat, whose roads they travel, whose legions they fear, whose gold they covet.

If we are reading closely, we find ends at a strange place, right before Jesus goes in to cleanse the Temple and heal the blind and the
lame. But maybe not so strange:

And when he entered Jerusalem,
all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?”
And the crowds said,
“This is the prophet Jesus
from Nazareth of Galilee.”

From the point of view of the creeds, they got his title wrong. But if we read it the way they might have heard it back then:

A prophet is one who comes to reveal God, whether through preaching or teaching or signs and wonders or whatever other means necessary. Jesus, a name that stems from old Hebrew and means “Yahweh is salvation,” or “God saves.” Galilee is that northern hinterland where troublemakers and rabble-rousers come from.

These are at once projections of the people’s hopes (and fears) and who he really is. Jesus is the troublemaker who will reveal God and God’s salvation, even though they all project their own ideas of what such a Messiah is supposed to do and be:

Zealots want him to lead a militia against Rome and drive them out and reestablish David’s united kingdom of Israel and Judah. The Scribes and Pharisees want him to institute greater obedience to the Torah and the practices of the traditions. Herodians and the Temple elite don’t mind him preaching and healing as long as he quits undermining their authority.

He lives up to none of their expectations, he bows to none of their projections.

Whoever we are – liberal or conservative, radical or reactionary – the events of this next week are not about us and our agendas. And whoever we are, wherever we are on life’s journey, the events of this week are all about us: children of God, followers of Jesus, gathered by the Holy Spirit. We too will have our expectations overturned, our biases revealed, our agendas trumped, for God is not done yet. Not in the story of this week. Not in our lives.

There is much yet to be suffered. But Easter is coming.

Thanks be to God.