Sunday’s sermon: Willing to HONOR

Text used – Matthew 21:1-17

  • I feel like this morning’s sermon is brought to you by one of the classic Sesame Street songs: “One of these things is not like the other. One of these things doesn’t belong …” You see, today is Palm Sunday, and while all four gospels include a Palm Sunday narrative – some version of what they call Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into the city of Jerusalem in the week leading up to his arrest and crucifixion – all four gospels also tell a slightly different story.
    • Interestingly enough, Mt’s version contains nearly all of what we assume they all contain
      • Disciples sent for a beast for Jesus to ride on → Mt’s particularity: only one to mention “a donkey tied up and a colt with it”[1]
      • Cloaks tossed on the back of Jesus’ humble mount as well as on the road
      • Palm branches also tossed on the road
      • Another element unique to Mt’s telling: And when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up. “Who is this?” they asked.[2] → Matthew is the only one to bring the whole of the city of Jerusalem into the scene on this one. All the other gospel version of this scene include the crowd, and a few of them include the Pharisees being “stirred up,” but only Matthew’s Jesus causes such a commotion.
        • Gr. here is a little more severe than this particular translation lets on – Gr. = shake, agitate, tremble → Jesus has caused more than just a subtle buzz of whispered conversations with his entry into Jerusalem. He’s sent a tremor through the entire city.
          • Depicted in such a powerful and unescapable way in classic 1970s film depiction of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Supertar”


            • Song “Hosanna” covers Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem à crowd’s responses begin adoringly (“Hey JC, JC won’t you smile at me? He JC, JC you’re alright by me!”) → responses soon shift in tone … a shift echoed as the song slips in and out of a minor key (“Hey JC, JC won’t you fight for me? Hey JC, JC won’t you die for me?”)
            • Cinematography in the moment of that final question = perfect portrayal of a tremor → camera zooms in on Jesus’ face and freezes just for a heartbeat
              • Children on either side of Jesus = suspended in joyful smiles
              • Palm branches around Jesus = frozen in a blur, mid-wave
              • Jesus’ own face = momentarily fixed in an expression of worry and concern
          • Reason for that is another one of those cultural context pieces that we lose being so far removed from 1st century Jerusalem → Do you remember last week when we talked about how the Jews expected the Messiah to come as a military conqueror – someone to vanquish the Roman occupiers and return the people of Israel to their independence and their national glory? This triumphal entry of Jesus’ that we read about today was the kind of entry – the kind of fanfare and parade and implied authority – that would have invoked and enforced just such expectations.
            • Scholar: Ancient literature narrates numerous scenes whereby ruling elite figures – emperors, governors, kings, military generals – ceremonially enter a city. This entry ritual comprised: a previous military victory, honoring an elevated figure, crowds who welcomed and acclaimed the figure’s greatness, a religious ceremony, [and] a speech of welcome. … Jesus’ entry imitates this elite practice.[3]
          • But it’s not just the simple fact that Jesus was imitating this custom that caused those shockwaves throughout the whole city. It’s how Jesus imitated the custom … how he mirrored it and, more importantly, how he altered
            • Same scholar continues: Yet there are significant differences. Jesus rides not a war horse but an everyday beast of burden. Crowds of common folks welcome him. There are no speeches of welcome from elite leaders. He is not an elite figure. He is not authorized by the dominant ruling power. He represents God’s purposes, not Rome’s. However, imitation coexists with resistance.[4] → By weaving an element of commonness and humblenss into this cherished Roman custom, Jesus is both mocking those in power who put such stock in this kind of fanfare and condemning those who find their worth in such worldly acclaim.
          • Another really interesting aspect of this particular Gr. word – this word that describes how Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem caused the whole city to “tremble” → same word used to describe how the guards at the tomb “shook with fear” when the angel from the Lord came down to roll the stone away and reveal the empty tomb → So at least in Matthew’s version, this whole Holy Week narrative – from the very moment Jesus sets foot in Jerusalem until the moment the stone is rolled away – is bookended by the trembling of profound revelation.
  • This whole discussion also opens the door to the wider theme for our reading this morning and how it fits in with our Lenten series about the places where faith and willingness collide: being willing to honor.
    • Honor = theme that ushers Jesus and his disciples into the city → scene drenched in honor of all kinds
      • Honor the disciples show Jesus
        • Following his directions
        • Disciples = first to toss down their cloaks on the donkey’s back and on the road
      • Honor the crowds show Jesus
        • Following the disciples’ example → tossing down their cloaks
        • Tossing down their palm branches
        • Crying out with the treasured and reverent words of their own worship – words from Psalm 118: Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest![5]
      • Parody of a parade of Roman honor
    • Honor = also the theme that transitions us from Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to Jesus’ explosive entry into the temple – text: Then Jesus went into the temple and threw out all those who were selling and buying there. He pushed over the tables used for currency exchange and the chairs of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, My house will be called a house of prayer. But you’ve made it a hideout for crooks.”[6]
      • Incidentally, this is actually one of my favorite pictures that we get of Jesus because he’s so undeniably human here → For so many centuries, the Church focused almost exclusively on the Jesus’ divinity – on Jesus as God. But in the scenes where we get to meet Jesus as a man – when Jesus weeps, when Jesus needs to stop and rest, when Jesus eats with others, when Jesus gets angry – we are reminded that it is just as important that through Jesus, God took on everything it meant to be human including the emotions that sometimes cause us to struggle. God is with us even in our frustration … even in our anger … even in our desperation … because through Jesus, God has been there, too.
        • Important caveat: it’s all about what we do with that anger → Notice that Jesus didn’t cause harm to any of the people in the temple. He turned over their tables. He drove them out. But even in his anger, he didn’t hurt them.
      • Time for some more cultural nuance → This whole idea of there being buying and selling happening in the temple courtyard was not an uncommon practice in the slightest. Remember, the Judaism that Jesus and his followers and everyone else practiced at the time included various sacrifices that had to be made in the temple.
        • Sacrifices dictated by the seasons/festivals throughout the year
        • Sacrifices dictated by phases of life
        • Sacrifices dictated by types of sins for which people sought atonement
        • Doves/pigeons were particularly important → they were the “affordable sacrifice” for those who couldn’t bring a whole lamb or other such larger, more expensive sacrifice
        • Within the Jewish tradition and according to the Laws of Moses laid out in the book of Deuteronomy, the only place such sacrifices could be performed and offered was in the Temple … which is why the practice doesn’t continue today.
          • Final destruction of the Temple came at the hands of the Romans in 70 C.E.
      • Often we view Jesus’ actions here as a judgment on that murky place where commerce and church meet, especially in this day and age when capital is king and the greatest emphasis of society seems to be on accumulating more and more and more – more stuff, more wealth, more prestige. But I want to present you with a slightly nuanced version of that idea this morning. → idea built on the words of two scholars
        • First scholar: [Jesus’ second act] highlights and protests the temple economy as sustaining the temple leadership’s vast socio-political reach that maintains an elite-benefitting society.[7]
        • Second scholar: Jesus is portrayed as a prophet outraged at the failure of the Jewish religious leadership, because they practice injustices in the temple rather than being responsible leaders of Israel.[8]
        • So when I read this text, I hear a Jesus who less concerned with the buying and selling happening than he is for what is being done with those funds. The buying and selling is what’s required for the people of Israel to practice their faith in the way they’ve always been taught. But it’s what’s being done with the funds garnered from the sale of those offerings that has Jesus so angry. Instead of honoring their faith and God’s call to care for those around them who needed a hand, the religious leaders busied themselves with nitpicking the law. And when they weren’t doing that, they were cowtowing to the Roman occupiers, paying them much of the money from those temple financial transactions instead of using it to benefit those who were poor, those who were widowed or orphaned, those who were immigrants, and those who were ill or disabled among them.
          • See this played out in the rest of today’s reading: People who were blind and lame came to Jesus in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and legal experts saw the amazing things he was doing and the children shouting in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were angry. They said to Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” he answered. “Haven’t you ever read, From the mouths of babies and infants you’ve arranged praise for yourself?”[9] → Instead of offering praise for these miracles of healing being performed right before their eyes – instead of offering God all praise and honor in such a profound moment – the chief priests and legal experts were angry.
            • Let their fear, their anger, their frustration, their doubt, and their disbelief distract them from the acts of God happening right in front of them → [MOVE STRAIGHT INTO “EXPLORING THE WORD TOGETHER” QUESTION: What distracts us from honoring God?]

[1] Mt 21:2.

[2] Mt 21:10 (emphasis added).

[3] Warren Carter. “Commentary on Matthew 12:1-17” from Working Preacher,

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mt 21:9.

[6] Mt 21:12-13.

[7] Carter, Working Preacher.

[8] Eunjoo Mary Kim. “Matthew 21:12-13 – Homiletical Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 147.

[9] Mt 21:14-16.

One response to “Sunday’s sermon: Willing to HONOR

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WITNESS | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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