Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good.
God’s steadfast love endures forever. . . .
Save us—Hosanna in Hebrew—Save us, we beseech you, O Lord!
O Lord, we beseech you, give us success!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Psalm 118)
This is the hymn that Jewish pilgrims sang every year as they approached the gates of the holy city. Some in the crowd surely intended these words as a particular statement about Jesus.
The disciples—Matthew, John, Bartholomew—the lot of them. His women followers—Mary, Joanna, Suzannah—and all whose names we don’t know. All of these hopeful people who had left the lives they knew to be with Jesus. Those who had listened, watched, touched him every day.
Maybe they had some idea of what it meant to say: Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
But what about the rest of the crowd? These people—even the ones who do not really know Jesus—still mean something as they shout “Hosanna—save us, we beseech you!”
They are looking for a savior. Particularly, they are looking for someone to save them from the Roman government. Someone to grant Israel political independence.
In laying their coats on the donkey and on the ground, they are re-enacting a Jewish coronation custom—claiming that they desire a Jewish ruler, not Herod.
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” Interesting thing is—this part of the crowd’s exclamation is not in Psalm 118. The people add this bit about David, because that is what they want from Jesus. A great military might. Someone who will bring Israel back to political power. And Jesus was a convenient person on whom to pin their hopes. A learned Jewish teacher, said to have performed miracles, riding into the holy city on a donkey colt. It must be him!
“Him” being . . . whoever they were wanting him to be. And they took his silence as consent. Because he did not tell them otherwise, they clung dearly to their ideas of how and when and why Jesus would save them. In their own minds, the people in the crowd made Jesus into whoever they wanted him to be.
A temptation we still fall into today. A perusal of the religious book titles will prove my point: Jesus CEO; Jesus, Entrepreneur; Jesus, MD; Jesus, Life Coach; Rabbi Jesus; Jesus the Pastor; Jesus . . . A Religious Revolutionary; Jesus, the Greatest Therapist who Ever Lived; The Laughing Jesus; Jesus Mean and Wild; Jesus in Blue Jeans; My Best Friend, Jesus; Jesus Christ, Superstar; The Yoga of Jesus; The Politics of Jesus.
“Save us, we beseech you! O please, please, give us success!”
It is easy to follow Jesus when we simply make Jesus into the person we want to follow. It is much harder to follow the one who rides into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey colt in silence, tottering towards death.
The full sermon, from which this reflection is excerpted, can be found here.
And here is a prayer of confession for Palm Sunday.