Isaiah 50: 4-9a
Before the pandemic hit, I loved going to a local Indian Restaurant that featured an excellent lunch buffet. On that buffet, my favorite dish was their Chicken Tikki Masala. The last time I ate there, I filled my plate with this delicacy and could not wait to eat it. But with that first bite, I discovered that I did not get the Chicken Tikki Masala, but instead had gotten the vegetarian version with tofu. There is nothing wrong with tofu, but to me, it just does not taste as good as chicken. I was certainly disappointed.
We are a people of expectations, aren’t we? We want to be satisfied; we want to be happy, we want to get our money’s worth, we don’t like surprises very much.
Look at the crowds on Palm Sunday. It was a party, a celebration that erupted out of nowhere. Why such excitement? People thought they were getting something! Jesus had gained a reputation as one who could heal the sick and comfort the downhearted. He was known for his compassion towards the poor (and the great majority of Israel’s population at that time as dirt poor). He was also known as an inspiring leader, teacher, and preacher, and as such, he came to be seen as perhaps the one who could rally the faithful to rise up and kick the Romans out. So on Palm Sunday, selfish expectations ran high! We can get something out of this man! But the plain truth is, as the week wore on, Jesus spoke more about commitment than he did about free gifts.
So why did the shouts of “Hosanna” and Sunday turn into “Crucify Him” on Friday? Here are a few clues:
- He asked for a commitment to a life of generosity to others. Remember the rich young ruler who asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life? Jesus told him to sell all his riches and give them to the poor, then follow him.
- While Jesus drove out the money changers and animal dealers in the temple, he invited the outcasts. He said, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations, but you have made it a den of robbers.” This is no way to score points with the religious leaders or the folks who were making good money off the Passover tourists who had come to Jerusalem. This was an excellent fund-raiser for the church, after all.
- Finally, Jesus began to talk more and more about sacrificial giving: Give water to the thirsty, give your time by visiting the sick and imprisoned, give food to the hungry, give clothes to the naked. Give, give, give – not what the crowd wanted to hear. They, like us, would much rather be hearing what we are getting instead.
People wanted the quick road to happiness with a political victory. Jesus taught, lived, and gave witness to a life of deep meaning and mission. He cared for others first.
As we celebrate Palm Sunday, perhaps we too can ponder whether we are Christians because of how we will be hope to be rewarded or whether we are following in the footsteps of Jesus and seeking ways to help others?