Sunday’s sermon: Paved with Good Intentions

Palm Sunday 2

Text used – Mark 11:1-11

 

 

  • As I was thinking about our Scripture reading this week, the phrase “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” kept running through my head, and I wanted to dig a little deeper into that phrase.[1]
    • English proverb with obscure origins → possibly English … possibly French → variations and “first” references spanning from 1640-1855 (I told you the origins were obscure!)
    • Meanings:
      • Importance of not just meaning well but doing well – a good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action.
      • Trying to do something good often having unintended consequences which make things worse
    • And here we sit with this week’s Scripture reading – the story of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem and the cross … a road that’s truly paved with good intentions but a road that leads to darkness and death, humiliation and pain nonetheless. “The importance of not just meaning well but doing well … trying to do good with unintended consequences that make it worse.” Hmmm. Let’s dive into our Scripture reading this morning.
  • Today’s reading = Mark’s account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem → this is The Palm Sunday text
    • Basics
      • Jesus and the disciples are finally approaching the city of Jerusalem → come to a place called Bethphage at the Mount of Olives (just a couple miles outside of Jerusalem’s walls)
      • Jesus instructs disciples to enter a village to retrieve a colt tied up (which they do) → bring it back to Jesus → toss their cloaks over its back so Jesus can sit on it → start riding this pint-sized donkey into Jerusalem
      • Crowd’s reaction is magnificent: cloaks tossed on the road for the colt to walk on → palm branches hastily cut from the surrounding trees → palm branches tossed on the ground along with the cloaks and waved in the air in celebration and triumph → people all around shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”[2]
      • Can imagine …
        • Throngs of people lining both sides of the road from Bethany into Jerusalem
        • People laughing and clapping
        • Children running around, playing games and laughing and reveling in the festival-like atmosphere – dodging through the crowd and zig-zagging in front of and behind the donkey
      • Procession that makes its way slowly but purposefully all the way up to the Temple → And everything about this procession is significant – what the crowd is doing, what the people are saying, and even the direction that Jesus and the disciples are coming from. There’s a layer of cultural significance here that we don’t really understand today.
        • Scholar: [Jesus] begins at the Mount of Olives, the traditional location from which people expected the final battle for Jerusalem’s liberation would begin. … When Jesus does finally enter the city, he enjoys all the trappings of a great military procession for a triumphant national hero. The people participating in the event do everything a victorious military leader would expect. In actions that would have been considered treasonous by the empire, the crowd spreads branches and cloaks before Jesus as a symbol of honor.[3] → The crowds that were surrounding Jesus were expecting a triumphant savior (“savior” with a small “s”) – one who would help them overthrow the oppression of the Roman conquerors and help the people of Israel find freedom again as a nation. For them, that’s what a Messiah was supposed to do and be! And so they greeted Jesus and ushered him into the city as a mighty conquering hero. They were excited about the freedom and deliverance that they were expecting Jesus, the Movement Leader, to bring.
          • Hear it in the crowd’s words: “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!”
  • “The road to hell is paved with good intentions”
    • Intentions were good
    • Intentions were just
    • Intentions were to honor and celebrate this coming Messiah à just not the Messiah they were expecting
    • But still, their intentions, good though they were, were misplaced. That’s not the kind of Messiah that Jesus came to be. That’s not the kind of freedom that Jesus came to bring. That’s not the kind of deliverance that would come in the wake of this triumphal entry. And so as the week would progress … as the people would realize that Jesus wasn’t raising an army of resistance and calling for armed rebellion … as they began to hear whispers and rumors of the false accusations that the Pharisees were trying to spread about Jesus … their hopes and dreams for political and national freedom began to crumble. And as those hopes and dreams crumbled, so did their intentions.
      • Remember meanings of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”
        • Importance of not just meaning well but doing well – a good intention is meaningless unless it is followed by a good action. → The good intentions of this crowd who today are revering and celebrating this coming Messiah will soon deteriorate into cries of, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Their well-intended meaning long since forgotten, and their follow-up actions far from good.
        • Trying to do something good often having unintended consequences which make things worse → The good intentions of this crowd who today is gathering to adore and praise this coming Messiah will soon be turned against them and against Jesus by the Pharisees who will twist this triumphal entry into accusations of Jesus posing as a rebel king and thereby threatening the rule of the Roman Empire – unforeseeable, unintended consequences of the actions of this crowd.
  • Unforeseeable for the crowd … unforeseeable for the disciples … but not unforeseeable for Jesus → Jesus knew what was coming. Jesus knew exactly what was coming. Yes, Jesus knew. So I can’t help but wonder on Palm Sunday morning what Jesus must have been thinking.
    • Thinking about these seemingly-good intentions from the crowd
    • Thinking about all the pomp and circumstance
    • Thinking about what the disciples were doing and saying and thinking in the midst of all of this
    • Seeing through the joy and exuberance of the day
    • Seeing the darkness hovering around the edges of the bright and colorful celebration, just waiting to seep in and steal it all away
    • Seeing the hill looming behind the city and knowing exactly what that hill would hold in just a few short days
    • I imagine that for Jesus, it may have felt like living in a bubble – like everything around you is both hyper-real and completely unreal at the same time … like the world has turned upside-down, but you’re the only one to notice … like you’re holding your breath, not sure when the next breath will come, while everyone around you is gulping in great lung-fulls of air … like “normal” for everyone else will never be “normal” for you again.
  • So here we are. On Palm Sunday morning. Sheltering in place in our homes. Trying to worship together. Trying to find community in the midst of this pandemic. Trying to find light in this darkness. Trying to maintain whatever shred of “normal” we can in the chaos around us – a chaos that is more internal than anything; a chaos that, at least on the outside (in the streets, in the stores, in the “outside” world) is eerily silent. And like Jesus, we’re holding our breath. We’re waiting. We’re anxious. There is darkness around the edges, and we’re just trying to hold it together. Know that you are not alone. Know that Jesus is hunkered down there with you. Be assured in God’s familiarity with confusion and chaos (especially the kind that lives inside us), and be assured that God’s grace and peace are bigger than any fear we may be facing. Because that’s why Jesus came. That’s why Jesus rode that little donkey into Jerusalem. That’s why Jesus started this whole journey toward the cross. To bring us God’s grace and embody God’s love for us in a way that cannot be overcome by darkness and fear no matter how strong … no matter how prevalent … no matter how many of our good intentions crumble into ashes and dust. Jesus came. Jesus comes. Jesus will come again. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] https://grammarist.com/proverb/the-road-to-hell-is-paved-with-good-intentions/.

[2] Mk 11:9-10.

[3] Charles L. Campbell. “Sixth Sunday in Lent (Liturgy of the Palms) – Mark 11:1-11, Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year B, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 155.

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