4-7-17 - Hosanna

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!’"

It continues to amaze us in this story that the same throng who laud Jesus on his entry into Jerusalem could a few days later call with equal ardor for his crucifixion. It’s not so surprising – anyone who’s ever been a teenager knows how quickly strong and seemingly incompatible emotions can pass through us in swift succession. “I love so-and-so!” “I can’t stand so-and-so!” “I’ll die if you don’t let me go to that concert!” “I’m never leaving my room!”

Okay, but weren't those are supposed to be adults in the crowd? Yet any rational behavior we might expect from a group of adults (perhaps unrealistic in itself; I'll stop there…) is neutralized by the Crowd Effect – which can quickly become mob rule. Something happens to human beings in crowds; normal inhibitions and rational thinking can be overcome by fervent emotion, which can quickly grow destructive. We see it in stadiums, where excitement about a team can turn into a murderous rampage.

And when you add a threat to people’s security, it’s not difficult to see how this crowd turned on Jesus. The temple authorities not-so-subtly suggested that Jesus’ continued activity and renown would awaken the wrath of the Romans, and all their Jewish subjects would suffer. “…It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish,” said the high priest Caiaphas. Anyone who had witnessed Roman oppression would do much to avoid a repeat occurrence.

In a way, the “crucify him!”s are easier to understand than the adulation when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The chant of the crowd explicitly acknowledges Jesus’ Messiahship as the Son of David. People put their own cloaks on the ground, presumably so the feet of the donkeys’ bearing the holy cargo wouldn't have to touch the ground. Those who shouted “Hosanna!” were putting their trust in Jesus. When they saw him a few days later, in custody, beaten, seemingly powerless, perhaps their sense of trust felt betrayed, which fueled their rage.

Christians the world over will participate in the re-telling of this story on Palm Sunday, asked to join the crowd in both the hosannas and the calls for execution. I suspect many have trouble relating to both cries. We’re too familiar with the Jesus story to feel the excitement of recognizing the Messiah, and perhaps too removed from oppression to feel a strong need for a savior; to call for his death is bewildering. Where do you locate yourself between those positions?

Consider praying your way through the whole story before Sunday (Matthew 26:14- 27:66), being attentive to where you respond, who you relate to as it unfolds. Can you find in yourself that impulse to praise Jesus for who he is to you? If you feel he’s a stranger, if you’re one of the curious in the crowd, you might ask him to show you who he is.

“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted, something many of us sing every week in the eucharist. If you feel Jesus has blessed you, tell him. See what that opens up.

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