Year B: Sixth Sunday of Lent:
March 28, 2021
Recorded Sermon Prep Zoom Call:
We have recorded a conversation with the Rev. Heather Ghormley on Mark 11:1-11.
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In the following commentary, we examine the lectionary text through three lenses: the ancient, Ἰησοῦς=Jesus, and modern.
Ancient Lens: What can we learn from the historical context?
At last we come to Jerusalem. On this sixth Sunday of Lent, lectionary-following congregations may read either the account of Jesus’ triumphant ride into the city (Mark 11:1-11) or the account of Jesus’ Passion (Mark 14:1-15:47), or both. In any case, the preacher should bear in mind the connection between Jesus’ joyous and expectant arrival in Jerusalem and his betrayal and execution just a few days later. This summary will focus on the Triumphal Entry with several inter-textual connections to the Passion.
Throughout the Gospel of Mark, Jesus warns his disciples of his coming death and resurrection in Jerusalem. However, the disciples continually misunderstand and deny his prophecies. Just after confessing Jesus as the coming Messiah, Peter rebukes Jesus for predicting his death and resurrection at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes (8:32). The next time he predicts his death and resurrection Mark tell us that his disciples, “did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (9:32). And after his third warning, James and John immediately ask him if they can sit at his right and left hand when he comes into his glory (10:37), thus betraying their persisting belief that Jesus is soon to take an earthly throne.
As Mark 11 opens up, Jesus and his entourage finally draw near to Jerusalem. This is the beginning of the climax of Mark’s Gospel. Before entering the city, they pause at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mt. of Olives. They are only a short walk from the city gate, but Jesus wants to make a dramatic entrance. Jesus send two of his disciples into the small village. He instructs them that as soon as they enter the village they will find a “a colt that has never been ridden,” and asks them to untie it and bring it to him. “If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Just that the Lord has need of it and will send it back immediately,” he adds.
Upon entering the village the disciples find everything as Jesus described. Mark does not tell the readers whether Jesus’ knowledge of this colt and its willing owner was miraculous or humanly derived, but the detail adds a sense of divine destiny to the narrative. A few chapters later, the disciples experience a similar sequence of events when Jesus sends them to find the Upper Room for the Last Supper (14:13-16).
Biblical scholar Eugene Boring suggests that Mark employs this detail to demonstrate that Jesus is a reliable prophet. “Just as the passion predictions had made it clear to the reader that Jesus’ suffering and death in Jerusalem wold not be that of an involuntary victim, so in the passion narrative itself Mark portrays Jesus as in charge, accurately predicting events in advance rather than being their victim” (Boring, 315).
Ἰησοῦς Lens: How do we point to Jesus?
Jesus’ choice to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey is not an act of self-deprecating humility as some describe it. Most of Jesus’ ministry he moves on foot. His mounting of the donkey signifies his entrance into Jerusalem as its rightful king. Unlike Matthew and John, Mark does not explicitly cite Zechariah 9:9 or Genesis 49:11. However, these Messianic prophecies loom in the background and help explain the enthusiasm of the crowds as Jesus and his followers process through the city gate. Jesus’ acceptance of this praise is not neutral. He too recognizes himself as the Messiah and King, though his vision of what that means, fundamentally contrasts with the expectations of the crowd.
What precisely Jesus envisions when he claims Messianic kingship is the fundamental question of political theology. Some modern, Western circles understand Jesus’ kingship as purely spiritual. The crowd expects a political deliverer who will rout the Romans, defeat the phony King Herod, and establish a new authentic Davidic theocracy. Jesus, as we see in the unfolding Passion, has no military or even miraculous political agenda. While he does cleanse the Temple for its participation in Herod’s opulent corruption, he sheds no blood nor does he directly challenge the rule of Rome or Herod.
However, Jesus’ reign is not simply a gnostic escapism from the political problems of the world. Soon Jesus will find himself before both Herod and Pilate. His intrinsic authority as the Son of God (Mark 1:1) challenges the claims and corruption of these worldly powers. But more than that, Jesus does not ultimately take a non-political exit from Jerusalem.
He ascends to the throne of the cross, shedding his own blood, giving his own body, and dying at the meeting place between the powers of earth and the powers of hell. The loud cry (Greek: φωνὴν μεγάλην) that sucks away Jesus last breath (15:37) echoes the Gerasene demoniac’s torment (Mark 5:7). Yet, Jesus’ death is not an isolated spiritual possession, but an execution at the hands of the Empire. Far from acting in an only spiritual manner, Jesus comes to Jerusalem to prove once and for all that all politics are spiritual and every spiritual reality has political implications for the people of earth.
When the people of Jerusalem see Jesus coming, they throw down their cloaks and palm branches, making a sort of royal red carpet for the prophet-healer who has finally arrived in the capitol city. Their cry, “Hosanna,” was by Jesus’ time a liturgical term meaning God save us. The phrase “Blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” was commonly said of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem at Passover. However, the subsequent, “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” signifies the crowd’s belief that Jesus is in fact the offspring of David, the promised Messiah coming to establish Jerusalem’s everlasting kingdom (cf. 2 Samuel 7:12-16).
Modern Lens: How does this touch our heart, life, emotions, thoughts and relationships today?
While the cries of Hosanna and laying of garments and branches were cultural signs of welcoming a new king during the Second Temple period (cf. the enthronement of Solomon, 1 Kings 1:38, 44; and the welcome of Simon Maccabaeus, 1 Macc 13:51), it takes on a rich liturgical meaning for Christian worship. As Christian worshipers wave palm branches and sing Hosanna each Palm Sunday, we declare both our confession of Jesus as Messiah and Lord and our own location among the fickle crowd. Liturgies which include the Passion jar the palm branch waving worshippers with their subsequent line: “Crucify him, crucify him!”
Sacramental traditions also highlight the importance of the earthly confession of Hosanna through the Sanctus, which begins with the cry of Heaven, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory” (Rev. 4:8b); and ends with the cry of earth, “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” When liturgical Christians sing this hymn before receiving the Eucharist they join their voices with the angels and archangels of heaven, proclaiming the preeminence and Lordship of Jesus, the Word made flesh, the Crucified and Risen one. The Compassion of Christ is to be both our Earthly and Heavenly King. His presence on earth joins us to his presence in Heaven.
When at last Jesus arrives in Jerusalem he does not march on Herod’s place or lead an insurrection against Rome. He dismounts at the Temple, observes everything going on there and then retreats out of the city until the following day, when he returns to cleanse the Temple of its money-making corruption. In Mark’s account Jesus’ cleaning of the Temple is not an emotional outburst, but an intentional and calculated response to sacrilege.
Given the intense political climate of the last year, the preacher may wish to compare the expectations of the crowd who greeted Jesus on Palm Sunday to our own political expectations. Have we allowed the King on the Cross to transform our approach to worldly powers?
Anglican Priest and Professor of Theology, Dennis Okholm, friend to several contributors of TPW, reflecting on a service he conducted on the Sunday before the 4th of July, said to the effect, “The church follows an alternative calendar and thus an alternative reality.” Our citizenship is in a kingdom that transcends the earthly nation in which we live. The independence that we experience as sons and daughters of this kingdom and the work of its victorious king triumphs over any other allegiance or affiliation we may have.
On January 20th, when the executive branch transitioned power from one administration to another with the inauguration of a new president, we who have allowed the King of the Cross to transform our approach to worldly powers were not nonplussed. While we may have preferences and affinities one way or another as citizens and voters of the United States of America, our trust is not, “in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation [but in the One] who sets the prisoners free…opens the eyes of the blind…and lifts up those who are bowed down,” (Psalm 146:2-8). Our trust is in him who comes in the name of the Lord, “Hosanna,” the God who saves us, whose name is Jesus.
Boring, M, Eugene. Mark: A Commentary, The New Testament Library, Westminster, John Knox Press, Louisville, 2006.
Marcus, Joel. Mark 8-16, Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2009.
Heather Ghormley is the Founding Pastor of Tree of Life Anglican Church in Mishawaka Indiana. Heather is passionate about helping the church fulfill its mission to go to all the peoples baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and teaching them all that Jesus commanded. Heather also cares deeply about bringing healing and the reconciling power of Jesus into the wounds of abuse, trauma, rejection and division.
Heather is married to a Bible Professor named Justus Ghormley and is mom to three wonderful kids who keep her on her toes. Before moving to South Bend, Heather attended Wheaton College, IL and Yale Divinity School, CT.
What great thing was it to the king of the ages to become the king of humanity? For Christ was not the king of Israel so that he might exact a tax or equip an army with weaponry and visibly vanquish an enemy. He was the king of Israel in the he rules minds, n that he gives counsel for eternity, in that he lead into the kingdom of heaven for those who believe, hope, and love. It is a condescension, not an advancement for one who is the Son of God, equal to the Father, the Word through whom all things were made, to become King of Israel. It is an indication of pity, not an increase in power.”
St. Augustine, Tractate on John 51:3-4.
Remember finally, that the ashes that were on your forehead are created from the burnt palms of last Palm Sunday. New beginnings invariably come from old false things that are allowed to die.
Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent, Franciscan Media, 2010.
Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem is an unmistakable political act. He has come to be acknowledged as king. He is the son of David, the one long expected, to free Jerusalem from foreign domination. Yet this king triumphs not though violent revolt, but by being for Israel the one above to show it that its worship of God is its freedom.”
Stanley Hauerwas, Matthew, Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible, p. 182.
He is Coming: A Triumphal Entry
Just under 80 years ago, a crowd gathered on a humid August day to commence what was to be an unparalleled event for its time. Hundreds of thousands of spectators, police officers, and soldiers gathered for an event so spectacular, so colossal, it almost seemed to come out of a fairy tale rather than real life. Some six continents and 49 countries were represented, with most guests, especially the athletes wearing clothing with their own home flag represented, either on their person, or as they waved their flag for the crowd to see.
But the most obvious flag, the most conspicuous flag that day, was by far, the Swastika. It was draped anywhere and everywhere there was room. For this was the 1936 Olympics, hosted in Berlin. And while most of the athletes were present, the main attraction that day was not the athletes who would compete for medals, but the one who would preside over them, Adolf Hitler.
At 3:18 p.m., according to the author Daniel James Brown, “Adolf Hitler left the chancellery in central Berlin, standing upright in his Mercedes limousine, his right arm lifted in the Nazi salute. Tens of thousands of Hitler Youth, storm troopers, and helmeted military guards lined his route from the Brandenburg Gate through the Tiergarten and out to the Reichssportfeld. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary German citizens had massed along the way, leaning from windows and waving flags or standing twelve or more deep along the street, again using periscopes to get a glimpse of Hitler.
Now, as his limousine passed, they extended their right arms in the Nazi salute, their faces upturned, ecstatic, screaming in pulsing waves as he rode by, “Heil! Heil! Heil!” At the Maifeld, where the U.S. Olympic team members stood, the athletes began to hear the distant sound of crowds cheering, the noise slowly swelling and growing nearer, then loudspeakers blaring, “He is coming! He is coming”. “He is coming! He is Coming!” Chilling words aren’t they?
And I would argue not just because we know what leadership under Hitler would bring to the modern world, but also, the messianic overtones that we hear in the shouts of Hail! And He is coming. I could not help but compare this scene to the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday…the day Jesus entered into the Holy City, not standing on a Mercedes, or even the ancient world’s equivalent, the chariot, but rather he came on a donkey.
Stuart Strachan Jr. Sermon: “Witnessing to the Light”, June 2015. Source Material from Daniel James Brown, The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Penguin Books, 2014.
Additional Sermon Resources
Call to Worship
Let us enter the city with God today
Let us sing hosanna to our king
To the son of God riding on a donkey
With shepherds and prostitutes,
With the blind and the leper
With the abandoned and oppressed
Let us shout for joy at Christ’s coming
And follow the One who welcomes the sinner and dines with the outcast
Let us touch and see as God draws near
Riding in Triumph towards the Cross
May we invite Jesus to come into our lives more deeply this Holy Week, rejoicing that He welcomes ALL to follow Him.
May we allow Him to draw near.
May we take up our cross to follow Him.
May we be renewed in the hope of His eternal triumph!
Christine Sine, GodSpace
Prayer of Confession
Loving God, On this day, Your Son entered the rebellious city that later rejected Him: we confess that our wills are as rebellious as Jerusalem’s. Our faith is often more show than substance. Our hearts are in need of cleansing. Have mercy on us, Son of David, Savior of our lives. Help us to lay at Your feet all we have and all we are, trusting You to forgive, to heal, and to receive us as Your own. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
Assurance of Pardon
Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing! …To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!