What did Jesus see when he went into the Temple on that day he returned to Jerusalem? He’d just been welcomed into the city with shouts of “Hosanna!” and waving of branches. It wasn’t a spectacular parade as parades go, but it was an enthusiastic welcome to be sure. From the excitement of the small crowd he goes to the Temple. Mark tells us he goes in and looks at everything. Then he goes to Bethany to spend the night, presumably with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.
Maybe I’m still caught up in last week’s image from John’s Gospel of Jesus and his troubled soul. I imagine Jesus looking into the future and seeing the bleak reality of what he faced. He knew that Roman officials and Temple authorities alike wanted him dead. He probably hoped that God would provide another way for him, for the people of God. After that slow donkey ride with people shouting, “Help me!” or “Save me!” They believe him to be sent by God to claim the throne of David. Jesus rode a donkey, not a big white horse, and the people still thought this humble man would free them from Roman oppression.
Did Jesus go into the Temple to look for God’s presence? Did he go looking for an affirmation that there was something worth saving? Did he hope to find sanctuary in that sacred space? Who knows? He walked in, looked around, and left. Was his heart heavier or lighter when he went back to his donkey? If he was looking for sanctuary, he didn’t find it. Did he what he saw confirm that he was doing the right thing by risking his life?
So many unanswerable questions! I wonder if it would be any different today. Would Jesus find what he was looking for in any of our churches? Would he find friends embracing him with Love? Would he find hallowed ground, protected at all costs from humble people like him? Would he see the fullness of life or empty, outdated spaces holding echoes of the glory days of the past? Would he find holy space for a quiet prayer and silent affirmation of his call? Would he see evidence of a faithful people, a people worth risking his life for?
While Jesus is looking around inside the Temple for whatever his troubled soul needs, the crowds outside disperse. The ragtag group that followed Jesus wandered off toward their own homes, celebratory branches dragging on the ground. Meanwhile, on the other side of town, the remnants of the Roman parade linger. Speeches about safety and the power that Rome has to rule with authority and quell any revolution people might be whispering about, reach desperate ears. It isn’t likely that people shouted, “Hosanna!” as the Roman contingent entered Jerusalem in numbers. However, they likely hoped that mighty Rome would save them from despair, poverty, and violence. I suspect too many people were there that day, witnessing the wrong parade with misguided longings.
Perhaps today as well. With all the people enamored with the glamorous promises of “Rome” do enough of us shout “Hosanna!” for us to be heard? Is it possible that over the years our churches might be too much like that Temple was on that first Palm Sunday. What do we need to do, or be, or change, so that Jesus might be less troubled? Are we, as church, the embodiment of Christ? Would Jesus see in us an affirmation of all that he taught, lived for, and died for?
Maybe our hosannas will ring truer this year. Maybe this year Jesus will hear us genuinely asking for help, asking to be saved from our own human frailty. Maybe this is the year that we will finally see that Jesus is the One who comes in the name of God to free us all from oppression, not with a sword like that first crowd thought, but with Love…
RCL – Year B – Palm Sunday – March 25, 2018
Mark 11:1-11 or John 12:12-16
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Schweihofer