Along with Will Willimon from his book Why Jesus? I have been personally asking myself the same question in light of the events of my life. We embark upon some reflections about this question from a variety of angles.
No Ordinary ClaimsPalm Sunday has just passed and has reminded me again of why Jesus continues to be a major part of my life and the life of the church. As I was reading Grace Notes by Phil Yancey it dawned on me afresh – there are no ordinary claims about Jesus’ life. From start to finish the Gospel writers bring us face to face with an extraordinary person. Even in the mundaneness of his pure humanness we are brought into startling contrast with what is said about him. Here is a man who sweats, eats, sleeps, and has the teeth of a first century Jewish man yet He says, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father (God)”. One can treat these words as foolishness, blindly embrace them, puzzle over them, agonize over them, or even to ignore them, and yet there they are calling out for challenge, resistance, and encounter. One could focus on various aspects of Mark 11:1-10 as Jesus is displayed from many facets by the Gospel writer. In good non-binary fashion, let’s briefly look at three things that stood out for me:
Real Kings Ride DonkeysThe thought that came to me in conversation with my daughter about Palm Sunday was how this story appears on the surface and the need to discuss what it going on with Jesus in that moment. The animal Jesus rides is a young horse or a donkey – like Tim Keller says “more appropriate for a child or hobbit”. To the person of the day they would have expected a war horse as typical kings would often come displaying their majesty by acts of power. Yet Jesus comes into the setting and turns common expectations on head to display his uncommon meekness by approaching the people in a way that breaks with conventions of their kings. He displays ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ through his action. This subversive act also walked straight into an unjust situation.
Real Kings Face InjusticeJesus connects with the OT context and draws that ancient space into his own. Zech 9:9-10 is the Old Testament background to our passage: Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River[b] to the ends of the earth. . Jesus is not the passive/aggressive leader who pretends to be something he isn’t rather he faces directly the people who are resisting his gracious leadership; he rides straight into a place where Empire is the scent in the air. He has disciples get a colt for him to ride and whether by knowledge or persuasion each person allows them to bring a colt to Jesus. The people who shout “Hosanna!” and link his coming to their father David would likely recognize this background and that not only did it mention his coming on a donkey as a “meek” king the OT text mentions he will bring peace and rule against injustice.
Real Kings Care for Real PeopleThis last point is less obvious from this text but flows from the trajectory of Jesus fulfilling Zechariah 9. In alternate places (Isa 9:7) it is said that “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding I with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” What Jesus brings is nothing less than a new way to see the world – those who are poor in spirit, and meek are actually strong. Those with all the power are not the ones who in the end will bring the world to new heavens and earth, a place of wholeness, justice, peace, and flourishing humanity. Jesus ushers in something so uncommon that someday will be common in a beautiful way. I can’t help thinking of the end of the Return of the King and which ones are bestowed the honours and heroism of ushering in new era of peace – we see Aragorn, Arawen, and then we see… hobbits! ? Everyone is gathered together to celebrate the wedding of King Aragorn and his queen and yet all the nobility bow before a little group of Hobbits! My heart looks forward to the day when we see all things made new but until then I remember the king who rides a donkey, faces injustice, and cares for us … and a day when we all like hobbits are shown that Jesus’ strength was made perfect in our weakness.