The Bible: A Challenging Path

Weekly Bible Devotional
“The Bible: A Challenging Path”
March 28, 2021

Scripture for This Sunday: John 12:12-19
12 The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,
“Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord-
the King of Israel!”
14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Do not be afraid, daughter of Zion.
Look, your king is coming,
sitting on a donkey’s colt!”

16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written of him and had been done to him.17 So the crowd that had been with him when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify.18 It was also because they heard that he had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. 19 The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”

Notes on the Text:
The telling of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in this Gospel is very different from the other Gospels. It is shorter than the ones in the other Gospels. There is no telling of the preparation for the entry and no command by Jesus to do it. There are also details that we find only in this Gospel such as Lazarus and the mention of Palm branches. In this Gospel Jesus had already been to Jerusalem a few times. The cleansing of the Temple was his first prophetic public act and it was toward the beginning of his ministry. So there was no need for special preparations. Jesus had already had some confrontations with the religious leaders in Jerusalem. He had also performed other dramatic acts and signs which revealed to the people his true mission of bringing life, truth, and renewal to the people of Israel. The crowds who witnessed these signs, especially the raising of Lazarus from the dead, were now convinced that Jesus was going to be their savior and their king. They were ready to make him their leader because they saw that he had great powers and great courage. So as he walked into Jerusalem this time, they did what they could to show that he was going to be the next Messiah, the anointed one who would bring them salvation from oppression.
As they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem, they sang their ancient songs of deliverance and waved their palm branches with their hope for a savior, a messiah, and a king who would come and liberate them from the oppression of the Romans. Jesus being welcomed with palm branches was not an ordinary welcome of a celebrity or a leader. The palms were a symbol of the Jewish desire for deliverance. For example when Judas Maccabeus entered into Jerusalem (164 BCE) after defeating the Seleucids (the Greek Empire which was established by Alexander the Great), he was greeted with palm branches (1 Maccabees 13:51) The waving of the branches showed that the people were hoping that Jesus would become their liberator king. The word hosanna literally means “save us, we pray.” In Psalm 118:25 we find this shout of praise and call for help, “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give success!” In other Jewish literature, this shout expressed the Jewish hope for a savior who would deliver them from oppression.

Jesus went into the city with a lot of expectations riding on his shoulders. He wanted to liberate his people from the oppression, but he also wanted to help them do it in a way that allowed for the transformation of the whole system of human power. He wanted to deal with the root causes of human cruelty and violence. So he intentionally rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, a humble animal that was normally used for service and farming and not for war or show of power.

The people who followed Jesus had to learn time and again to let go of their expectations about power and success in order to learn what true success and power were. They had to let go of the worldview of the Roman Empire in order to embrace the way of Jesus.

For Reflection:
The path of Jesus is challenging because it requires that we let go of our ways of thinking about power and how we get justice and peace. The norms around us tell us that it is about personal power, violence, security, wealth, and control. They are so normal in our culture that we never stop to question their efficacy. They promise us peace through prosperity but they fail to help us really get deep in life. They leave us grasping for more and always on the edge as victims of our circumstances. Think back to your childhood and what you were told about success and happiness in life. We keep seeking after these illusions until we encounter something deeper within us and in the heart of all of life. Until we learn to be vulnerable, to embrace love even when hate seems as the only way, to see the sacred in all of life, to pray deeply, to walk into the brokenness of humanity with openness instead of judgment, and to seek harmony in the midst of strife, we will not be able to find true freedom and peace.

This is not easy because the transformation of the world depends on us doing this difficult inner work and supporting each other on the journey and this takes time and perseverance. It takes God’s grace to keep us on this path as we are buffeted by the winds of the culture around us.

Blessings of Palms:
By Jan Richardson

This blessing can be heard coming
from a long way off.
This blessing is making
its way up the road
toward you.
This blessing blooms in the throats
of women,
springs from the hearts
of men,
tumbles out of the mouths
of children.
This blessing is stitched into
the seams of the cloaks
that line the road,
etched in the branches
that trace the path,
echoes in the breathing
of the willing colt,
the click of the donkey’s hoof
against the stones.

Something is rising beneath this blessing.
Something will try to drown it out.

But this blessing cannot be turned back,
cannot be made to still its voice,
cannot cease to sing its praise
of the One who comes
along the way
it makes.

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