"Into Jerusalem" Bible Study on Mark 11:1-11
March 25, 2021, 12:27 PM

Dear Members & Friends:

I invite you to read the following passages from Mark 11:1-11 (Common English Bible).

 When Jesus and his followers approached Jerusalem, they came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives. Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter it, you will find tied up there a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it, and he will send it back right away.’”

They went and found a colt tied to a gate outside on the street, and they untied it. Some people standing around said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them just what Jesus said, and they left them alone. They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and he sat on it. Many people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields. Those in front of him and those following were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord![a] 10 Blessings on the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest!” 11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. After he looked around at everything, because it was already late in the evening, he returned to Bethany with the Twelve.

Cheryl Lindsay asks some good Palm Sunday questions when she asks: "Who cries 'Hosanna!'? Who's in the crowd?  I wonder if we don't get Palm Sunday quite right . . . from the crowd's point of view?  I wonder if those cries from the crowd were pleas of desperation rather than shouts of joy?"

The meaning of the word "Hosanna!" can mean, "Please save us!' or "Save us now!" or "Deliver us!" or even "Help us!"  Many of the Jewish faithful traveled to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover; Jesus and his disciples were not unique pilgrims to this great annual festival.  Clifton Black makes the point that Jesus travels to and from Jerusalem on more than one occasion in this chapter of Mark alone, but these trips do not reflect a joyful homecoming in Mark's portrayal.  States Black, "Though Jerusalem exerts a gravitational pull, Jesus is never at home there."  Adam Hamilton notes that in Mark's Gospel, Jesus leaves Jerusalem on Palm Sunday evening, goes to stay the night at nearby Bethany, then returns to the Temple courts each day of Holy Week, culminating in the cleansing of the Temple, probably on Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Besides Jesus and his disciples, other pilgrims in the crowd would have have identified with this push and pull with Jerusalem as a focal point.  Their faith brought them to this place, but Roman occupation and oppressive religious leadership would remind them of the distance from the "glory days" of Kings David and Solomon of their ancestral past and the reality of their presence.  The messianic promise would comfort and encourage a people that a better future awaited them.  Was the crowd gearing up for a parade to celebrate the coronation of a new ruler or getting ready for battle under a new banner?  I think the "battle under a new banner" part of the crowd (among whom would have been Judas and Barabbas) was the predominant part of that Palm Sunday crowd.  And they were looking for a successor to the military prowess of David in order to overcome the Roman Empire.

This leads us to the response of the religious and civil leaders.  Not everyone was happy that Jesus had come into Jerusalem.  His presence and popularity presents a threat to the status quo.  Racquel S. Lettsome observes, "The ministry that has the crowds following him and his entry into the city amid cries of messianic expectation makes Jesus a threat to both Jewish and Roman leaders."  Or as Adam Hamilton notes the rising escalation, "With every charge and challenge, Jesus further angered the scribes, Pharisees, and the Sadducees.  The tension grew each time he entered the Temple.  By Thursday, it was clear the city's religious leaders were plotting to put him to death."  And act, they did!  The Jewish ruling council in all matters spiritual and moral in Jewish society, the Sanhedrin (71 elders), had Jesus quietly arrested and tried by night.  So those with authority would be reluctant if not adverse to a rise in power for Jesus.  If they shouted, "Hosanna!", it would only serve as a guise to blend in with the crowd on the edge of a parade.  And of course, the Romans allowed for no other king except Caesar.

Then there were those passersby who got caught up in the surrounding crowd.  They had a destination that coincided with this momentous occasion, and they could not care less about the festivities that disrupted and detoured their path that day.  How funny is life?  Sometimes, we're in the midst of living our daily, walk-around lives, and something spectacular occurs around us that interrupts our plans.

Then the curious were in the crowd, too.  Word had spread of Jesus' ministry.  Some people join a crowd so that they don't miss out on what others experience.  These folks are like modern day ambulance chasers or people who stop to watch street performers.  They might not have sought healing or deliverance for themselves but wanted to be able to tell the story in a way that included them.  Or, they simply wanted to see the show.  This crowd would be the type of people who would cheer Jesus on one day and then berate him a few days later with loud shouts of "Crucify him!"  This group would not have any allegiance to Jesus.  They would be all about results, and when the outcome did not match or exceed their expectations, they wouldn't be disappointed as much as derisive.  People in this group root for the team they think will win and then turn on them if that team gets outmatched or simply has a bad day.  These folks turn on a dime; they are fickle.  This vision of the Palm Sunday narrative is often the most popular interpretation of the crowd mentality.

Mark, in his telling of the Palm Sunday event, dismantles this approach to the passion narrative.  In Mark's Gospel, he stresses the power and urgency of the ministry and mission of Jesus as Adam Hamilton so rightly lifts up.  Mark's consistent and persistent use of the word "immediate" as he describes Jesus' actions lends a drama to the events Mark presents without the lyrical and metaphorical language of John or the exquisite details found in Luke.  There's an energy to Mark's narrative that, markedly, disappears from Mark's Palm Sunday account.

States William C. Placher: "Mark uses every strategy to say two things at once: yes, this is the Messiah, the greatest of miracle workers, the Son of God, but, no, that does not mean at all what you thought it meant."  And as Clifton Black says, "Mark has not narrated a 'triumphal entry.'  He has lampooned it."

Of course, Mark has only lampooned it for the groups in the crowd we've already considered.  But there are two more perspectives to explore, two more groups among the Palm Sunday crowd: Jesus' disciples and those other followers of Jesus who cried, "Hosanna!"

Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem with his closest friends, his disciples.  He brought his small group with him ostensibly to observe the Passover but, in actuality, to participate in his passion.  They are the ones who have and will continue to receive his instruction and confidences.  The disciples are used to Jesus telling them to do things that do not immediately make sense to them.  They have experience with Jesus taking humble things and magnifying them.  They know that when Jesus speaks, things happen.  They have witnessed Jesus responding to needs unspoken and answering the cries of the broken, ailing, and despairing exceedingly and abundantly.  The disciples carry out Jesus' instructions; they go get the colt and throw clothes upon its back so Jesus can ride it.  The disciples aren't asking anything of Jesus, and we are never told in Mark's Gospel whether they cried out, "Hosanna!"

The part of the crowd who cried out, "Hosanna!" were looking for a miracle.  That group might have been filled with people like the woman with the issue of blood who crawled her way through another crowd and their hostility toward her in order to touch the one she believed had the power to heal her.  That crowd may have been filled with people in authority who also had concerns for those they loved or under their care like Jairus and his raised daughter or the centurion and his healed worker.  That part of the crowd might have been full of people thirsting for knowledge and divine revelation like Nicodemus or the Samaritan woman at the well.

At one point or another in our lives, we will be in one of the groups or among one of the people who were in that original Palm Sunday crowd.  We will likely cry out, "Hosanna!  Save us now!  Help us!"  Who will save us?

Judas, slave of jealousy, where are you?  I am here.                                                                                                                              Peter, slave of fear, where are you?  I am here.                                                                                                                                      Thomas, slave of doubt, where are you?  I am here.                                                                                                                             Men and women of Jerusalem, enslaved by mob rule, where are you?  We are here.                                                                         Pilate, slave of expediency, where are you?  I am here.                                                                                                                      

The story of Christ's passion and death mirrors for us much of our own weakness and sin.  We all come to Holy Week as people who have missed the mark and who are alienated from God and our neighbor near and far.  Join me in prayer:  Yes, dear God, it's true.  We are not worthy of your love.  We promise to be faithful but we fall away; we forsake you; we flee from you; we betray you; we deny you; we watch from afar; we don't tell anyone that your reign is at hand; we are afraid.  Change us.  Hosanna, we pray.  Amen.

Pator Greg Rupright         



03-26-2021 at 2:09 PM
Pat May
This was an interesting, educational, and thought-provoking message!
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