Jesus is kind of a big deal. Maybe not to everyone, but still, I think we’d be surprised at how many people think Jesus is a big deal. I think we’d also be surprised at the many different ways in which people think Jesus is a big deal. Including the negative ones.
Yes, I know that there are people who think that Jesus is a big deal but in a bad way. He challenges existing structures and the status quo in society. He’s a threat to those who like to wield power. He hangs out with all the wrong people, you know, the ones we thought we’d managed to dismiss and ignore. He doesn’t always follow the rules.
I guess that last one’s open to interpretation, of course. He says what’s at the heart of the law is more important than the letter of the law, but …
Wait. I’m sorry. Did you think I was talking about how we think of Jesus today? Perhaps it doesn’t seem like there’s much difference on the surface. Of course, we’ve had two thousand years of what’s been thought and done in Jesus’ name – good and bad – to influence our own belief.
But try and set that aside for a moment. Put yourself outside a gate on the east side of Jerusalem, two thousand years ago. You’re in line to get into town. It’s hot and there’s probably a big line-up. It’s Passover and lots of people are making the pilgrimage to The Temple for the festival.
Passover commemorates the story of Exodus, the Hebrew people’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. Specifically, it refers to the tenth and final plague that finally persuaded the Pharaoh to let the people go, the death of the first born of every house. The Angel of Death came to every house, but God told the Hebrews to mark their doors with lamb’s blood so that the Angel would know to pass over it.
So, here you are, lining up to get into Jerusalem to celebrate a festival of freedom, a festival watched over by the Roman garrison, an ever present reminder that you’re not really free. The line might even be slow because there’s Roman soldiers at the gate checking everyone for weapons. There were always zealots trying to start something and a major festival with big crowds was a great opportunity.
That’s why there was the big parade on the other side of town. Pilate, the Roman Governor, wasn’t always in Jerusalem, but for a big event like this, he road into town on a war horse at the head of a column of Roman soldiers. A show of imperial force to remind people who’s in control.
Over here, though, there’s a suddenly a murmur through the crowd that someone’s seen that Jesus everyone’s been talking about. He’s kind of a big deal. If the stories about him are true – and so many people have seen him now – teaching and preaching, doing miracles and healing people. He preaches love and peace. Some even suggest he’s the promised messiah.
More than a murmur now, there’s people shouting and waving branches. And they’re coming this way. You can see Jesus now, he’s riding a donkey. That seems odd, since everyone else is walking. But isn’t there a prophecy in Zechariah that a king would come, humbly riding a donkey, and that king would bring freedom and peace? It’s a sign. Jesus must be the promised one!
People are throwing their coats down now, for the donkey to walk on, as befits a king. Should you cheer him on? That’s not what people are shouting. They’re calling out to him to save them, shouting hosanna (save us). Hosanna!
Hosanna. Save us. Put yourself outside a gate on the east side of Jerusalem, two thousand years ago, calling out to the promised messiah to save you. A messiah who is presented to you a few days later, broken and defenceless, a mockery of a crown on his head. Yet another wannabe “messiah” that failed you. Wouldn’t you cry for his death with everyone else?
Jesus never did the expected. Quite the opposite. And yet, we expected – and still expect – him to be the kind of messiah that will do the expected: save us. Not with an army or as a great warrior king, as they might have expected two thousand years ago. Not with force, but nonetheless, to still single handedly save us.
But this is Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” This is the Light of the World who intended to show us The Way. This is Jesus, who taught that we should love our neighbour as ourselves. This is Jesus, who was all about power with people, not over people. This is Jesus who’s life taught us to love as he loved.