Friday, March 26, 2021

Palm Sunday - sermon for Week Ending March 27, 2021


Matthew 21: 1-11.                 

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey colt tied. Untie him and bring him to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The teacher needs it.’” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and put their cloaks on it, and Jesus sat on it. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


One of the many things I love about New Vision is that we don’t check our brains at the door. We are always interested in exploring new ways to experience the mystery that we call God and new ways to read and interpret the stories in the bible. And much of the time, that means letting go of the interpretations we grew up with. Growing up, I was taught that just about everything that happened in the Old Testament was really a prophecy about Jesus, who would come to save the Jews from themselves, because they had gotten it all wrong, but they rejected him because he wasn’t what they thought he would be. He was too Christian for them or something. I know now, because I use my brain and read books, that the Hebrew Scriptures are about liberation from slavery, exile and return, covenant, and how we are supposed to treat each other. And that the gospels were written by Jews for Jews as communal memory, influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures, first century rabbinic Judaism, and oral stories about Jesus. And Jews during that time were a diverse group who had many choices. They could be Pharisees or Essenes or Sadducees, or become followers of John the Baptizer or Jesus of Nazareth. A few months ago, we looked at the Sermon on the Mount as the Rabbi Jesus’ interpretation of Torah, with the help of Jewish and New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine and I found her work so insightful that I bought the Jewish Annotated New Testament by Levine and Marc Brettler. I thought it would be interesting to use it for Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, which is often read by Christians as anti-Jew, with the Jews labeled as Christ killers, as it was written, portraying Jesus in the tradition of the biblical prophets, who also brought good news to the people. The end of the passage even says, “This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From the beginning, it is Israel’s history that tells us what is going on and why when Jesus enters Jerusalem. The city is holy now as it was then. It’s the capital of Judea and the site of the temple. It’s Passover, the feast of freedom described in the book of Exodus that every Jew celebrated. Tens of thousands of people from the Jewish diaspora made pilgrimages to the city for the festival. The text says that Jesus entered the city from beside the Mount of Olives, riding on a donkey, a reference to the book of Zachariah, which chronicles the return from Babylonian exile and the restoration of Jerusalem, describing the coming of a great king, a king of peace. It says, “Rejoice greatly o daughter of Zion, sing aloud o daughter Jerusalem. Your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious. Humble and riding on a donkey. He will cut off the chariot and the warhorse from Jerusalem and he shall command peace to the nations.” What the NRSV translates as Triumphant, Levine says, really means, in Hebrew, righteous. The focus for Zachariah and for Matthew and for Jesus is the power of justice. And the word Humble, like the word Meek, as she explained in the beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” in Hebrew, does not mean gentle or submissive, but someone who will not lord it over others, who will take their place with those who are suffering, who will bring peace through compassion and understanding. In verse 9, the crowds shouted Hosanna, which in Hebrew means, “Save Us.” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” is an allusion to psalm 118, one of the Hallel or Hallelujah psalms sung by the pilgrims as they came to Jerusalem and sung at the Passover supper. Levine points out that the salvation sought in most of Israel’s scriptures was not spiritual but physical. Save me from slavery. From famine. From exile. It’s the same for the people in this story. And for us. She says, “The crowd wants what we all want: political reform, compassion rather than conquest, a balanced budget, affordable healthcare, clean water, peaceful streets, and lower taxes.” This also describes the kingdom of Heaven that Jesus has been speaking about, that he told us in the Sermon on the Mount was already present, if we just do what he taught us to do. If we live the way he taught us to live. What did he say? Create a community of love and compassion and justice and equality. Help make a world where angry thoughts don’t have the opportunity to lead to murder. Be aware of our own privileges and work to help those that don’t have the same benefits. Realize that we are all in this together. Know that our value doesn’t lie in what position we hold, but in what we contribute to the world. Treat one another with kindness and dignity and respect. And share what we have with each other. That is what Jesus learned from his bible, and that it what he taught us, not just with words, but with the way he lived his life. May we follow his example with the way we live our lives. Amen.

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