The first day of Holy Week, Palm Sunday, is one that conjurs up the images of palm branches and cloaks that lined the street as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Many of us have childhood memories of Palm Sundays past when we would receive a handful of palm leaves. We would wave them and then weave them into configurations that looked like a cross. In our youth and simplicity of heart we enjoyed the excitement of welcoming the King of Kings as they did long ago. It was hard for us to comprehend that this same crowd waving palm branches in the Bible story would call for his death just a few short days later.
The people were excited and cheering and praising God. The Gospel of Luke says that they were shouting "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:38) The crowds were lining up in the streets to welcome this blessed one -- but this upset the Pharisees! They knew this phrase referred to the long-awaited Messiah of God, as declared in Psalm 118:26 – “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD!”.
The Pharisees actually told Jesus to stop the people. "Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, rebuke your disciples!’ ‘I tell you,’ he replied, ‘If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’” (Luke 19:39-40) Of course, Jesus was, is and always will be the Messiah, and this was a problem for most of the crowd that day in many ways.
The people wanted a Messiah, but they wanted the Messiah on their terms -- to come against Rome and demand freedom, even if by force. They wanted their salvation and the Romans gone by any means. What they got, however, was something far different than anyone could imagine.
The sounds of the cheering crowd would later be betrayed by the sounds of their stony hearts. “Blessed is he!” would soon become “crucify him!” We may look back now and say we would never have felt the same way as the Israelites of Jesus’ day. But, do we really understand our sinful hearts with complete certainty? Yet, despite all that Jesus saw in man – indeed, because of it! -- he was moved to sacrifice himself to ridicule, pain, suffering and death on a cross for our needs.
Do we recognize how Jesus had compassion and moved toward us in our need: lost, sinful, broken bodies with the misery of eternal separation from our Father God? Do we look at the pain and suffering around us and in the world as Christ did? Regardless of man's sin, foolishness, and self-centeredness, are we compelled to compassion? May we ask God to help us move tenderly toward that pain. As we know, Christ came not to save the righteous, but sinners -- sinners like us.
-- Lorraine Pruitt, © March 2018