Palm Sunday: When Losers Cheer
Making an Entrance
We love epic entrances. We love the moment in the movie when all seems hopeless, when the world is on the verge of destruction, and then the hero burst onto the screen. He flies out of the clouds with his theme song playing. We are filled with a sense of awe and wonder, a sense of victory. He has arrived.
And we want Jesus to do that.
But he didn’t.
The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
— Matthew 21:6-11 NIV
Jesus had been traveling around, talking about a new kingdom with a new king, He had been talking about a world-changing revolution. Here he is about to enter into the capital city, Jerusalem, for the first time.
Most people would have expected him to ride in like a conqueror. Maybe like Alexander the Great had done three hundred years earlier — on a stallion, weapon draw, ready to go.
Most people would have expected a warrior on a horse … but they got a servant on a donkey.
Jesus picks the least fierce way possible to enter Jerusalem.
In fact, Matthew goes as far to say that he didn’t just ride on a donkey. He rode in on a donkey with her colt. Because if there is anything less fierce than riding on a donkey, it’s riding on a donkey next to a smaller donkey.
Yet the crowd still goes wild. Waving palms. Laying out cloaks. Cheering.
The waving of the palms was a reference to an old Jewish story about a hero who rode into the city and reclaimed the temple. By doing this, they were implying that Jesus was some type of a hero.
The laying out of the cloaks was a makeshift red carpet. It was a old Jewish way of welcoming royalty. By doing this, they were implying that Jesus was some type of a king.
And the cheering… They were shouting hosanna.
On one hand, this word can simply mean “hurrah.” On the other hand, it can mean something so much more. It has it’s root in Hebrew. It is a reference to Psalm 118.
Literally, it translates to, “Save now, we beg you.” When they say, “Hosanna in highest heaven,” they are saying, “Let even the angels in the highest heights of heaven cry unto God, save now!” It is as if they are chanting, “Save us, save us, save us…”
So here we have Jesus making the least epic entrance ever and yet he still getting an epic response.
A Losing Team
Imagine being the fan of a losing basketball team … a team that hasn’t had a good season in a long time. They are bad. Year after year, loss after loss, they are just bad. After a while, it seems hopeless.
Then it happens. We get the nation’s top prospect. We sign the top free agent. Salvation has come!
You get tickets to opening night. You are there in the arena. It is packed. For the first time in forever, it is a sell-out crowd. Excitement is an understatement.
The lights go down, the music goes up, and the moment has come to welcome our team’s newest addition. Anticipation is in the air. They call his name and…
Not what you would expect. Pudgy, awkward, uncoordinated, not the typical professional athlete.
But even more shocking is what happens next. The crowd goes wild. They stand to their feet, clapping and cheering. They give him a hero’s welcome. They treat him like royalty. They begin to chant, “MVP, MVP, MVP…”
At this moment you would have to ask yourself, ”Who are these people? How bad has it been that even he gets them cheering? How hard have the last few seasons been? What have these people gone through?”
Jesus makes the least epic entrance ever and yet he still gets an epic response.
What does that say about the crowd? Who are these people?
Mainstream and Margins
For the answer to this question, I want to introduce a concept my friend Dan taught me at a training in Kenya this past September.
He asked us to imagine a river. He said, “The middle of the river is called the mainstream. It determines where things go. It is in control.” Then he said, “The edges of the river are called the margins. They are pushed to the side. They get caught on the fringes.”
Then he explained that in every society — in every culture of every era — we have “the mainstream” and “the margins.”
The mainstream are the ones in control. They are sometimes a majority … but not always. These are the ones that determine where things go. They are often those that are successful in business or politics; they are often the rich and the powerful. They are the popular, the trend-setters. In society, they have been deemed the winners.
The margins? They are the marginalized, they are the ones who reside at the fringes of society. They are sometimes a minority … but not always. These are often oppressed, unheard, and forgotten. They are pushed aside, sometimes even considered worthless. They are the poor and the hurting. In society, they have been deemed the losers.
This is the crowd we find in this passage. The palms and the use of the word “hosanna” let us know that that are of Jewish descent, a people oppressed by the Romans. The laying the cloaks lets us know that they are poor. These people are not the mainstream; they are the margins.
Yet there is something about the marginalized are that are drawn to Jesus. And Jesus seems to be drawn to them. More than once, Jesus got in trouble for hanging out with the outsiders. He dined with the outcast.
It is as if the margins can sense salvation in a way that the mainstream cannot. There is something about the gospel story that gives hope to the hopeless, worth to the worthless. It is often poor and the hurting who recognize the savior, while the rich and the powerful overlook him.
The winners miss it, but the losers? The losers get it.
And They Cheered
History proves this to be true.
Long before Martin Luther King, Jr. had a monument in Washington and a day on the calendar, he was a public enemy. Let us not forget that his home was bombed and he himself was assassinated. The mainstream did not like him.
But the margins did. They sensed salvation. They sensed that God was doing something through him. And they cheered. And they marched. And they made the world better.
Long before the Nobel Peace Prize and the biographies, Mother Teresa was an unknown woman serving the dying and the crippled in Calcutta. The mainstream didn’t notice her.
But the margins did. They sensed salvation. They sensed that God was doing something through her. And they cheered. And they cared. And they made the world better.
This Palm Sunday
As Christians we often look to the rich and the powerful for answers. We see a wealthy business owner or an up-and-coming politician and think, “This is it. This is the one who can make things better.” We see someone famous, maybe a movie star or an athlete, and think, “This is the one to lead people to Jesus or to reclaim our culture for God.”
We turn to the winners … and we get disappointed.
Let’s try something different. Let’s look to the margins, to the fringes of society. Let’s hang out with the outsiders. Let’s dine with the outcast. Let’s get to know them and see where they are sensing salvation.
Let’s listen to the losers. Let’s find out who they are cheering for.
Because I believe when we do — when we look to the margins, to the fringes, to the outsider and the outcast — we will see Jesus in a way we have never seen him before. He will make his entrance. We will see a new kingdom with a new king. We will see a world-changing revolution.
Hosanna in the highest heaven.