Out of Many, A Few

March 25, 2018

Series: March 2018

Category: Lent

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Mark 11:1-10

1When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,


         Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

10       Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!

         Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

 Out of Many, A Few

Rob:  There’s a lot we don’t know about the events we commemorate on Palm Sunday.  Was Jesus’ entry into the Holy City truly triumphant or was it satire?  Was it attended by the masses or witnessed by just a few loyal followers and perhaps some curious onlookers? Who was there and what we’re they thinking?  What were they feeling?  We just don’t know, but we can imagine…which is what we will do today.

          By this point in the gospel, many characters have come and gone, often after only a moment it seems.  What if they were there when Jesus rode into Jerusalem?  What would they experience, and how would that speak to us today?  Bethany and Ted are going to remind us of the encounters of some of these figures by reading excerpts as recorded in Mark’s gospel and then I’ll imagine how they might have reflected upon this moment in which people laid their cloaks on the ground and waved their palms as Jesus rode by.

Reader: Jesus went out again beside the lake; the whole crowd gathered around him, and he taught them. As he was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he got up and followed him.  And as he sat at dinner in Levi’s house, many tax-collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples—for there were many who followed him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?’ When Jesus heard this, he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners’ (2:13-17).

 Rob: Jesus of Nazareth.  I can’t believe he’s still going.  I remember when I first met him. There had been all this talk about him, about what happened down at the water with John the Baptizer, claiming God spoke to him, called him God’s own. He had the members of the religious establishment all up in arms—I didn’t mind that so much.  They’re so full of themselves.  What I didn’t need was one more of them, someone who saw himself as holier than everyone else, telling me what a bad person I was because I’m a tax collector.

          I am a tax collector.  It’s what I do.  You call it a dishonest living, well it’s a dishonest world.  I do what I need to in order to take care of my own, and so what if I take a little extra on the margins.  Anybody in my position would do the same.  Besides I’ve seen many a religious leader and many a politician who could teach me a thing or two about a dishonest living.

          So, when Jesus came along, and said, “He Levi, follow me,” I thought the best way to get rid of him was to invite him to dinner.  Oh yeah, you want to be associated with me, prove it by coming to my table…Then he did.  No religious folk had ever done that before. They wanted me to change first.  Not Jesus.  He just came and ate with me and all of my friends.  There wasn’t a word about how bad we were.  He mainly asked us questions about ourselves.  He wanted to know our stories, and then he told us some stories of his own, about how the world could be, of how things could be different, of how they already were in God’s eyes. 

          I never thought Jesus would make it here.  I’m not even sure where here is or what all of this means, but he took an interest in me, so when I heard he was coming, I wanted to show up and see what happens.

 Reader: One sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; (2:23-27).

 Jesus was wrong then, and he’s wrong now. Who does he think he is, playing king?  The sabbath was a commandment from God and no human gets to challenge God’s law. 

          You know, we Pharisees get such a bad rap.  “The religious authorities this, the religious authorities that.”  Well, trade places with us for a while.  Do you think this is fun?  It must be nice to get to live a regular life.  Let somebody else worry about being good, keeping the practices, remembering the law, God’s law.  Don’t you understand?  We hold everything together.

          My people are a minority in a dangerous land, with rulers who could wipe us out in an instant.  Our people have survived slavery, exile, failed rebellion.  The thing that has sustained us all these years, kept us alive, is the law.  And this guy comes along and asks us to think beyond it, to accept that the same God who gave us the law can also want us to set it aside at times for something else?  That’s a dangerous path, and one I’m not going to lead the people down.  Not on my watch.  No, Jesus is about to get what he deserves, and maybe others will see it and learn from it. 

 Reader: Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him (3:1-6). 

I didn’t know which made me more scared—Jesus breaking the law in front of the Pharisees or pulling me into it. I’d spent my whole life trying to avoid attention, trying to hide my hand.  Do you know what they used to call me when I was a kid?  I used to run off by myself and pray to God, “Why can’t I be like the other kids. What I would do to be able to play like them just for one day?”  Now try getting work.  And, who wants to marry half a man, one who can’t provide?

          I’m still getting used to it, you know, my new hand.  I spent all those years doing everything with one hand that I have to remind myself to use it.  I suppose the day will come when I’ll will take it for granted, but not yet.  You better believe that today I’m using it.  They were very careful in their instructions to us, “Now when Jesus comes by wave like this, up and down, very regally and reverently.”  Not a chance!  I’m waving my own way, 365 degrees of motion in this arm.  I can hold it. I can hold it!  In giving me a hand, he gave me a life.  He gave me hope.  He gave me a way forward, so you better believe I’m here.  I’m not here to hide any longer.  I’ve come to this demonstration to stand and be counted.  I’ve come to show my hand.

 Reader: From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter’ (7:24-29).

 Do you know what it took to approach him? Of course, a mother will do anything for her child, endure anything for her child, but to bow before this holy man, to beg him and then have him respond to me like that…He shamed me.  Jesus of Nazareth shamed me.  “Don’t give the children’s food to dogs.”  Is that what I am?  A dog.  I am a woman.  I am a human being.  I, too, am a child of God.

          Make no mistake, he wasn’t the first to treat my people as lesser, and we’d gotten good at yelling back, standing up for ourselves.  I was used to having to say something back when people spoke like this to me…I was not used to them listening when I did.

          In fact, I was not at all used to holy people listening.  All the so-called great teachers, even those among my own people, always had something to say, wisdom to offer, so they would talk and talk, and we would consume, and we all thought they were perfect.  Sooner or later, of course, many of them would get exposed for not being so different from the rest of the world, sometimes worse, and so they would fall away in shame. But Jesus, when I called him out on it, on his own narrowness…he stopped.  He heard it. 

          Now later people who started telling the story as if Jesus was testing me all along to see if I had the faith to push back, but I saw the look in his eyes, I could see it working on him.  Those eyes softened.  It was as if he was turning them inward, and maybe he recognized there was still some brokenness inside him too. 

I don’t need a perfect savior. I need someone who struggles like the rest of us and with whom together we can find a better way.  I’m not waving my palms and laying down my cloak today because this man is perfect.  I’m here because I saw him be touched by someone he previously thought was untouchable.  That’s better than perfection.  That’s growth.

 Reader: Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ (5:25-30).

 Nobody seems to quite get what’s going on here. I know where this is headed, and it’s not honor and glory.  I know how these people work.  It’s going to end in bloodshed…and I know something about blood.  I know what it’s like to have the life flow out of you and you can’t stop it.

          I’m going to be there when it happens.  I won’t be able to stop it, but I’m going to be there when they put him on that God forsaken cross.  I’m not going to leave him.

What I’m going to do is pray for him, that when his time comes, he too reaches out, like I reached out, that he reaches out and grasps for God because I believe even when God can’t be believed in God can be grasped. Grasp for God, Jesus…

It’s going to be painful…every birth is…You see I also know what it’s like when the blood stops, and it’s like being born again.  There is new life, on the other side, Jesus.  Grab for it.